Audio Note: Rekka's puppy, Evie, joins us for this episode and there is the sound of a squeak toy and a jangling collar during the episode. If you or a pet in your vicinity would be unsettled by this, it might be best to listen at low volume this time, or just stick to reading the transcript.

We Make Books is a podcast for writers and publishers, by writers and publishers and we want to hear from our listeners! Hit us up on our social media, linked below, and send us your questions, comments, and concerns for us to address in future episodes.

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Links for this episode:

WMBCast Episode 26: Satisfying Endings

American Girl Books (Molly, Kirsten, Felicity, and Samantha's seem to be out of print but Addy's are still available)

The Chronicles Of Ghadid series by K.A. Doore

Gods Of Jade And Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Until The End Of The World series by Sarah Lyons Fleming

Transcript for Episode 54:

(All inaccuracies are Rekka's fault)

 

Rekka (00:01):
Welcome back to we make books, a podcast about writing publishing and everything in between. I'm Rekka. I write science fiction and fantasy as RJ Theodore.

Kaelyn (00:09):
I'm Kaelyn Considine. I am the acquisitions editor for Parvus Press. And, um, let's, let's start with the elephant in the— well, the dog in the room, as it were, we have a special—

Rekka (00:18):
She sounds like an elephant sometimes, let me tell you. Not when she barks, but when she's stomping around,

Kaelyn (00:22):
We have a special guest on today's episode. Rekka's new —

Rekka (00:26):
And we should have had a video pod, video cast, but, um, cause her most endearing quality is her face, but you're going to hear the less endearing qualities a couple times through the episode.

Kaelyn (00:36):
Yeah, Rekka's uh, still fairly newish puppy, Evie, is joining us today.

Rekka (00:40):
She's seven months old. We've had her for three months. She was so well-behaved right up until we started recording. At the moment. She is biting my leg and trying to chew through my headphone cord. So, um...

Kaelyn (00:53):
She just has a lot of opinions on things because here's the thing.

Rekka (00:56):
She has a multi-faceted personality. This facet is very sharp!

Kaelyn (01:01):
In her short life, Evie's actually had a pretty happy ending.

Rekka (01:05):
Well, hopefully not an ending, but currently at this, if we were to close the last chapter of the book right here, and of course it would be a series so she can continue on. Um, yes. Well, she's not very happy, right this moment. I mean, she wouldn't be biting me if she were.

Kaelyn (01:20):
Well, it's a good rags to riches story, you know?

Rekka (01:22):
She is trying to make my jeans into rags at this moment.

Kaelyn (01:26):
She went from a porch somewhere, tied up on a porch, somewhere to a house with lots of toys, people to pay attention to her, and a nice fireplace.

Rekka (01:34):
Very expensive dog food.

Kaelyn (01:36):
So, um, yeah, today we're talking about happy endings. Do you need one? What is a happy ending? What does that even mean? What is, what makes it a happy ending?

Rekka (01:46):
This was a listener question. So, um, you know, thank you to people who chimed in when, uh, Kaelyn and I weren't sure what we were going to talk about today. We, uh, reached out and got a bunch of suggestions and I think we're covered for like the next half year or so. So today, Kaelyn was in the mood for a happy story and wanted to talk about how, or if she was in the mood to, um, completely disparage happy endings. It's hard to tell.

Kaelyn (02:10):
It's been a week, everyone.

Rekka (02:10):
She is a huge fan of epic fantasy, which means, you know, that gritty-kill-your-main-character-halfway-through-surprise-this-ten-book-series-is-about-someone-else.

Kaelyn (02:19):
I read a novella once, that was like a horror novella, in which the two main characters ended up, sucked into a demon dimension through a shattered mirror. And that was the end of the book, was the girl turning to the guy and going, "No, you don't understand this is it we're stuck here now."

Rekka (02:37):
I mean.

Kaelyn (02:38):
It was a happy ending for the thing that was coming to eat them, I guess.

Rekka (02:42):
But, yeah. So, I mean, without the context of the rest of the story, to me, that doesn't sound very satisfying. That sounds like the inciting incident. So, um, you know—

Kaelyn (02:52):
Well, we're going to talk about this a little. I think, you know, there's, there's a need that we have sometimes to appease the reader, to, to, you know, "give the people what they want" so to speak.

Rekka (03:03):
I mean, I like to get what I want.

Kaelyn (03:04):
Yeah. We all, we all do.

Rekka (03:05):
Evie likes to get what she wants.

