As I was contemplating a plot of a new book I am just beginning to write, I had to once again ask myself – how will this end? I am a pantser when it comes to writing, however, I do require an ending to the story to already be planned out because it helps guide the story.
The first question I always ask myself is, “Will this have a happy ending?” Usually the answer lobbies back and forth between yes and no. I like my stories to have some sense of realism when dealing with outcomes and consequences. I hate it when stories end conveniently and the good guys walk away winners. There is always a desire in my mind to have the story end as it would in the real world.
In the real world, even when the ‘good’ guys win, it often involves a cost and a bit of compromise.
A basic example of what I mean (just in case anyone needs one) is when a person is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. The story would basically be about their fight to survive, the trials and tribulations they endure with treatment and their interactions with family members during the ordeal.
In a typical fairytale-esq storyline, the character with cancer would most likely undergo standard treatments like surgery, chemo, etc but of course this doesn’t work and all seems lost – but then – the character finds some alternative treatment that is doubted by medical professionals and is risky because you can’t be on standard treatment while you do it and so on. Things get worse briefly but then in the end, the alternative treatment not only works but is super successful, cures the cancer completely and restores the character to full health. The character and their family end the story being even closer than they were, everyone is happy and the audience walks away with that soft joyous feeling that miracles do happen.
I can say from personal experience that the reality of a stage 4 cancer diagnosis and a successful treatment ending in remission is far from a fairy tale. In the real world, most alternative treatments are not only expensive but are merely bogus pills offered by shiesters using the desperate hope of the terminally ill to make a profit. Standard cancer treatments are the most effective in the majority of cases.
The stark reality, however, of a stage 4 diagnosis is that there is no absolute cure, only the slim chance of remission for a few years until the cancer comes back in a different location. For a very, very small percentage – less than 8% in stage 4 colon cancer – they survive the cancer with treatment and live for many years afterward although the cancer does eventually come back and then they must once again fight for their life.
For these survivors – the defeat of the cancer for now is a win. This is a happy ending. As with all happy endings in the real world, however, it comes with a cost and a compromise.
The cost is an actual cost – medical treatments such as surgeries, chemotherapy and the accompanying steroids and anti-nausea meds, shots in between chemo treatments to bring the white blood cell count back up can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The shot for increasing blood cell count is $14,000 per shot. For those with insurance, after they meet their deductible for the year, the rest is covered. For many, unfortunately, they have no insurance and end up losing their cars, their homes, all of their money and so much more to pay for their treatment. Such is the cost of their survival.
The compromise comes in the form of all that was damaged during the fight. No one fights for their life against a disease and walks away without emotional damage. The family and friends also suffer emotional trauma. The person with cancer often ends up with lasting physical problems due to side effects of treatment. No ones life is ever the same again. A brush with death leaves a lasting scar that never truly heals.
Alas, that was a long example but bear with me. No one writes stories that include such semi-happy endings because, from what I can tell, such endings are not popular among readers. This means that as I debate on whether my story will have a happy ending, I debate the pros and cons of a realistic (not happy) ending vs a fairy tale happy ending vs a realistic happy ending. Since I am writing fiction, I invariably choose a realistic happy ending because it allows me to feel my ending of the story is not convenient or forced or absolutely ridiculous.
In reality, good people suffer, good people die, bad people get away with crimes, bad people win and more often than not the single small struggle of one individual makes no difference at all in this small world we live on within an infinite universe. This is why reality doesn’t make good stories.
We all live in reality so why would we want to read about it? We read to escape. We read to free our minds from the restrictions and probabilities of reality. We read because it gives us the ability, however briefly, to believe in magic, to believe that one individual matters, to believe that anything is possible.