In the 2007 movie Becoming Jane, Miss Austen (her character) says, "My characters shall have, after a little trouble, all that they desire."
For those of you who have read Jane Austen's works, you know that this is true of her stories; though they struggle financially and in the realms of possible marriage trials, each female character has a happy ending. These stories make us feel confident and good, don't they? I love a feel-good story.
But what about those stories that end badly? What if he doesn't get the girl, her best friend contracts a terminal illness, a husband perishes in war, or (*gasp*) the main character dies? Such turn of events, though often foreshadowed, are still shocking to us readers. What if you travel through a book, placing yourself in the same journey the main character goes through, feeling his emotions, only to have him or her die in the end? Do you feel lost and just plain mad?
When a character doesn't have a happy ending, I, at times, want to abruptly close the book and never look at it again...at least until my emotions calm down. How dare the author string me along for 300+ pages and then "ruin" the ending? It isn't fair!
...Or is it? Is it really a matter of being fair? Life isn't always fair - we don't always get what we want... death comes to us all; it's just a fact of life. By adding these surprising elements to a story, the author is creating a truly believable account of a fictional life, accurately mirroring the real world. Can we really go as far as to judge the author wrong for wanting to put forth a realistic account?
There are books out there you KNOW will have happy endings because it's just that kind of book. Austen's Persuasion leaves you hanging for a while, wondering if Wenworth and Anne will ever come together in the end, but eventually of course they do. Bronte's Jane Eyre certain includes many trials for the couple Jane and Rochester, and though Mr. Rochester is maimed at the end of the book, they are reunited in love and contentment. But others you can't be so sure. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne loses both her husband and the father of her child, one to greed and shame and the other to death, and as speculated in the book, possibly her daughter. In Tuck Everlasting, young Jesse and Winnie make a promise to love each other for eternity, but Winnie makes the choice to not drink from the spring that gives life. In the end, Jesse returns to find Winnie has died.
Do these sad endings make the book horrible? A little less enjoyable at times, perhaps, but not horrible in my opinion. In the case of Tuck Everlasting, though the ending is sad, I feel content with the fact that Winnie lived her life instead of choosing to live in possible near agony (as Mr. Tuck portrayed), even though it left Jesse alone once more. I actually think these endings can make the story stronger.
There is a right way and a wrong way in creating shocking scenarios for your stories. In one sense, you don't want to string your readers along and crush their dreams in the end, yet you don't want to over-forshadow and give no suspense and conflict to the story. Basically, experiment with what you prefer. If you decide to give your characters happy endings like Jane Austen, make it strong and beautiful. If you decide to kill off your main character, as long as you execute it tactfully (no pun intended), congratulations on taking the plunge.
I'm considering creating a sort of "fave five" series (won't be called this) for the blog, either every first Monday or last Monday of the month, or once every two months. I'd be including anything from favorite books to resource materials to simply random things I love at the moment (such as inspiration places like Pinterest, an inspiring photo, ect.). I might pair them with a short movie or book review or leave them by themselves. Do you like this idea? If so, PLEASE vote on the poll for which week you would like to see the "segment."