Kaelyn (03:08):
We all do. But, um, maybe that's not the way the story goes, but it's not an unhappy ending.

Rekka (03:16):
Yeah. So, you know, we have more to say on this, so let's get that music going and we will talk about it on the other side.

Rekka (03:22):
[To Evie] Oh, you have a toy. Thank you. [To Kaelyn] She brought me something this time. Sometimes she just comes to me like I've got magical toys in my pockets and I can just pull it out anytime she wants me to throw something.

Kaelyn (03:52):
I mean, I always assume you have magical toys in your pockets. You frequently are able to produce things to both entice and distract me.

Rekka (04:02):
Yeah. Ahhh, Okay. So enticing and distracting plot lines that hopefully lead to conclusions, but... Okay, so this, this question came from the audience. Do we have to have happy ending?

Kaelyn (04:18):
Abso-fucking-lutely not. Okay. End of the episode. Glad we talked about this.

Rekka (04:23):
We're done! There's Kaelyn's opinion.

Kaelyn (04:25):
Well, when Rekka and I were, you know, getting prepared for this and when we were talking about this episode, Rekka made, I think a very important distinction, which is, you know, there's two different kinds of happy endings here. There's, you know, does your main character or your protagonist, whoever get an ending that they want? Get something that is for them as the character satisfying and fulfilling? And then there's also, well, does the reader feel good when they close the book? What have you done to the reader here?

Rekka (04:56):
Yeah, I mean—and of course, this has a lot to do with genre and preference because there are people who want to be ripped apart and destroyed by the books they read.

Kaelyn (05:05):
Yeah if you're writing— If you're writing romance novels, somebody had better end up happy at the end.

Rekka (05:11):
Right. Yeah. I mean, that's, that's a law. That's not even a guideline.

Kaelyn (05:15):
People read those books for a specific reason. The payoff needs to be there.

Rekka (05:20):
Right.

Kaelyn (05:20):
So to speak, um,

Rekka (05:21):
You got to hit that G-spot ending.

Kaelyn (05:23):
Yeah. Thank you.

Rekka (05:25):
You're welcome.

Kaelyn (05:25):
We, we could do this all day.

Rekka (05:28):
I don't think I could.

Kaelyn (05:29):
We're going to, we're going to look at it in these two different ways. You know, the main character versus the reader. Rekka, you can't do this. It's really distracting.

Rekka (05:37):
But it's keeping her from biting me. Do we tell the listeners what I'm doing or we just, uh?

Kaelyn (05:46):
Uh, yeah. So for those, for those listening at home, Rekka has stepped away from her desk a little bit and is dancing with her puppy to try to keep her happy and entertained. And it's very, very adorable.

Rekka (06:00):
She's standing on my shoes and moving her feet with my feet.

Kaelyn (06:06):
So, um— God, podcasting in the pandemic, people.

Rekka (06:09):
Podcasting with puppies.

Kaelyn (06:09):
This, this is what we, what happens.

Rekka (06:13):
This is my best life.

Kaelyn (06:15):
So yeah, there's, you know, there's two different specific ways to think about this. You know, we've got the main character, we've got the reader. Let's talk about the main character a little bit first before we get into all of the, you know, emotional reader kind of stuff. Um, does a main character have to have a happy ending? No, they don't. Um, a lot of them, a lot of books, main character just dies. I mean, you know, for most people that's probably not a happy ending for the main character.

Rekka (06:44):
Some main characters are the villain.

Kaelyn (06:46):
Sometimes the main character's the villain. We did a whole episode on books having a satisfying ending. And I want to take a moment and distinguish between what we're talking about, in terms of a happy ending versus satisfying ending. Um, go back, listen to the satisfying ending episode. We talked a lot about, it was very series driven, um, you know, with how you wrap up a series and make sure that, you know, you've covered all your bases and the make the reader feel as though reading this was time well spent and not an exercise in frustration. That has more to do with storytelling and writing technique. In this case, we're talking about, you know, does everything need to work out perfectly in the book in order for it to be a satisfying ending? And no, of course it doesn't. Very rarely is a book compelling if everything ends exactly the way the main character or the protagonist wanted it to when it starts, because what's the point of the book? What's the point of the story and the journey?

Rekka (07:43):
Yeah. That kind of defies the character arc itself. Like, because we frequently say your main character is going to find out what they thought they wanted in the beginning is not what they find out is actually going to make them happy at the end. And using that H word again. But like, if your character is going to change throughout your book and not be like an Indiana Jones or a Han Solo — and even Han Solo kind of changes his mind over the course of the three movies. But if you are going to make your main character get the ending they wanted from page one, then there isn't a story [ed.: Meant to say "character"] arc.

