The Ending Debate: Make Mine Open

We’re back with the last post for our story endings debate. We started on Monday with Lisa Hall-Wilson’s Team Realistic. Tuesday was Melinda Van Lone’s Team Happy Ever After. Wednesday, Marcy Kennedy’s Team Hopeful. Today, I’m offering my views on why I say Make Mine Open.

First, a short recap.

The basic question we began with: How should a good fiction story end?  We’ve had a lot of fun talking about this with you. Maybe we should have increased the scope of our topic, though.

Some of our conversations have gone a little sideways, veering into interesting areas beyond exploring our preferred story endings.

Many of you discussed subjects or genres and your preferences. You told us you don’t enjoy brutal war stories, graphic violence, depressing topics, bleak futures, and hopeless lives.

Several of the writers among you wondered whether a particular writing process produces a more or less realistic or hopeful or happy or tragic tale.

A few commenters distinguished literary fiction from genre fiction, making the point that literary fiction is too dreary while genre fiction provides reading pleasure.

You’ve raised my curiosity with these off ramps. I’d enjoy debating them with you, too. Maybe we can take more story issues up soon. I’d like to chat with you about stories you loved and why, too.

One way or another, though, we agree we don’t want a steady diet of the same repetitive story with the same repetitive ending. Variety is important to us, too. Mainly, we’ve identified what we don’t want, named our ideal, and left some wiggle room on the rest.

After everything we’ve said so far, it seems to me that we all agree a good fiction story should end satisfactorily.

Satisfaction is subjective, like Justice Potter Stewart famously declared about pornography. We know satisfaction when we feel it. What satisfies one reader may not satisfy another. Mainly, as in most areas of life, reader and viewer satisfaction results when we get what we wanted.

We choose fiction with the expectation that it will deliver certain emotional experiences. We choose comedy to laugh, tragedy to “have a good cry,” adventure for excitement, horror for thrills, mystery for the puzzle, romance for love, and so on.

So we choose what we want, and when we get what we expected to get, we’re satisfied.

When Melinda expected a comedy, but was blindsided by a funeral in UP, and when Marcy expected a romance, but the hero died unnecessarily in Titanic, they were more than dissatisfied. These movies failed to meet their expectations for the emotional experience they sought. Up denied Melinda the happy ending she likes. Titanic denied Marcy the hopeful ending she prefers. For Melinda and Marcy, these stories failed to deliver what they promised.

Compare that to Lisa’s example. Snow White and the Huntsman exceeded her expectations by delivering a realistic demonstration of leadership rather than a hackneyed hero tale. Lisa was more than satisfied because the movie delivered more than what it promised.

To me, this shows that Realistic, Happy, and Hopeful endings are all desirable. But that doesn’t mean these are the only options, or that they’re mutually exclusive.

Who says we can’t have them all?

Consider the recent film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which stars some of the most accomplished actors of our time. It’s not a perfect movie, but a darn good one. I’ve heard no lament that it failed to satisfy in what it promised to deliver from a single soul.






How does Marigold conclude? Realistically? Yes. Hopefully? Most definitely. Happily? You bet.

But then it does something more, something better. It leaves us with the clear message that life will go on for these people. They will have more joys and triumphs and challenges. The last page is not the end of the story.

Or, as Sunny, the young man with unsinkable optimism, repeatedly puts it, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it’s not the end.”

“The end” is not the end at all. What’s the rest of the story?

One of yesterday’s comments mentioned Gone With The Wind, which perfectly illustrates my point about story endings.

Perhaps one of the best stories ever written and filmed, GWTW was a brutal war story, containing graphic violence, depressing topics, bleak futures, and hopeless lives.

When Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” was it realistic? Hell, yes.

But what about Happy? Hopeful? You bet.

Did anyone believe those two would remain separated forever? Of course not. They’d separated and reunited countless times during the story already. The book was more than a thousand pages long and the move lasted three hours or more. How many break-ups and reconciliations did we need to see before we understood that they are soul mates? But beyond that, can you name one thing Scarlett O’Hara ever wanted that she didn’t eventually get? Exactly.

Exciting things happen to Scarlett and Rhett in the future. These are interesting characters who do interesting things in an interesting story that hangs together and develops well. They’ve held our interest for more than fifty years. Of course, there’s more to their story.

Life goes on. Stories continue. Cliff hangers, series, sagas, sequels — bring ’em on. I’m looking for good stories, well told. For me, the best stories have realistic, happy, and hopeful endings, whether they happen at the last line of this volume or sometime in the future when we turn the page. What’s the rest of the story?

The Ending Debate: Make Mine Open! How about you?

What happened after your favorite story’s last line? How will everything work out well in the end?

Our 60 minute Twitter Chat Friday afternoon at 5:00 Eastern on #storyendings — Please join us and share more of your thoughts on perfect story endings.


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