happy endings (in books)

The reason I put “in books” in parenthesis, is because, having a dirty mind, my first thought when I hear the phrase “happy ending” is not of Cinderella-like fairytales.  And since I know many of you have dirty minds too, I wanted to clarify at the outset so you could get your minds out of the gutter.

Moving on….

The first draft of my second novel is almost complete and I am currently writing the conclusion and debating whether to give my main character the happy ending she so badly wants.  The thing is, we don’t always get what we want in real life.  And sometimes, getting what we want doesn’t make us happy.  Other times, what we want isn’t even healthy for us.  Take me for instance. I’ve wanted many things that weren’t good for me.  Back in college, I wanted to be 100 pounds at 5″5′ but I had to starve myself to get there.  In the late 90s, I wanted to impress my law firm by billing more hours than every other paralegal in my department, but I had to sacrifice my social life to get there. And through the years, I’ve had crushes on a couple of homosexual men.  None of them were openly gay but for obvious reasons, they didn’t return my affection.  

So why should my character get her happy ending when I haven’t always gotten mine and when, in ‘the real world’, she might not?

I guess the reason is that most people read books for escape, certainly those people in my target audience. Some readers like to live vicariously through the characters in a book and when the characters are happy, so is the reader.  For this reason, chick-lit novels, with some exceptions, always have happy endings.  Not necessarily predictable cookie-cutter endings and not necessarily what the reader is expecting but generally, conflicts are resolved in such a way that the reader feels warm and fuzzy when she’s finished.  And while suspending reality is often necessary to some degree, most readers recognize this and gladly oblige.   

While to a certain extent, I have no control over my own fate, as an author, the destiny of my characters rests in my hands.  While it’s pretty cool to invent a whole life for someone, there were moments when writing Just Friends With Benefits when one hand was trying to forcibly remove the other hand from the keyboard because I knew my main character was making a huge mistake. But for the better of the book and for the development of my character, I had to let her make errors in judgment and learn from her mistakes in order to better appreciate the good things she had coming to her.  When all was said and done, I wrote a happy ending for Stephanie Cohen.  It was not the one I had initially intended or the one I think my audience necessarily guessed, but there was definitely some warm-fuzziness in the house at the end.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’ve thought about writing a sequel but I don’t want to screw with Stephanie’s world when I think she wound up exactly where she was meant to be. 

Chances are the main character in my second novel will get her happy ending too.  Maybe not in the way she wants, but in the way she deserves.   

In closing, I wish all of you happy endings.  With or without “in books” in parenthesis.



  1. Leslie on March 10, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Dear Meredith,

    I finished your first novel, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although you wrote it an light-hearted style, it raised so many issues in this blog, such as self-sabatoge, the ability to discern what you really want, and the ability to carry on in the face of not getting what you want. Overall, a great vacation read!


  2. Meredith on March 11, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Thanks, Leslie! So glad you enjoyed it. I was trying to create a realistic character, but also tell her story in a lighthearted way and I’m glad you think I succeeded.

  3. Jeff Salter on March 11, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Very interesting dilema.
    Not knowing the particulars, let me offer something generic, but (I believe) true.
    If it — the direction the ending goes — does not feel right to you (the writer) … it won’t likely feel right to the reader.
    So I say: follow your gut.

  4. Danielle Mulcahy on March 12, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Great post Meredith! I loved how you clarified happy endings “in books” as well. So funny!

  5. Meredith on March 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Hi Jeff, I absolutely agree that a writer should trust his/her instincts. That’s why we have them. If it doesn’t feel right, cut it. There were lines in my book that I absolutely loved but they just didn’t add any value to the story and I knew it. I actually maintain a list of cut paragraphs on the off chance they’ll work in a different book. Thanks for commenting!

    Danielle – glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks for the comment 🙂

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