Kaelyn (08:22):
Well, it's also, yeah, it's, you know, I was, I was talking with a friend about this recently and I was describing, you know, the way you break down, um, you know, particular thing. And I said, okay, well you introduce the character, you establish the setting. And then you talk about the problem. And he was like "the problem?" And I was like, "yeah, there's always a problem. Because if the book is just about how happy everybody is, and there are no problems, that's not really very compelling reading." So to that end as Rekka mentioned, maybe the thing they wanted isn't what's going to make them happy. Maybe, you know, they need something in order to save somebody else. Maybe they're questing for a specific mythical object that's going to save their town. They can still get those things, and it's a compelling story, but getting there—the whole path along the way—it's like, there's going to be some bodies, essentially.

Rekka (09:13):
There are always bodies, especially in Kaelyn's warpath.

Kaelyn (09:17):
I am a big fan of killing off characters and, uh, you know, using that both as a way to re motivate or drive main characters or force them to reevaluate what they're doing.

Rekka (09:30):
Or clear the slate so that you can start the plot over again.

Kaelyn (09:33):
Yeah. Or that that's fine too. Rekka's referring to A Song of Ice and Fire, essentially. But, you know, along those lines, um, I think that that was, you know, obviously in a lot of mainstream, um, fiction, apart from horror and maybe, you know, kind of like psychological thriller, you had pretty much everybody get through everything intact. Um, I don't remember reading a ton of stuff, you know, Young Adult or even adult Adult growing up where, you know, the group of friends and all of the group of friends [ed. didn't] survive. And that's, that's, I think become more rare these days. Now, if you have a group of friends that are starting off in a story, you know, there's a very, very good chance that not all of them are getting out of it alive.

Rekka (10:20):
So the ending needs to be a compelling conclusion to what the character was trying to accomplish, which is to say that it has to wrap everything up because if they don't, if the main character gets nothing of what their goals were, what they were trying to accomplish, that's not the end of the book. Then they either have to die [ed.: with] it not being complete, or they have to keep going. Otherwise, you know, you're telling half a story. There, there needs to be some sort of a conclusion. Now it does not need to be a happy one, but it needs to either satisfy or totally frustrate to the point that, you know, you're killing someone off or imprisoning them or making them so they can't continue on here.

Rekka (11:10):
Well, when you say frustrate as — this is gonna be great, she does not usually squeak this toy — You mean frustrate as in "impede," not frustrate as in "make mad,"

Kaelyn (11:26):
Yes. Yes. Yeah, frustrated as in "impede."

Rekka (11:26):
Because if a character is frustrated, they're going to be motivated. But if they're frustrated in terms of like what they're able to do, because their ability is impeded, such as they die, which is what Kaelyn is really going for, then that's different.

Kaelyn (11:45):
It's not the only way to, you know, impede a character's progress. It can be, you know, maybe they're not dead. Maybe they're just mostly dead, or in a coma, or imprisoned somewhere, or, you know, removed from the storyline in a way that what they were trying to do is no longer relevant. You know, like if you're dealing with like, uh, some kind of intergalactic, uh, space military, they've been reassigned, this isn't your problem anymore. But, then it's gotta be someone else's problem because the problem didn't just go away. You know, to kind of, to kind of wrap this up in terms of, you know, your main character, they need to make some kind of measurable progress that they are happy with. I think is a good way to say it.

Rekka (12:30):
Gotta have that denouement feeling at the end. You know, like I can sit back for a little while, like I can go take a vacation or I can have a breather. Um, I can go to the throne room and collect my medal. You know, like something I've done has brought this segment of my adventure to an end.

Kaelyn (12:51):
And, and by the way, this doesn't even necessarily have to be your main character. It's the, the ending, you know, the happy ending, the completed ending. I think maybe sometimes you're better served looking at that in terms of resolving the problem, the conflict, the quest in some way, maybe it's not the main character that does it. Maybe they don't get exactly what they want, but the plot elements that set all of this in motion are resolved.

Rekka (13:21):
Yeah. That's a good point. Like I put this in, in terms of, um, which personality gets what they want? Like the main character or the reader, neither or both, either or, but you're right. It's not a character that gets what they want. It's a story that gets the ending it deserves.

Kaelyn (13:40):
Yeah, exactly. Speaking of the reader getting what they want. Like, that's an excellent question, Rekka. Do we have to make the reader happy?

Rekka (13:47):
Do you want them to pick up the next book you write?

Kaelyn (13:49):
Trick question! We don't care about readers and their feelings. We want them to cry. All the time.

Rekka (13:54):
Well if the reader wants to cry, we want them to cry. We want the reader to have the experience that they think they signed on for. You don't want them to think they came in for a happy ending and then kill everyone and raze the ground after.

Kaelyn (14:08):
I think everybody listening to this can think of at least one, probably multiple books, off the top of their head that they put down and they were like physically shaken by. Which, by the way, that's the sign of a great book, and a very talented writer.

Rekka (14:26):
I mean, you can be visibly shaken by happiness.

Kaelyn (14:29):
Yes. Yes.

Rekka (14:31):
In fact, I wouldn't mind some of that.

Kaelyn (14:34):
So, you know, in terms of, do you need to make the reader happy? No, of course not. It, you know, that might not be what you're trying to do. You might not be trying to make the reader happy. You might be trying to make them think, you might be trying to make them angry. You might be trying to leave them—you know, especially if you're doing a series—you may trying to leave them going, you know, incredulous, wondering what is going on here, what could be happening next? This notion that we need to, um, you know, kind of make the reader happy, I don't know where it comes from. So many storytelling traditions before, like fiction was, you know, something beyond like fairy tales and myths and legends and oral histories and traditions and everything. A lot of those don't have good outcomes, you know? And granted, many of them were used for lesson teaching or, you know, to show how clever somebody was or wasn't, if we're talking about like legends and myths, you know, they're used to demonstrate the might of a religion or the gods of that religion. Um, and the mortals are just pawns in it, so nobody really cares how they, how they feel. Um, you know, epic tales, a lot of times, aren't so much about the reader being happy about it, as it is telling a history through a story. So I really don't know where this notion of like a happy ending came from. I imagine it's something that emerged from like a post-war...

Rekka (16:06):
It was a bunch of parents deciding that they were tired of their children crying instead of sleeping at the end of story hour.

Kaelyn (16:13):
Yeah. You know what, that's not unfair thing to think about. So, do you have to leave your reader happy? Well, it depends. What kind of a story are you writing? Are you writing a story where you want everybody to kind of walk away feeling good, to feel like "I was with them that whole time and Oh boy, did they do awesome and kick ass, and now we all went through this ride together and this is going to be, this was great."

Rekka (16:39):
"Their success is my success."

Kaelyn (16:41):
"I, I feel better for having read this book."

Rekka (16:45):
And I guess that's the question. We've, we've danced around it a little bit, but like a happy ending: is it something that leaves you feeling happy, or is it something that leaves you feeling like the adventure was worth the journey and you're happy you read the book?

Kaelyn (17:04):
I think, uh, a good sign of a compelling book, a compelling story, is that nobody is necessarily a hundred percent happy at the end of it. You know, the characters and the reader are both like, "well, I'm glad everything worked out for them, but I'm really sad that these other things happened to them along the way."

Rekka (17:23):
In Chronicles of Ghadid by K A Doore, which is a series that is now concluded, so I'm going to still try not to spoil it cause it's very good and you should read it.

Kaelyn (17:33):
I haven't read it yet, and it's on my list.

Rekka (17:33):
So I'm not going to spoil it for Kaelyn. Um, in that series, we lose characters. We lose beloved things. We lose beloved places. Um, shit goes real wrong, and still, the books are satisfying in terms of my happiness having read them, even though I am miserable for the characters and terribly angry with K A Doore.

Rekka (18:02):
Counter to that in Gods Of Jade And Shadow by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia, there is a plot line that feels like a building romance. And, um, at the risk of spoiling it, it's not quite, I mean, it's not the plot spoiler, but it is character relationship spoiler. The characters don't end up together, as you wouldn't imagine they could at the beginning, but you start to have hope through the middle. And then at the end, um, the characters get exactly what they were trying to get. But at the same time, you're no longer happy that they got it. So it's, it's not a bait and switch. It's not a, it turns out they needed something else. So they got something else. And I mean, they kind of did, it's hard to describe. It's a really good book. You should definitely read it. Um, it's it was a quick read. I tore through this book and it's, um, it's just got really good story elements too. So definitely go check that one out. Um, but yeah, the, the characters start out wanting one thing and that's the thing they get at the end, but in the middle, there's a whole plot line of them sort of developing other goals that don't quite work out, which sounds like it'd be really unsatisfying, but it's not at all. It's, it's fantastic.

Kaelyn (19:36):
It's very difficult, you know, to predict what kind of emotions your books are going to invoke and people beyond, you know, the, the general like, "everybody got what they wanted and this worked out well. So that will make the reader happy." "I killed off everybody except last girl. And, uh, it was really sad and described in gruesome detail that will make everybody sad and slightly nauseated." Now, all of the said, I definitely think there is a trend in trying to make sure things don't work out well and perfectly for everybody because we've got this thing in our head that that's not good storytelling, either.

Rekka (20:20):
Right? If you don't confound your characters and force them to like, stay on their back heel, then what are you doing? Are you even plotting?

Kaelyn (20:29):
"Are you even plotting?" Um, you know, somebody accomplishes their goal, but like they can't accomplish it with no loss along the way. No, um, you know, something bad happening to them. Um, I don't necessarily think that is a hard and fast rule that, you know, you can't let everybody have everything they want. Um, I'll use the example of like one of the greatest cartoons ever made—which yes, it's technically a children's cartoon, but let's be honest, it's for everyone—is Avatar: The Last Airbender. Avatar: The Last Airbender is, I think, a good example of a satisfying happy ending. That is very good storytelling. Now, granted, you know, this, like, it is a children's show, it aired on Nickelodeon. Um—

Rekka (21:14):
And it also deals with genocide. So...

Kaelyn (21:17):
Yeah, there, it deals with some, some really heavy themes. Here's the thing though, with the genocide, we don't actually see any of that, you know, so we can say like, all of the air benders were killed a hundred years ago, but like, we're not going to make the kids sit through it.

Rekka (21:32):
But we did have to sit through Aang discovering it.

Kaelyn (21:35):
Yes, we did.

Rekka (21:36):
Which was not any easier.

Kaelyn (21:37):
That was awful. Um, you know, we have to hear about general Iroh's son dying, but again, we just hear that he died and we see him, you know—

Rekka (21:46):
Mourning him.

Kaelyn (21:47):
—but they didn't kill anyone off, even the Fire Lord. And what was really cool was they actually discussed, "why did you leave him alive?"

Rekka (21:58):
Right.

Kaelyn (21:59):
You know, Azula also makes it through alive. I won't say intact, but alive. Um, everyone's love lives or relatively figured out,

Rekka (22:09):
Everyone gets paired off appropriately.

Kaelyn (22:11):
Iroh gets to open his tea shop. Zuko becomes the Fire Lord. He and Aang are best friends and ends up with Katara, uh, whatever Momo was looking for, I'm sure he eventually got. You know, there were characters that had to deal with loss in their—

Kaelyn (22:26):
Cabbages.

Kaelyn (22:26):
The cabbages. Ugh. Cabbages. Um, there were characters that had to deal with loss in there, but it all happened before we met them, pretty much. Aang being the exception there. So we get to the end, and everything kind of works out the way they want it to.

Rekka (22:44):
Well, I mean, Zuko never gets the approval of his father.

Kaelyn (22:47):
Yes. But Zuko realized he doesn't need the approval of his father.

Rekka (22:51):
So it's a happy ending, even though he didn't get what he wanted from page one?

Kaelyn (22:55):
Yes. Because he's happy because he knows that his father's approval is worthless and he should not want it because look at Azula. If anybody is listening to this and has not watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, stop what you're doing right now and go watch Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Rekka (23:11):
Not because we don't want to spoil it, because I'm sorry, we are outside the window.

Kaelyn (23:14):
This series concluded quite a while ago. And then it's been on Netflix for a long, for a long time. And everybody's been inside with nowhere to go.

Rekka (23:23):
Yeah, we want you to go watch it because it is totally worth watching.

Kaelyn (23:26):
Yes. Even, you know, even if you know how it ends, it's still totally worth watching. But anyway, like it ends very happily. You know, there's...

Rekka (23:35):
There's a sense of satisfaction. There's a sense of peace. There's a sense of, uh, resolution.

Kaelyn (23:42):
Yes. And I think they're able to do that because we've seen the characters try so many things and just fail repeatedly. If the humor present in this show was not there, this would have been really difficult to watch. Because everything they try, everything they do fails horribly, and in spectacular fashion in some cases. So that happy ending works, you know, they've got what they wanted, but was it worth it? Or now I'm miserable.

Rekka (24:13):
At what cost?

