Every story ever written has two things in common–a beginning and an ending, and it’s at the end of the story where we, as storytellers, deliver the punch lines that impact our readers.
Regardless of your genre, most readers want, and expect, a happy ending. One that ties up all of the loose ends and leaves them satisfied. And, most often, that’s what they get. In my genre, romance, it’s pretty simple. Boy meets girl. They fall in love, but there are conflicts and obstacles to be overcome, and once they’re resolved everyone lives happily ever after. THE END. But then again, some of the most well-loved and compelling romance stories ever written didn’t end with the couple living happily ever after. Who could forget Gone with the Wind? After thinking she was in love with Ashley Wilkes for all those years, Scarlett suddenly realizes she’s been in love with Rhett the whole time, but when she finally tells him his response is, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” He walks away and slams the door behind him, leaving her to ponder her next move. This ending left us wanting more, and I believe this is way, after more than seventy years, the book and the movie still have a following.
By the way, I don’t know if this is actual fact or urban legend, but I recall hearing somewhere that Margaret Mitchell wrote the ending first, and then went back to write the rest of the story. Some authors do write their endings first, and it’s perfectly okay to do so.
Another famous ending comes from the movie, Casa Blanca, which was actually wasn’t based on a novel, but on a play called, Everyone Comes to Rick’s. It too is a love story with a twist. Boy meets girl. Girl ditches boy. Boy meets girl a second time, only now she’s brought her husband along. So, along with some unforgettable dialog, (“Of all the gin joints in all the places in the world, she had to walk into mine.”), we all root for Rick to get Ilsa back. Instead the story ends with him putting her on the plane, along with her husband, and sending them away for good. Then the final scene ends with Rick walking away with Louis Renualt and saying, “You know, Louie, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”
Once again, I’ve heard rumor that there were two endings shot for Casa Blanca. In the alternate ending Ilsa stays behind with Rick, but it was decided that the other ending would have a stronger impact on the audience. They were right. Seventy years later, Casa Blanca remains one of the best-loved films of all time.
Sometimes stories aren’t about happy endings. Sometimes they’re about doing the right thing, even when doing the right thing isn’t so easy to do. The same can be said of real life.