Happy Endings: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I like happy endings. When I write or read stories, I want to see good things happen to the characters I love. I want to see them rewarded for their suffering. I want them to get to a point where they can relax, where the whole mess can just be over.

(This is also the same way I feel about military deployment, and coming home).

Home… I’ve talked about the idea of “hearth and home” in fantasy before, introducing it on this blog for the first time in reminiscing about my Boy Scout experiences with Tolkein. The idea of “Hearth”, the warmth and love of family and community, is one that gets developed time and again in When Dragons Die, and will be accented in the third volume, The Tides of Artalon, set to be released this December.

Two Dimensions of Happy Endings in Epic Fantasy

The concept of Hearth is tightly tied to my idea of a happy endings in Epic Fantasy. But what is meant by a “happy ending”?

The first angle is the epic angle. The heroes save the world. The Final Boss has been slain, the armies of darkness have been vanquished, the Ultimate Problem solved, and the Ultimate Mystery revealed. This is great. For everyone else.

Winning is not enough to have a happy ending, especially when it comes to the heroes’ personal desires. It’s not enough to come home from a military deployment and a year at war if you come home to an empty house. You do it to save the world, or your nation, but on a very personal level, you do it so you can live in peace with those you love, be it family, friends, or lovers.

The personal happy ending: I get to be with the people I care about, and we are all safe together. This situation is the microcosmic symbolic representation of the reward of the larger quest: saving the world. It makes the effort real… for the hero.

I like happy endings. For a book to be completely fulfilling to me, I need that romantic resolution at the end, the epilogue where we see the “happily ever after”, or at least the “happily return to the trials of normal life” begin. Without that, I get to varying levels of bittersweet. (i.e. Mass Effect, which I still loved). If the hero dies to save the world, or the hero loses their loved ones in the process, I feel sad at the end of the book (even if I enjoy the book).

Writers Don’t Always Get What They Want

I’d always intended to give all my surviving characters happy endings, or at least contented ones. They would end up with the people they love, and they would, for the most part, accept each other…

But then discovery writing got in the way of my idealism. One character ended up marrying a character I’d never expected to marry off, and the story grew into what I’d always wanted to avoid: a love triangle.

I thought I’d managed to resolve it in an original, elegant way so that everyone was happy in the end and got what they wanted… but some of my betas and my editor have pointed out that the ending, largely in the epilogue, is perhaps too optimistic. Nothing wrong with the epic plot, mind you, but the personal resolutions weren’t believable (and for some, downright irritating!) This, of course, was not how I wanted the story to end, with the epicness overshadowed by fan rage over the relationships.

So my task for October is to rewrite the personal endings.

To all my characters who have journeyed this far. I’m sorry. I know you’ve suffered. I know all of you have gone through hell to save the world, and I know all of you are doing it for those you love, so you can spend time with those you love. I know you’re noble when you think about the good of the world, but really I know that in your hearts, when you think of the world, you’re seeing the faces of lovers, of friends, and of your children.

I’m sorry I can’t give you all happy endings, but I just can’t seem to get from here to there without at least one of you having a broken heart. 🙁

I’m quite grumpy about it.

Until… well, not next week. The blog’s on slow drip while I sort out the final revisions of the book.


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