I don’t believe in Happily Ever After

I love fairy tale structure in stories. I first caught on to the idea from an author named Alexandra Sokoloff. She goes into it in some detail in her book Screenwriting Tricks for Authors. Her breakdown of The Godfather as a fairy tale is wonderful. Here is a taste of it from one of her old blog posts: here. You have to read her book to get the full gist of it all. It’s a good book, if you’re interested.

There’s one part of a fairy tale that I don’t agree with, and that’s when they all lived happily ever after. I get that it’s supposed to be a reward at the end of a story, but it feels shallow to me. I’m sure it had more impact 500 years ago when security was a much bigger deal to us. Palaces are safe and warm (in a fairy tale). Most of the rest of the world had to worry about being jumped by a tiger when you stepped outside for your morning piss.

In real life, HEA doesn’t exist. We accomplish something and it leads to the next problem. Sometimes it causes the next problem. We struggle for years to build a better mousetrap, and eureka! The new problem is how to market it, and when we’ve done that, maybe the evil Victor mousetrap people come along and set up roadblocks. (No offense intended. Love ya Victor.)

My point is that life goes on, and that means struggles. I’m not saying Snow White’s first daughter looked a lot like Dopey, but damn. Have you seen her ears? Maybe Princess Jasmine developed a gambling problem and their lives changed in ten years.

I try to write satisfying and logical endings to my stories. Sometimes I even hint at future problems setting themselves up. I don’t do this for the purpose of selling sequels. I want to illustrate that life goes on. Sure, I write science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal stories, but I want your suspension of disbelief to happen for the right reasons. I don’t want to go to the well too often.

There is a risk of not sewing up loose plot threads, and it’s a fine line. The truth of the matter is that evil is never truly defeated. They hunted Nazis for decades after WWII.

For me, I don’t mind a hot new relationship at the end of a story. I don’t even mind a palace on the hill. I just don’t like the idea that nothing bad ever happened again – ever.

I like to mix and match story structures. I love using the number three, mentor characters, predictions, and other fairy tale items. I just don’t buy that they all lived happily ever after.

What do the readers and writers out there have to say? I’d love to hear from you on this.

25 Comments

Filed under Writing

25 responses to “I don’t believe in Happily Ever After

  1. When I write, I like to use the three act structure on both my novels and screenplays. I went and checked out the other blog and it is really good. Thanks for mentioning it.

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  2. I don’t believe in happily-ever-after, but I do believe in MOSTLY happily-ever-after πŸ™‚
    I really don’t need closure as a reader. I don’t like it, really. My favorite books don’t sum things up simply.

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  3. I want to write a series that never ends because I believe in happily ever for the next couple of days or months but I’m always on to the next problem.

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    • I’m not really into series, personally. I feel like I’m being asked for more of a commitment than I want to make. That’s probably blasphemy for a writer, but there it is. I don’t want to put others through that either.

      Now if one of my stories sold like crazy, I might revisit that situation. That way it’s kind of a request for more.

      You sound like a writer who isn’t afraid to beat up on your characters. I like it.

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      • I confess that in general I’m not a series reader–except for a few of my childhood favorites–The Great Brain books (a great boy series and funny), Anne of Green Gables and The Little House books which get a bad rap as “girl books.”

        I hadn’t planned a series–I was surprised I could write one book, but then I wanted to explore some of the background characters so the first book is really a prequel . . . I’m really committed to my characters and need to know what happens.next–even if no one buys any of it–I can’t stop myself from writing about them πŸ™‚

        I love making terrible or ridiculous things happen to my characters. In the first book it was a pretty straight forward morphine addiction, but in the rest Buck Crenshaw always lands himself in trouble, but not always such sad depressing trouble so I can laugh a lot more.

        Has your writing tone changed over the years?

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      • I love you you say straight forward morphine addiction. I think over time, I am more willing to withhold information from readers to build tension, and to put my characters through worse situations.

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  4. Love your mix-n-match strategy, it makes for an refreshing and unpredictable story, which, by all accounts, makes a great story!

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  5. Mariam Tsaturyan

    I like somewhat realistic approach to stories as well. Regardless the genre, I think some drop of reality here and there makes the story much more relatable.

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  6. First of all, not to contradict you, but a lot of the old original versions of fairy tales ended up very badly. Disney is who made them all have the HEA endings for the most part. πŸ˜‰

    But as for your awesome post, I think it depends on the type of book (or movie). For example, if it’s a romance or a chick flick, I do want a HEA. If it’s a real-life (or realistic fictional) horrendous ordeal, such as the story of the girl whose arm was bitten off by a shark (Soul Surfer), or the guy who had to cut off his own arm to get out of the canyon (127 Hours) or the family in the tsunami (The Impossible), yes I want HEA’s on those as well.

    But as for pretty much anything else, absolutely not. Like what I write (psychological thrillers), people root for the main character then almost always she ends up being off her trolley. That’s what makes them good. They would be too white bread if they all had a pleasant ending. I think you’re doing just fine. Wonderful, actually. Excellent post! πŸ˜€

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    • I actually knew that about the original fairy tales. I think you’re spot on with being true to your genre too. People have certain key things they expect in some styles. I wonder how Romeo & Juliette would sell as a new book today with the same ending?

      I don’t mind a happy ending (not that kind). It’s the forever and ever and ever kind that feels unrealistic to me.

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  7. rudyhou

    i have to agree with you. real life is NOT disney movies. which is why i sometimes prefer to watch art movies over hollywood ones. but, it does bring a certain joy when a book ends with a happy ending. most of us prefer it, as life gets tougher by the day. but seriously, i do prefer a book ends with more of a realistic and/or open ending that makes one think, though it may not be a happy one.

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  8. Pingback: 21 Harsh Truths from the Greats #20 | Raevenly Writes

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