When I start off a writing session I normally check the #amwriting hash-tag on Twitter, if it's trending. Most of the time it is and I take a few minutes to look at the pictures which usually include a cool writing quote. The #amwriting tag is also notorious for Reddit questions about writing and one of said questions is what inspired this post.
A question most (if not all) authors ask is "how should I end this?" Normally it's not so much a plot problem but more of a problem of "Should this be a happy ending or a dark ending?" They've gone through the novel exploring their main theme, put their character through big changes, and now they have to chose whether to make it a nice, neat, happy little bow, or a complex, kind of messy, dark bow.
The other issue with this question is happy endings might be so cliché and we're supposed to avoid those. But, a dark ending can be as cliché and again, we're supposed to avoid those.
The problem is some people prefer a happy ending and some people prefer a dark ending. Writer's can't please everyone no matter how much we try so there will be people who are disappointed no matter what ending we give our novel.
Ultimately, there is no definite answer to "how should I end this?" or "Should this be a happy ending or a dark ending?" Not only will the answer be different because of plot, it'll be different for you as a writer.
Ending a novel doesn't rely on what will make other people happy. Ending a novel is answering the question of "is this resolved?" A novel being resolved depends on a lot of different concepts and sometimes isn't as easy as killing off the bad guy.
The end of the novel should resolve the major issues through the novel. Whether this resolution is benevolent or not is ultimately up to the rest of the story. Yes, the ending relies entirely on the beginning and middle bits.
So if you have a dark, depressing story about an unaccepted character discovering who they are and fighting against the people keeping them down, maybe you'll want to go for a bittersweet ending. The character finds happiness but maybe isn't 100% accepted. Maybe the character dies. Maybe they find The One and live happily ever after.
Confusing right? Again, it's those middle bits which determines how happy or sad your novel is going to be. Let's take The Walking Dead. It's a post-apocalyptic world riddled with zombies where the characters are dying while trying to survive. Is it going to end with the characters in a nice happy field surrounded by friends, food, and having cured the zombies? Nope. It wouldn't fit the death, destruction and generally dark themes of the rest of the show. The ending is going to be horribly dark, it might be bittersweet but in no way is it going to make you smile happily and be glad everything turned out okay.
Let's be honest: it's the books with the bitter-sweet or depressing endings that stick with you the rest of your life. If everything is tied neatly into a bow you smile, put the book down and everything's right with the world. If there's a cliff hanger or the slightest chance darkness will come again, you're left wondering about the book, the characters, and the plot.
But, some novels (or series) deserve the happy ending. The characters have gone through so much that giving them anything but a happy ending will leave readers horribly depressed and possibly angry at you. Will the ending be completely happy? Not really because the reader will still be thinking about what the character had to do to get to that happy ending. It's like the ending of The Hunger Games. *SPOILER ALERT* Sure the Games are over and Katniss ends up with Peeta and they have kids. But, Prim died, Katniss was horribly burned, she lost her best friend, and caused a rebellion. *END SPOILER ALERT* It's great she has a happy life now but the Hell she had to go through to get it makes the ending bittersweet. She deserved the ending and if she had died in the end then the book would have made a lot of people disgusted with the novel itself.
It's would be like trying to force a dark ending on something like Disney's The Little Mermaid: you can't do it or it would ruin the story. If your story is generally happy then you have a happy ending. If it's generally dark or disturbing, your ending becomes bitter-sweet or dark. You can't have a book full of puppies, kittens, rainbows, and unicorns where everyone dies. Well, okay, you could but they would have to be flesh eating puppies and kittens with murderous unicorns and acidic rainbows.
Basically: your ending has to match up with the rest of the novel. Don't worry about it being cliché because in the end, most everything can be a cliché. Don't worry about making your readers happy (unless your readers are kids under 10 and you're writing for Disney) and write an ending THAT SUITS YOUR NOVEL. Don't try to change the tone so drastically it's like two different people wrote it.
Your ending, like everything else in your novel, has to make sense for the characters, the plot, setting, and everything else.
Until next time: thoughts, comments, rage, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments.