(image source: http://jamiedubs.com/fuckflickr/fail/)
While in series and standalone novels, there are often happy endings (not just in the satisfying for the reader and story line type of way) that is not always the case. I don't mean endings per say that didn't provide for the promises made, but simply endings that don't go well for the characters. My stepdad was surprised with a few of John Grisham's books because they don't always end well for the main characters and before that he was reading long series by W.E.B. Griffin, and the main characters at least all live considering they are in the next book of the series. But the standalone novels haven't gone that way out of his reading collection and it surprises him.
Most romance has to have a happy ending, not just satisfying but the genre specific all ends well for the couple type of happiness. But in anti-romance there is a romance as part of the focal plot except things don't end well for the the couple. And it's fitting for the stories.
Of course, this can be difficult in series. At least, it is difficult when it comes to killing off main characters because some of them have to survive in order to have another book. It's harder to pull a Buffy (yes I know about that even though I've never seen it) and have the character die and then have them come back at the beginning of the next one. When the cast of main characters is big, like in epic fantasy, it is a little more possible to do the death type in the middle of a series but with a single main character that's a harder option. The real trick comes in with the last book of the series because there is a chance for not successful results and death.
Death aside, the other possibility is characters failing in their main goal. Often there will be smaller failures along the way but the end or the top of the climax in plot are what I mean here. Sometimes a failure can provide an option they didn't expect to come out of the situation. This can mean that "evil" wins, that it turns out to be a world set on repeat or a number of different options. The hero gives in the temptations he's been fighting the whole story, tainted by a magical artifact. Neo is in a loop, the matrix has things go the same way each time, or something like that. Maybe she picks the wrong guy and ends up alone. So many options but why have a not successful ending?
The truth is, as is common in writing, it depends on the story. It also depends on what is considered success. As long as it makes sense and answers the promises made throughout the novel, an ending can be as happy or sad as the story calls for. Sure, a reader may hurl the book across the room but that's not always a bad thing and it's a sign of awesomeness when a book can move someone that much. Write the ending the way it needs to be written, even if that means failure.
I haven't written this type of ending yet, but I have at least one planned so far. It's one that is fun to be cruel with because there are two men who have become really close (intimately and such) but they know it can't last. So, the end involves two men and one gun, but I won't tell anyone yet who holds the gun and who it actually kills. But to say the least, it's not the happiest ending for the characters the story surrounds. I'm sure there are others with varying degrees of success and what not, but I won't bore everyone by listing them all here.
And that's all for 2010. It has been a good year and I look forward to blogging about writing more in 2011. Look forwards to more interviews and maybe even a few guest posts. Until then... Happy New Year!