Please welcome Steven R. Brandt, our first guest for Wednesday Words!
How to Write a Happy Ending
Hello, intelligent and discerning blog readers! I’m here to tell you what I think is the biggest secret I ever learned about writing… how to give the heroines and heroes in your story a happy ending.
Some of you are scratching your heads. How can that be a secret? The writer can just put any sort of ending on a story they want, right?
Well, yes, but will the happy ending <i>feel</i> like it’s deserved? Will the readers be satisfied to see the characters get rewarded or will they roll their eyes? Some writers, I think, when struggling to achieve this feeling of deservedness decide, instead, to go for the unhappy ending. That’s more “realistic” anyway, and also less expected and cliche.
Very often, I think, the downer ending is not so much an artistic choice but an inability on the author’s part to make the story behave the way they want.
So what’s the secret?
It turns out to be a very simple thing, which I learned from Dwight Swain’s “Techniques of the Selling Author.” It’s this: Somewhere near the end of the book, you give the protagonist a choice between exactly two options. The first option gives the protagonist everything they want, but compromises their principles (whatever those are) in some way. The second option lets them keep their principles intact, but may not give them anything else. They have to choose the second thing to get the happy ending.
That’s it. That’s all there is to it.
How does it work? Well, once you know the rule, you’ll see it in action everywhere. In Star Wars, Episode IV, Han Solo gets the reward he wants (money) and all he has to do is fly off into the sunset. He doesn’t care about the Rebellion or anyone else–or so he tells himself.
But in the end, he joins the fight, guns blazing.
Would we have gone home from the theaters happy if he hadn’t? I’d say, “no.” Wait a minute, you might reply, isn’t Luke the main character of Star Wars? Again, I’d say, “no.” I think Luke was only in the story because Han wasn’t a likable enough character at the start. After all, he shot first. 🙂
Sometimes, you can give this special decision between two options to the villain, instead. If you play it this way, the villain can choose the first option and earn their destruction. I think this is what happened in Galaxy Quest, when the villain (Sarris) forces Commander Taggert to reveal to the dying Mathesar that “The Historical Documents” were a lie. Sarris had to choose to be a sadist instead of a soldier to earn his destruction.
So if you find yourself at the end of a story you’re working on, and your Princess Leia doesn’t want to give your Han Solo a medal, think back on what decision you gave him–and what he chose. You may find a better artistic choice than the downer ending.
About the Author
Steven R. Brandt has a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois for performing the first numerical simulations of rotating black hole spacetimes. It was the closest he could get to becoming Dr. Who. Learn more about Steven R. Brandt at http://stevenrbrandt.com.
In a distant future, on the edge of known space, a discovery is made which may be the key to human survival.
The Allied Worlds starship Leonardo has just found an artificial world the size of a thousand Earths, a massive spherical structure with a negative gravity sun at its center and a civilization on its interior.
The scientific knowledge used to create the Sphere could provide them with a way to win a war against the Draetch, a race which is hunting the human race to extinction. Unfortunately, there are two problems standing in their way.
First, the Kushar, the people who dwell inside the Sphere have lost the understanding of their own technology.
Second, the Draetch got there first. Their vessel is, however, damaged and unable to attack or fly. Is this an opportunity to broker peace with the Draetch, or should their stranded vessel simply be destroyed? Can the crew of the Leonardo reverse engineer the mysterious devices built by the Kushar before the Draetch return?
If you like space opera, advanced technology, alien cultures, and a touch of the mystical, you’ll love “Warriors of the Hollow World.”
Join the crew of the Leonardo and the Kushar as, together, they struggle to find the science that will help both their people’s survive.
Warriors of the Hollow World is available from Amazon.