Every story ever written has two things in common; a beginning and an ending. It’s at the end of the story where we, as storytellers, deliver the punch lines which will impact our readers.
What readers expect
Regardless of your genre, most readers want, and expect, a happy ending. One which ties up all of the loose ends and leaves them satisfied. Most of the time this is 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 before they can be together. Once the conflicts are 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.
Remember Romeo and Juliet? This timeless tale of two star crossed lovers ended with a double suicide, which compelled their two warring families to put an end to their bitter feud.
More recently, there was Gone with the Wind. After thinking she was in love with Ashley Wilkes for all those years, Scarlett O’Hara suddenly realizes she’s been in love with Rhett Butler the entire time. Unfortunately for Scarlett, Rhett’s response is to walk away and slam the door behind him, leaving her to ponder her next move. This ending certainly left us wanting more.
My favorite unexpected ending
My favorite unexpected ending comes from the movie, Casa Blanca, which was actually based 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 he puts her, and her husband, on a plane and sends them away for good. The final scene ends with the plane taking off while Rick walks away with Louis Renault saying, “You know, Louie, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”
Good stories aren’t always 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 also be said of real life.