on Writers Helping Writers:
It was 10pm, and I was trying to sleep when my door flew open and my sister came in, wailing like a wounded puppy. “Why did you kill him?”
I cleared the sleep from my eyes. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Michael! You killed Michael!”
At that, I couldn’t help myself from laughing. Not a nice thing, I know.
Curiously, she went ahead to profess love for the story—particularly the ending that made her cry. Fascinating, right? My story was able to create such a strong emotional reaction because it avoided the safety of a happy ending and the depression of a sad ending. Instead, it opted for the more fulfilling happy-sad resolution.
Why Happy-Sad Endings?
Before we answer the question of why, let’s explore the story endings that we commonly see. To put it bluntly,
- A sad ending is when the story ends on an overwhelmingly negative emotion
- A happy ending is when the story ends on an overwhelmingly positive emotion
In both instances, it’s clear what the final emotional beat of the story is. However, the third type of ending introduces a new kind of experience.