I recently encountered someone asking why so many literary writers poo-poo happy endings. After some evaluating I realized that many literary writers’ books do have rather miserable endings. However, I don’t think it’s a categorical denial of happy endings so much as it is a reflection of the person, and many famous writers weren’t all that happy.
Some people seem to think that being miserable is a requirement for being a writer, and one of my previous posts discussing depression is definitely indicative of that. But not every writer wants to write about their unhappiness. Quite the contrary, honestly. I prefer to write about fantasy worlds because it takes me out of where I live. Some people prefer to write about their sorrow and pain because they find it cathartic. Others want to wallow in it and exorcise their pain through sharing it with others.
The ending of your book doesn’t need to be categorically happy or sorrowful. In fact, the ending of any work shouldn’t be categorically anything. When writing a story its conclusion should be a fulfillment of the promises the story itself has made. It should be satisfying. But you don’t need to think that you need to fill some sort of literary rules about your ending because there aren’t any other than that it work with the book.
This, of course, likely comes as no surprise to any of you who follow me because I believe in telling your story and following where the story takes you. While there are certain tenants to storytelling, there is no requirement for any specific kind of ending for your book. You need to write where your heart goes. Stories end where they are meant to end, and you shouldn’t eschew any particular type of ending just because someone else finds it trite. If your story ends with “happily ever after,” then it ends with “happily ever after.”
Some of the reason folks these days lean toward darker endings is because they believe it makes their work edgy. It’s similar to the trend of killing off main characters a la Game of Thrones. While I do not prefer or employ this technique, I wouldn’t tell someone not to employ it if it works for them. However, I do recommend not giving into the pressure of feeling as though you are obligated to do any particular thing in that regard. Just because something is popular at the moment doesn’t mean you need to leap onto that bandwagon. At that point, you lose some of your artistic integrity because you’re attempting to fit a formula or mold rather than digging deep into your own creativity and allowing that to dictate what your writing will entail.
Ultimately, you need to write the story and book you want to write. This may mean that not everyone likes it. It may mean that not everyone will want to publish it. However, if you water something down far enough to please everyone, it will please no one. Listen to your gut and let the story whisper in your ears. Write what the muse tells you, and the heck with anything different.