Wednesday, September 13, 2006

More ranting on tragedies

My ranting post yesterday got me thinking about endings, and what I expect. I've probably already made my main point on that clear: when I take the time to read a book, I expect the author to give me some modicum of a happy ending for at least ONE of the characters--or if not happy, at least she or he should have achieved one of the goals they were trying for. Give me hope, something satisfying, so that I can close the book with a smile.

Agent Rachel Vater just said on her blog:

"Yes, you can kill major characters. It's best if you don't kill the love interest at the very end. (Sure, with literary fiction you might be able to pull off the Romeo & Juliet ending, where love ends at the death of one or both main characters, but it's tough to make that work.) Why? Because at the end, you want the reader to feel happy, satisfied, excited about your book so he / she will tell her friends about it. Surprise bestsellers happen with word of mouth. The best word of mouth is generated by creating a story that readers love while they're reading it, all the way through the ending and beyond."

Exactly. See, I'm not the only one! I'm fine with killing off major characters during the course of the book, if it's necessary to the plot. But please don't end that way, and please don't do it just because it's more dramatic. IMO, a negative or tragic ending just makes the book an unsatisfying read, and it feels like a waste of time. I don't read second books of people who waste my time, and I surely don't recommend them.

How do YOU feel about it? Do you read "tragic" books, and if so, how do you feel at the end? Does it make a difference to you if it feels inevitable and necessary to the plot, or do you just avoid books like that entirely?

Medieval Word of the Day: wellaway: An exclamation of sorrow or lamentation.


Jenny said...

I prefer "happy" endings, like you. I have studiously avoided reading "The Princess Bride" because I've heard about the ending and I like the movie version better. *g* I can handle it from Shakespeare, and that's about it. Oh, and "The Time Traveler's Wife" about wrecked my week, but it was done well and I don't hold it against the book. The prase "world enough and time" still gets me all misty to this day. And at least you got the little reunion at the end.

Susan Adrian said...

Oh, The Time Traveler's Wife! I forgot about that one. Yes, that one was hard, but it didn't feel gratuitous. I still like that book.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,
This is hard. As a reader, I like happy endings with everything nice and tidy. But as a writer, I wonder if it is possible to have a 'contented' ending. Meaning, if you kill off the hero, but the heroine is in a place where she will thrive, would this leave the reader satisfied enough to read a second book? Or, would it leave the reader with such a bad taste in their mouth that they will never accept a replacement character as the hero of a second book? For me, I think it would all depend on how it is handled. If there were flaws in the original hero, this would help me accept someone new. I know, in Pearl Harbor, I was disappointed the first guy came back. Any thoughts?

Sara Walker Howe said...

Hi Susan,

I like satisfying, happy endings. Therefore, I like climaxes that run the characters through the gristmill. If the predictible, happy ending isn't in doubt at some point, the ending is not nearly as fun.


Susan Adrian said...


I do think what is acceptable as satisfying depends on the book. See above regarding The Time Traveler's Wife--the hero a nasty event, but I still accepted it. It didn't end right there; there was an effort to wrap up and make the story more satisfying for the reader, and it worked. As you say, it all depends how it is done.

Susan Adrian said...


I'm right there with you, exactly. {s}

Renée said...

Interesting discussion, Susan!

Some of the most moving books I've ever read have had sad endings. Time Traveler's Wife for one. I also loved Where the Red Fern Grows as a child. But I agree the tragic element has to be well done and not just for the heck of it.

Sometimes happy endings can bug me--if they seem contrived, or unrealistic...ick!

Anonymous said...

I much prefer happy endings. I read for enjoyment and escape, for the most part, and feel cheated if I'm hit with an unexpected tragic ending. Typically I select books that I know will end well, or at least not in a depressing way.

I read one book highly recommended by a few people over at CS as one of the "best romances" they'd ever read. I can't think of the name of it right now, but the hero ends up getting shot in the heroine's front yard. I hated it. I felt like the author/publisher had deliberately deceived me by selling the book as a romance and I was put off ever picking up anything by that author again.

I have loved lots of books that made me cry, but I think they all had satisfying endings of some sort.


Susan Adrian said...


The unrealistic is always bad. But I admit that in my sappy heart I'd rather have a good unrealistic than a bad unrealistic. {g}

Susan Adrian said...


I'm with you there. It has to be a pretty darn remarkable book for me to like it in spite of an unsatisfying or sad ending.

That's not to say I can't deal with trauma in the book, though. I certainly kill off my share of characters, with purpose...but not to wrap things up.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Trauma in the book is fine, especially if it makes sense in the context of the story, but I don't like it to end that way.


ChrisMac said...

I don't usually like tragic endings. I trudged through "Cold Mountain" with all the blood, gore and hopelessness just to get to a happy ending. No dice.