Kaelyn (24:16):
Yes. Yes. There is– There's very little at what cost factor in the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender. And it's still a great ending.

Rekka (24:25):
The funny thing is the "at what cost" from The Last Airbender is part of the throughline of the story. You know, go to the Earth Kingdom and the Earth Kingdom has preserved itself, but at what cost?

Kaelyn (24:40):
Yes.

Rekka (24:41):
You know, the, the water tribes are still there, but there has been a great cost. So it's, it's interesting the order of the, the loss and the "at what cost" that happens in that story, that still creates a very dynamic world with lots of, um, impactful events and impactful characters and impactful plot points and emotions. But it doesn't happen in what people seem to be veering towards where the "at what cost" comes to the end.

Kaelyn (25:14):
Sometimes even just the point of getting what you're trying to get to, or obtain, is enough to kind of make a compelling ending that is still a happy one, but clearly the character, the protagonist, has come out changed for this.

Rekka (25:33):
And the question is, um, I think, is the happy ending one where our values judge the main character to be better now than they were at the start?

Kaelyn (25:48):
Yeah. This is a thing to keep in mind, you know, in terms of the readers, like a happy ending is not the same for everyone. I can't tell you how many books I've finished, where I have one, two, three characters in my head where I go, "they should have killed that one." There was, you know, it would have enriched the story. It would have, you know, made the decisions that were made more interesting, compelling or clear cut. Um, I, you know, I, I'm definitely one of those people that wants to see a little bit of blood and loss along the way, um,

Rekka (26:25):
Kaelyn is heartless.

Kaelyn (26:28):
Well, we know this I'm an editor, Rekka. I have a giant red pen.

Rekka (26:32):
But why do the obstacles for character have to be blood and loss? Like, why does that satisfy you, personally, more than just frustration and obstacles?

Kaelyn (26:43):
Exactly. And that's what I was about to say is, this is going to be different for everybody. For me, I look at a lot of this in terms of death and relationships. You know, either relationships being destroyed or ended by death, or, you know, people having to, um, you know, separate and will not see each other again, you know, sort of like those kinds of scenarios. I am very relationship-driven with this kind of stuff. So for me, that's compelling. Not everyone may feel that way. So no matter what you do, the book is going to come across differently for, you know, for everyone.

Rekka (27:22):
Should we give, um, people some perspective? Um, what is a book that you have really enjoyed lately? You know, just to make it like, so they get the context of where we're coming from.

Kaelyn (27:33):
Well, here's an example, actually, this is, um, the series is called Until The End Of The World. And it's— these books came out a while ago. I just discovered them at some point. Um, it's about a zombie apocalypse. It's about a group of friends living in New York City. Um, and a zombie apocalypse begins, as is wont to happen in, in New York. Um, in this book, characters are just constantly being killed off in really terrible, brutal ways. And what's very interesting about it is that, every time this is happening, the characters are having to reassess and re-establish relationships. Um, there's—God, I really wish I could talk about all this stuff that happens in this, because it's really interesting the way, you know, the loss compounds and drives the story. But at the same time, the characters are at the mercy of their world, which is full of zombies.

Kaelyn (28:38):
So there's only so much that they can do and that is impacting them more than anything. And it keeps taking things from them and they just have to keep trying to gather the pieces and rebuild both not only in, you know, their survival and their ability to survive, but also their personal relationships. Um, I like how we see these characters that, when somebody dies—and it's not just the main character, we see this with her friends too—there's sort of like a swap. There's like, well, this person's going to fulfill this role for me now. When we get to the end of the book—again, I won't say what happens—but it ends in a very surprising way. We're—technically yes, they have gotten to what they need to get to. They've accomplished what they set out to do. And, personally, the main character is even in a satisfying, happy place. But you look back on how they got there and the writer, through the main character has the wherewithal to say that like, "I can't try to get things back to how they were. They're never going back to how they were. This is my life now. So I'm going to be happy with this."

Rekka (29:52):
But that is the, um, the 25%, the arc shift of a book is, we can't go back.

Kaelyn (29:57):
Yes, exactly. Yeah. There was, I mean, like I was reading this book and like, you know, I'm, I don't cry much at things, I was reading this on the—this is to tell you how long ago I read this—I was on the subway when I was reading it. Um, and something happened and I missed my stop because I was crying. I was like, borderline ugly, crying, tears, running down my cheeks. I can't imagine what everyone around me thought.

