I used to be super fond of including tragedy or psuedo-tragedy in my stories (that "oh no, did they die??" moment at the end of the movie) but I'm not anymore. They make me sad to write and so I dont want to do it!
Do you think stories are just as good, better, or worse without these kinds of endings?
Or, do you think it really doesn't matter and a good story can end any way the author wants?
Personally I used to think they were better, but now Im more on the "it depends on the story" boat.
i think it's pretty hard to do a tragic ending right because most people are shit at it and just think shock value = good story.
if a character arc isn't closed by the tragic ending, it leaves people with the feeling of "okay, then why was i here? what was the point?" and it's true. if the ending doesn't bring SOMETHING TO A CLOSE, besides just killing a character or characters early, then... why? why even be here?
I've always said I'm not a fan of the completely happy ending. The ones where everyone lives, and probably fall in love and everything is over and done. Its the kind of ending you get in a lot of stuff aimed at kids, you know, stuff like Disney movies, and I find they get quite ridiculous at times, when it's painfully obvious the happy ending makes no sense and was put in because 'kids can't handle sad endings' or something. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of things with happy endings that I enjoy, and my favourite movie ever (One Stormy Night/Arashi No Yoru Ni) has a happy ending. But it's also an emotional ending that I'll freely admit makes me cry every time, and that's what I think is most important to me. I want to feel something from an ending, and be moved and inspired. If the ending can do that, I'll probably love it. If not, I'll just think 'huh that was nice I guess' and move on to something else. I've found it is harder to find a happy ending that does this.
I can be quite fussy about endings though, while I do like downer endings more, I usually don't like for them to be total downers either. Then it can feel pointless, gloomy and/or frustrating. Though I do really like the ending to Berserk's Golden age arc as one example of an excellent downer. It's already established that things will go wrong, but we don't know how. The whole thing is essentially backstory, and follows quite a... Well not predictable, but heavily symbolic route. But it works, because it all feels so real, and by the time you get to the ending, it's clear this is the only way it could have gone, under the circumstances. Everything led into everything else. And the ending is just so raw and full of despair, I love it.
Edit: Another great downer movie is 'Ringing Bell.' The ending is vital to the meaning of the film.
The kind of ending that seems to go down well with me the most reliably is the bittersweet. I like having that painfull emotion and sad feels there, but what makes it even more effective to me is something to hope for, and hold on to. Perhaps lots of lives have been lost, but some characters are left to carry on and support each other like in Les Miserables. Perhaps some huge things have gone down, and even though good won out, things can never be the same again, like in The Last Unicorn, or Lord of the Rings.
As for 'Disney deaths...' (fakeouts) they can work, but they have to be done well. The reason they get called Disney Deaths is because they are in most Disney movies. Maybe even all. And when you see the scene halt to mourn this character who just died and the sad music swells and the camera lingers on their face a certain way... Come on. We know they're not dead. These don't affect me anymore. BUT, if a work really can convince me that a character is dead or is going to die, and then it's later revealed not to be the case in a clever way, I'll appreciate it a lot more, proably even be happy they're still alive. But it's very hard to pull off and I wouldn't recommend to someone to try and put one in without a good reason.
In short, I just want an ending to be done well and make me feel things. That's the kind of ending I like, one that touches me.
For my own work, I am very much in the 'depends on the story' boat too. Whilst I like some sads in endings a lot, I absolutely would give something a happy ending if it felt more appropriate. But I highly doubt I will ever write something that's 100% happy.
A tragic ending only belongs at the end of a tragic story.
The ending should be in keeping with the themes of the plot. If your story is about that Nitzschean "he who fights monsters" concept, featuring a fallen hero as the primary antagonist and a protagonist that keeps venturing into evil territory, sure, have a downer ending where the hero becomes the villain. If your story is about how violence, no matter how noble-minded, only begets more violence, by all means end with the hero getting cut down.
But if your story is about a bunch of multiethnic spunky teens and a talking cat defeating The Man with the power of friendship, you don't get a tragic ending. You didn't work for it. And in such a story, killing off a character is incongruous, not stakes-raising.
Note that the reverse is still possible - a tragic story can get a happy ending. If you're writing a nihilistic story about how nothing matters and we're all doomed to pointless deaths, you can still make a happy ending that's a refutation of that idea.
It's most important that the ending is logical, feels conclusive, and reflects the greater themes of the work. If the best conclusion is tragic, then make it tragic. If it's happy, bittersweet, or even just confusing, then don't be afraid to make it that either.
Most TC arc endings are either bittersweet or happy with a cost. But the series as a whole has a hopeful ending. And hopefully I can keep this project going all the way to that point.
Life's hard as is, I like happy endings over tragic. Though I dont mind tragic then abrupt U-turn to a good ending where it is not necessarily "Happy" but satisfying where characters dont get what they want but got what they needed. I rather lean towards satisfying overall if it the series is already leaning towards more realistic grasps/themes on situations
Im actually not a fan of tragic endings even in some stories that are mostly tragic.. mostly because i end up feeling like the characters went through enough sh*t already and deserved at least a palatable end to ther journey :(, but thats just me
I'm okay with bittersweet endings, or tragedy with some deep meaning attached to it, but not pure tragedy without meaning. I also like it less if the tragic ending lacks closure, too, because then there's nothing satisfying about it.
