I have never loved an unhappy ending. In my youth, stories had dragons and princesses and everyone at the end of the story was better off than they began. That’s not how life works, outside of books. But that was the point.
Nowadays, it seems the most popular books in genre fiction are either “grimdark” or gritty re-imaginings. The more the reader likes a character, the more likely the author is to behead said character, break their will, or kill their little sisters. Sometimes in that order.
I was prompted to think on this when I was directed to Chuck Wendig’s blueprint for a story. Notably the final bullet point in the 13 steps (10-12 provided for some context):
10. WAIT, IS THAT A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL?
11. IT IS BUT IT’S A VELOCIRAPTOR WITH A FLASHLIGHT IN ITS MOUTH
12. WAIT AN IDEA
13. I HAVE BEATEN THE VELOCIRAPTOR AND NOW I HAVE A FLASHLIGHT AND MY PROBLEMS ARE SOLVED IN PART BUT NOT TOO NEATLY BECAUSE TIDY, PAT ENDINGS MAKE STORY JESUS ANGRY, SO ANGRY THAT STORY JESUS GIVES EVERYONE MOUTH HERPES
I’m not saying he’s wrong. What irks me is that he IS right.
I hate that it’s considered poor storytelling to tie things with a bow. I loathe that there must be heartache or sorrow or death in one’s story lest it be considered frivolous or candy-coated.
It irks me that Lev Grossman is lauded for his Magician series, which I’ve described as “Narnia by way of Hogwarts, but with self-despising manic depressives.” I am dismayed that an otherwise great Batman film must end with him becoming reviled by Gotham for a really stupid reason. And every hero on AMC/HBO must be an antihero.
It’s exhausting to read a book that is lovely, thrilling, and filled with characters with whom I connect, but must be constantly wary of how the author is going to darken the last chapter to avoid the wrath of Story Jesus.
It’s the age of antiheroes. The Joss Whedon era, in which I can watch an entire movie just guessing which character is going to die. The old writer standby “Kill your darlings, recently re-popularized by Kipling/King/Rowling, has been taken to heart.
So here’s to the story wherein the badguy gets what’s coming to him, the girl gets the guy, and no one steps on the puppy.