I don’t like nice endings, not in my fiction anyways. I hate the whole ‘hero gets the girl despite all odds’ and ‘good guys always win’. Well, I hate it when it’s a constant. What I look for in a story: a good, solid, and entirely realistic ending.
If there’s a war and my main hero is throwing himself headlong into the fight, he better get scarred and he better lose a buddy or six along the way. He better be emotionally traumatized for life. On the flip side, if my hero ‘dies’ he better not come back (thank you action movies for ruining every dramatic moment ever).
When I read a story, watch a movie, or write a story, I want my ending to make sense and be as real as possible. Deal with the devil? Of course there’s going to be some nasty consequences and buddy boy who made the contract won’t feel nice about it afterwards. My horror stories don’t end with a pretty rescue. They may not always end in death (though they most often do), but there’s something left afterwards.
Clearly, this isn’t for everyone. I don’t expect it to be. But it’s what I like and what I prefer. Here’s why:
1. I can’t cheer for someone if there aren’t any real stakes.
In most of the action movies I’ve watched, I don’t get an emotional feeling from the big end scenes because I know the main will always be okay. The big dramatic scenes where our hero says goodbye to the love interest, never to return, are complete bull. The hero will come back. Because that’s what happens to the hero.
It’s not that the hero comes back, it’s that everything is fine once they’re home. There’s no lasting conflict. Realistically, there would be. There would be some sort of torment even if ‘everything was fine’. Or, our hero survives some crazy ridiculous situation they shouldn’t have survived in the first place. Pacific Rim anyone?
2. It’s overdone to high heaven and back.
Every single stake that exists falls apart at the end because you know nothing bad can happen to the main. It’s the main. No one kills the main. The main never gets seriously injured. It’s all entirely false. The build-up to the ending is ruined for me because I know, since every writer or director or anything else under the sun, always lets the main live and get the girl.
3. It’s the easy way out.
In my opinion, it doesn’t take much thought to bring a loved main back from death and have them win the heart of the girl (or guy, whichever way we’re looking at this). It happens all the time. There’s no originality to it. And, frankly, I see it so often that it’s just expected. A realistic ending where someone dies or fails or doesn’t end up with the romantic interest is much harder to do well — reader satisfaction is important my dear writer friends — and a lot more powerful.
I’m going to remember the story where the main died for a long time (Heavenly Sword the video game for example) and I remember the names of the main characters (Nariko and Kai) as well as their story. Meanwhile, I barely remember the names of the main characters of Pacific Rim. But I can tell you the main bro dude lived and macked out hardcore with the leading female.
4. No impact.
It doesn’t hit. There’s no emotional rush or build up when it comes to these perfectly formulated endings. The ending is so hardwired into our brains and expectations that we don’t feel anything when our heroic main throws himself in front of a bullet to save his queen. We know he’ll be just fine.
Basically, I want stories where the endings aren’t always happy but they stick with the reader. I want tales that people remember, not because they were popular, but because there was an emotional impact and an ending that made sense. There will be no main heroes surviving nukes in my stories, thank you very much.