Rekka (30:27):
I remember being like, I don't know, maybe 11 or 12 or something. Maybe not even that old, but I was reading a book, and of course it was about horses and, um, and I was sobbing. And, um, my father walks by, and I don't know if he'd ever seen me cry that wasn't the result of like an injury or, you know, like a blood sugar drop. And so he's just like, "are you okay? What's wrong?" And I'm like, "it's just this book." He said, "you've read that before." I'm like, "I know, I love it a lot!"

Kaelyn (31:02):
Um, another example I'll give.... um, Rekka, did you ever read any of the American Girl books growing up?

Rekka (31:07):
Oh my God. Like pretty much every one that came out until I stopped collecting them.

Kaelyn (31:12):
Yeah. And they're really good. Yeah.

Rekka (31:16):
They're actually like really great studies in, in like, simple but effective stories. Yeah.

Kaelyn (31:21):
Um, you know, the way, so, uh, for those who aren't familiar, you know, the American girl series was, um, it started with three of them and it was about, I think all of the girls were 10.

Rekka (31:33):
Yeah. They're all the same age. And it all happens on a year that ends in four. And that like, they have a formula, but each girl has her own specific life experience and world situation and geopolitical situation too.

Kaelyn (31:48):
Yeah. It's... Every girl is growing up in a different time period in American history. So Molly is growing up during World War II. Samantha is growing up in Victorian New York. Kirsten is a Swedish immigrant coming over to America in the early 1900s. Addy is a slave on a farm in the South. Felicity was Colonial America at the start of the revolutionary war. Every one, you know, every book is "Meet So and So" then the next book is "So-and-So Learns a Lesson." Then the next one is the birthday one. The last book is always "Changes for, you know, Whoever."

Rekka (32:22):
And then there's some big shift in their life. Like for Molly, the war ended and her father came home. Uh, Kirsten managed to buy her family a house.

Kaelyn (32:30):
Yes. Um, characters keep coming to a satisfying ending where you're happy for them and they've made progress and feel good about the story. But then you go back and look at the story and go, "Oh dear God." Um, Addy is a slave on a plantation, um, with her grandparents, her mother, her father, brother, and baby sister, and the— this is the first book by the way. And this was meant for children, and don't get me wrong, I'm glad it was because it's, you know, something everybody —

Rekka (33:03):
Yeah, they tackle a lot, just like Avatar, they don't back off the serious subjects.

Kaelyn (33:07):
Oh, they, they did not pull their punches on this. Um, so she's a slave on a tobacco plantation and it's 1864. So it's towards the end of the Civil War. And looking back on it as adult, you can read in between the lines and see like the plantation owners are getting worried about what's happening and so they're doing things. So her father and her brother get sold and Addy ends up getting whipped for interfering and trying to stop it. And I think there's also some interesting, subtle things in there about somebody who is interesting in purchasing Addy, for maybe not just working in the house.

Rekka (33:41):
Yeesh. Yeah.

Kaelyn (33:44):
So her mother decides they have to run away. And not only do they have to leave the grandparents, they have to leave the baby because the baby could cry. I read this now and say that the mother decided she had to run away to protect Addy from some things that I think they were maybe trying to infer was going on there. The end of the first book, they successfully make it out of the South. Um, you know, there's a nice little history, interesting, about the underground railroad and they end up in Philadelphia. Um, so there's this joyous moment of they've made it, they're in Philadelphia, but also her father and brother had been sold. They have no idea where they are. The grandparents have been left with the baby. The grandparents are absolutely going to be punished because Addy and her mother ran away, and they've had to give up their lives and family and, you know, to try and get away to what they hope is a better one. It's– I know there, they're, they're definitely children's books, but if you can find them somewhere, they're very good.

Rekka (34:46):
Oh yeah. They're still, they're still out there. And, um, it is impressive, the topics that they were ready to tackle back when they wrote them, where a lot of major corporations designed around selling dolls might not have gone there.

Kaelyn (35:04):
Yeah. Um, the, you know, there there's so many American Girls now there's like, I think there's like over a dozen and you know, all different time periods and places and everything. Um, but I think that's a good example of, "I was happy at the end of all of these books because good things were happening to Addy." But again, at what cost? You know, her life had been terrible. So just because a few good things was happening and I, the reader was going, "yes, I feel better about this, doesn't mean that it was—"

Rekka (35:43):
We're still back to "at what cost?"

Kaelyn (35:45):
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. But that is to say that you can come up with a happy and satisfying ending, even if everything is not neatly wrapped up and finished, you know, in a pretty little bow.

