(Un)-Happily Ever After

Once upon a time they lived happily ever after. Slamming the cliché opening and final lines of classic fairy tales together makes what comes in-between feel very silly, but there is something to be said for the satisfaction a reader experiences when things “work out” in the end.

Readers want an ending to make sense. It may not be HAPPY, but it has to be a logical outcome of the series of events. This is not to say that surprise endings are unwelcome —quite the opposite. It’s just that the surprise ending must rely on an internal logic and simultaneously be a surprise and a logical extrapolation of the previous actions.

How many times have you sighed with exhaustion at the end of a suspense thriller (science fiction, adventure or mystery) novel when the author resorted to a DEUS EX MACHINA in order to resolve an impossible situation? It annoying —even infuriating, because you feel like the writer pulled a fast one on you.

I love it when an author manages to surprise me at the end of a story — especially when I look back and realize they’ve laid the groundwork for the ending from the beginning of the book. This is something I try to do as a storyteller, but it’s a huge challenge, requiring a light touch. Ancient Greek and Roman audiences might have been happy when a god arrived in a chariot to fix the mess that the mere mortals could not clean up, but I feel cheated when a deus ex machina saves the day.

I want to be fooled and then rewarded with that “yes, I should have seen it” or “I thought it was going that way, but I wasn’t sure” feeling.

What about you?


  1. I’m so stuck on how my book should end, but I’ll figure it out one of these days. I finished The Girl on the Train last month. While the ending was overly surprising, it did hit the spot in a satisfying way for me as a reader.

    • Candy Korman

      The End… two very satisfying words for an author.
      The balance between surprise and a logical outcome is about hitting an illusive sweet spot. I’m aiming and aiming and…

      Lately I’ve read entirely too many novels that keep going after the end. That’s another way to miss the sweet spot. I hope I’m learning from the “mistakes” of others, although sometimes I think I must make the mistakes myself in order to take the lesson home.

  2. There has to be some logic to the ending of a story to give me any satisfaction. Either the hero dies and I know how and why or the hero lives and I should also know how and why. I may not always know how the story will end but I have to be able to trace some kind of path to the conclusion. Some random person walking in off the street who just happens to know how to defuse the bomb about to end the heroes life doesn’t cut it for me.
    xxx Huge Hugs Candy xxx

    • Candy Korman

      Unless that random person was introduced earlier and you know that they are some kind of bomb specialist that has a connection to the storyline and then… well, they are no longer random, but maybe a surprise when they appear.

  3. Happy or unhappy, there has to be an inevitability about the ending if I’m to be satisfied. It’s the release of tension, like the sigh at the end of a great meal. 🙂

    • Candy Korman

      YES! A sigh at the end of a great meal —the perfect way to put. That’s how a good ending feels. Maybe it’s a little surprising. Perhaps the dessert is unusual or there’s a cheese course or a fine after dinner drink involved. But whether it’s chocolate cake or poached pears, it’s satisfying!