Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Obligatory endings?

Addressing You, The Author:

The general rule of thumb, it seems, is Bad Guys get What They Deserve (WTDs) and Good Guys get Happy Endings (HEs). But are these endings obligatory?

Don't get me wrong--I am a fan of WTDs and HEs. I'm just wondering if the motivation for these outcomes is intrinsic of extrinsic. Do we give our favorite characters happy send-offs because we fell in love with them over the course of telling their story? Are the suitably in-your-face outcomes of the antagonists drawn from an innate sense of justice? (Maybe the antagonists reflect qualities you, as the author, find repugnant, and you have a personal issue with giving them a Happy Ending, or even a Somewhat Boring one.) (<-- This, by the way, is totally okay. That is the beauty of fiction.)

Or, perhaps it's the external ideals--the world of fictional justice saying, the Bad Guy ends up dead/destitute/in jail. The Good Guy gets the girl/fortune/restored family honor/all of the above. That's how it is. That's what people like to read.

I'm wondering--if we took a step back from both internal and external Fictional Justice Agendas, would we find different stories hiding under the frameworks of our novels? Near the end of my last story I made the decision not to have my character share her knowledge about the "real" Bad Guy with the world or seek legal justice. Instead, she internalized the information and used it to reassess her worldview and sense of self. I think it fit much better with her character--I also think other writers would have handled this very differently. (I'm also not saying I have an opinion either way. I've enjoyed books that have clear HEs and WTDs, and books that have not as well...except for some books I've read for school. A few were just flat out unfair. Um, A Separate Peace? Finny did not deserve that. And where was Gene's WTD? Arrgh.)

Now, addressing You, The Reader:

Are you always satisfied with HEs and WTDs, or are there times when you think Fictional Justice is not the right ending for a story?