Rekka (35:56):
And I do like a story that ends with a few loose ends, because even if there's not a series, you—or I—enjoy the notion that this world, the curtain doesn't drop and everybody takes off their costumes.

Kaelyn (36:10):
Exactly.

Rekka (36:11):
And when there are pieces to pick up from a satisfying yet messy ending, that gives you the space to imagine where these characters are going next.

Kaelyn (36:23):
Yeah, exactly. So, um, you know, that's, that's kind of my, my ending thought here is that, you know, imagining them as real people who are going to have lives and things after this, you know, like, you know, look at, look at your own life. Like I will tell you, like, I'm a fairly happy person, you know, I'm, I'm pretty good. Does that mean everything's perfect? No, absolutely not. Did I not fall asleep until three the other morning? Of course I didn't because I was worrying about, about things. But that doesn't mean that, you know, I'm unhappy or have a bad life or things are not going the way I want them to.

Rekka (37:00):
yep. same.

Kaelyn (37:00):
You know, having your characters. I think get to that point in a book is what's gonna, you know, and again, this will not be the same for everyone. These emotions will not translate across the board exactly the same for everybody.

Rekka (37:11):
But the point is there. To the character, this is not the end.

Kaelyn (37:15):
Yes.

Rekka (37:16):
Like they may have done a thing, but they intend to try and go to sleep that night and not stay awake til 3:00 AM. And they intend to get up the next day and carry on and do something. So if your ending doesn't feel like the curtains are going to fall and trumpets are going to blare and everything's perfect and nothing else needs to change, then that is just super realistic. No matter what scale you're doing it on.

Kaelyn (37:44):
Yeah, exactly. So do you need a happy ending? I will go back to, uh, my original statement. Abso-fucking-lutely not.

Rekka (37:51):
So you're saying this episode could have been three minutes long.

Kaelyn (37:54):
I, I said that right at the start.

Rekka (37:58):
Yeah, that's true. You did.

Kaelyn (37:58):
Um, no you don't, but you know, go back and listen to our satisfying endings episode.

Rekka (38:04):
It's going to tackle a lot of this. Um, the question specific today was just, do the characters have to be happy at the end? Does the reader have to be happy at the end? Do you have to have a happy ending versus the broader how to make a satisfying ending? Because it might not feel like those two things are the same.

Kaelyn (38:25):
And look a happy ending to you might not be the same as it is to everybody else. I like to have something on in the background while I'm working. So I tend to cycle through Netflix shows that I've watched a ton of times and I've been just, had Lucifer on in the background. And for those not familiar, again, definitely watch it. But, uh, one of the demons in it is having a conversation with her friend about behaving inappropriately in a movie. And they had gone to see Marley & Me, and she didn't understand that it wasn't a comedy. Well, the end wasn't well, the movie was a comedy, but the ending was the end of the comedic part of that. So, um, that's, that's, um, that's about everything I have to say on that happy endings. You know, romance, unless you're writing romance and that I've got a lot more jokes to—

Rekka (39:09):
Well, also the advice changes, so yeah,you kind of do have to have a happy ending. So it really does go back to genre. But in terms of like, if your story is not headed for a happy ending, it might adjust what genre you decided to list it in. But if your story is going there, and it's satisfying, then go along. And that's our final word on it.

Kaelyn (39:30):
Yeah. Was that a happy ending to this episode?

Rekka (39:33):
Um, it is if you make your next appointment on time.

Kaelyn (39:35):
You know what is always good to do, after a happy ending, is leave a rating or review of a book or maybe a podcast?

Rekka (39:43):
Yes. So if this episode, um, settled your mind or confused you more, leave us a rating on Apple Podcasts and, uh, that will help other people find us. Even if you weren't happy, it will still help the algorithms figure out who would be happy, listening to our podcast all the way through to the end and um...

Kaelyn (40:00):
If you're not happy, tell us why you're not happy.

Rekka (40:02):
Yeah. And if it has anything to do with the dog in the background, I promise that will be less frequent in the future. All right. So we are @WMBcast on Twitter and Instagram and you can message us there. You can put questions anywhere that you can find us, and we will answer them in future episodes. And thanks to the listener who gave us today's question. I hope it was a happy ending that answered your question. The End.

Kaelyn (40:31):
And they lived happily ever after.

Rekka (40:33):
At least for two weeks until our next episode.

Kaelyn (40:36):
Thanks everyone. We'll see you in two weeks.

 

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