Are bad endings good?
Most authors would say ‘yes’. Even more would-be authors would say ‘yes’. When I was in my early twenties up till my early thirties, I would have said ‘yes’, too.
When you’re just starting out, you feel like you have a responsibility when you write. You want to fix the world, change the world, teach your readers and audience the truth so many are blind to. You want to shine the light of truth into the eyes of people who have consciously or unconsciously pulled the wool over their eyes.
When you make sure your book or story has a bad ending, you’re also telling your readers that not everything is good in the world. You’re telling them in a way that penetrates to their emotions that the world they live in is harsh and that happy endings are not guaranteed the way they are in Disney movies or most Hollywood movies for that matter. Sure, you may lose a considerable percentage of your readers if you consistently provide endings that are bad for your heroes, but the idealist in you insists that at least you told the truth to the people who listened. In some way, in some very small way, you helped change their lives and made the world a slightly better place.
When you make sure your book or story has a good ending, the idealist in you says, you’re telling your readers that there’s no reason to get off the couch and be active to change things for the better. No, happy endings are all around. You leave your reader satisfied, and so he’s less likely to become active for being unsatisfied. In giving the readers good endings, the idealist in you insists, you’re helping to keep the status quo. And that’s not your job as an artist.
But then years of experience come in. And they show you that the effect your powerful stories have is nill. Powerful political statements? Even those who agree with you quickly forget your brilliant reasoning. A year later, they forget what it was they agreed with. Showing truth to readers? Your truths are forgotten and the readers continue to live their lives of lie and wool pulling.
In truth, nothing you say sticks.
Oh, no, that’s not true. A few things do stick. If you make your readers laugh, they’ll remember you forever. If you make them cry, they’ll love you forever.
But let’s not talk about how your readers feel about you, let’s talk about whether something sticks that changes your readers.
If you give your readers an explosion of imagination, it will stay with them. Even years later, they’ll remember that they’re capable of more imagination than they normally use. They’ll return to your stories or books and read them and then play with their own imagination. Giving imagination to people takes them outside their box and in some way, in some small way, makes their world a better place.
Next: If you give your readers new experiences, they’ll remember that there is more to their world than what they experience in their normal lives. They’ll want to experience more, which leads to a specific kind of excitement, and one that spreads easily from man to friend. In some way, in some small way, you made their world (and the world at large) a better place.
Lastly: If you give your readers an explosion of emotion, they’ll remember that they’re capable of so much more emotion than they’re feeling. They’ll know that the color red is redder, that beauty can be more beautiful, that anger can be more powerful, that love can be unbelievable, that a loss is almost too great to bear, and so on. They’ll know that there’s more, and some of them will seek out that more at the expense of dreariness, drabness, and sameness. In some way, in some small way, you made their world a better place.
So are bad endings good or bad? Are good endings bad or good? As in most things in life, experience teaches us that it’s not the end that matters, it’s how you get there. If you got there through an explosion of imagination or through letting the readers live through new experiences, or if you’ve given your readers an explosion of emotion, then you’ve done good, and helped change and influence most readers’ lives in some small way. The ending really doesn’t matter.
One last thing: I have a new book out. It’s called Secret Thoughts. Check it out. It’s an explosion of imagination, new experiences, and emotion: http://www.apexbookcompany.com/apex-store/secret-thoughts/
Guy Hasson is an Israeli writer, playwright, and filmmaker. His fiction is predominantly written in English, whilst his stage and film work is written in Hebrew. He is the author of two books published in Israel-a short story collection and a short novel-and he wrote and directed the science fiction feature film Heart of Stone in 2008. He is also a two-time winner of the Israeli Geffen Award for science fiction short stories. You can find more of his work in the anthologies The Apex Book of World Science Fiction and Apexology: Horror.