Can't think of a webcomic example, but I recently read a story that ended abruptly with the main character being killed by something out of his control. The narrative didn't give any hints about why exactly the murder happened, or what would happen next. Not fun.
I think it depends on the tragic ending. Some sad endings fit the story, while others are just... cruel. Like why kick everyone when they're down? I prefer endings that even when sad there's something positive to it like a lesson or something. That and I accept that in some cases, the tragedy was self inflicted.
I like a tragic ending if there's a point to it. I can't stand when a story ends like shit just because the author can... where the whole story is just pointless, you know? I think you should be able to tell sometime in the movie everything isn't going to be fine, instead of just hitting you with a derailed train outta nowhere.
I sat through The Fault in Our Stars, ugh... it's like the whole story is going "look, they have cancer but with eachother they slowly start to appreciate life and HAHAAAA FUCK YOU"
Just go and watch Chronicle. The ending gives me chills.
I agree with most everything that's been said so far. The ending needs to fit the kind of story it is, and it won't feel right to the audience if it doesn't make sense.
That said, I don't tend to like endings that are wholly tragic. It's often said that tragedy is superior to comedy, and I can see why; one is likely to be more thought-provoking than the other. But the trouble I often have with tragedy is that it may conclude the story in a dissatisfying way, even if it fits and makes perfect sense. I'm bothered endlessly by any scenario where you say to yourself "Well, if they'd just done _________, they could've avoided the whole mess!" I like to see heroes learn from their mistakes and become better people for it. If they die because of their mistakes or inherent flaws, that development is lost. In those cases, it's supposed to be the audience that learns from the hero's errors, and the message is pretty clear: don't goof up like this, you'll live longer. But I feel it's important to show that consequences can be avoided/lessened, and that conflicts don't always have to end badly.
I also don't like endings where everything works out the best that it possibly could be. Add me to the list of people in favor of bittersweet stuff. Even if it's only bitter in the slightest way, it's at least more believable than "happily ever after for everyone ever the end."
@Jammy: I'm surprised to see you mention that particular arc of Berserk. I recently saw the condensed movie versions of that arc (maybe that's the problem?), and I really didn't like the ending very much. Maybe my post prior already has it covered, but here's my take on the twist in question:
After the behelit was activated and all hell broke loose, I felt really detached from the action of the story. Before then, it was down to earth and the conflict felt so human and real. Then the event suddenly activates and this supernatural element is added that only serves to destroy almost every relevant character up to then: demonizing Griffith, wiping Casca's memory, killing nearly every other member of the squad, and leaving Guts with barely anything left. It's tragic as fuck, sure, but does it fit? Could this same result have felt more compelling from a more mundane angle? It just took things in such a radical direction that I couldn't feel invested in it any longer.
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@halibabica: Ahh, I see your point. I can definitely understand how something so dark and awful as what happened could turn people away. I guess I just find it really fascinating for some reason. What I do know is I wouldn't like just any work with an ending like this, it has to mean something to me. Usually I do prefer at least a slightly lighter end.
I think what really kept me invested was that what Griffith did was so terrible, so awful, and yet you understand exactly why he did it. Everything he'd worked for, his dream, everything the people who followed him had died for had been taken from him. He'd suffered horribly, and I found it made a disturbing amount of sense that it would lead him to the conclusion he had to sacrifice the rest of his followers to get that back, though admittedly the suppernatural stuff had been scattered here and there beforehand, and then suddenly it was all right there, in a much bigger way than in any other part. I can definitely see why that could be jarring.
Throughout the story, Griffith'd been built up as this almost inhumanly amazing and inspiring leader, with so many people invested in helping him achieve his dream. In this scene, he justified the slaughter to himself by saying it was for the sake of those who had died- if he didn't achieve his dream they died for nothing- but in reality, it was from his own selfishness. The supernatural elements were pretty sudden, but we had been given hints of them before, so personally, I can forgive it. That stuff's more pronounced in the manga.
I guess to me it just felt fitting, because it both remained true to and subverted audience expectation, provided an extremely memorable entry into the story for the God Hand, and completely explained how Guts became the black swordsman.
But I see I'm definitely in the minority here by liking some endings like this! heheheh. heh. ^w^'
I think it's all preference. There isn't a 'bad' tone, but I have a strong preference for "rough stories with bittersweet, but overall happy, stories"
I know some people prefer to totally escape in fiction, but, for me, a world where things are too happy or easy doesn't pull me most of the time. I relate to stories about overcoming struggles and living with the scars, not never having struggles.
Emotionally, I can't handle pointless endings. Nihilistic endings, people sacrificing themselves for nothing, people struggling hard and getting nothing, that depresses me. Also endings where people fail to change and go back to bad habits and patterns, especially in horror.
Also, I cannot handle endings that treat tragedy as "deep". Some of the most amazing people in my life are people who have been through hell, dealt with abuse and deep depression and death, and still keep believing and trying. When you're depressed, it's easy to feel like you've had some great insight into the meaninglessness of the universe, but some novels seem to wallow in that. I want a story that says "Yes I know it hurts, I know it's hard, I know it won't all be okay, but keep going. It can get so much better."
Tragic endings depend on context. If it doesn't fit the feel of the work it can feel forced. Although sometimes a tragedy can lead to an atmosphere change and some interesting developments, such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
Unless you hate the characters. In that case kill them all.
I'm not planning on a particularly tragic ending for my first story arc: it will bring closure to a few things but it won't be satisfying (thus subsequent story arcs).