It’s been so long since I’ve done a discussion post and this topic has been rolling around in my head for a while and I’m actually becoming a little concerned for myself. So I’d like to talk it all out with ya’ll if you don’t mind! Let’s get into it, shall we?
When I first say ‘endings pessimist’ I assume most people will think I’m saying that I believe that all stories will end terribly with people dying or the plot not being resolved or something along those lines. That’s not actually what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about when you can predict how everything will end and who will die because you’ve read so many stories and you’ve studied the hero’s journey so you understand how good stories draw people in (and by you I mean me).
It seems like every time I read a book or watch a movie, I can always predict how the ending will go and then I’m never satisfied with it. The way I see it, stories can end three different ways:
1) The main character and all their friends and family live and defeat whatever it is they were fighting against to live happily ever after. There may have been some pain along the way but nothing life-threatening. The villains end up in jail or dead.
2) The main character lives but some of their friends die and they are devastated before getting over the loss and the story ends in a slightly melancholy but uplifting way. The villains still end up in jail or dead.
3) The main character dies but their friends live and the story is then told through their perspective has they defeat the villain and they slowly move on. This also sometimes has a ‘twist’ where it will seem like the MC dies but then the author/director diverts to 1 or 2 where the MC narrowly escapes death and everyone is scared for a minute that they actually died.
So you see, it’s relatively simple. And within half an hour or so of a movie and within 80 pages or so of a book, I can feel out how it’s going to end.
Numbers 1 and 2 are by far the most common. Everyone likes a happy ending (who wants to come out of the theater all weepy and sad and emotionally strained?) so most of the time, storytellers will take it in that direction. Perhaps they’ll throw in some side character deaths to increase the audience’s emotional stake but otherwise leave the MC relatively unscathed.
Number 3 is pretty unpopular but it is increasing in it’s usage lately after that one specific YA book that the world imploded over (truly a sad day for readers, and later movie-goers, everywhere). That ending is depressing but increasing in popularity because authors want to be ‘different’ and ‘real’.
Different kinds of authors (with different styles) choose different endings and that’s how I can feel it out. With this, though, comes a feeling of resentment and disappointment. I’m constantly feeling like endings are so cliché when in reality, how else could things possibly end? There are very few options for authors.
I think this is why I’ve taken to reading mystery books because they get to live by their own set of rules. Whomever was the murderer will be found out by the investigator but the author keeps you guessing who it is and that person either ends up in jail or they get away or something. But the person is always different whereas in other genre’s, the characters all follow the main archetypes. They include:
Shadow (The Villain)
Threshold Guardian (the person or task which stands in the hero’s way before they can get into a new world)
Herald (person or event that brings the hero into the realization of the quest)
Trickster (they trick people and can also be the comic relief)
Shapeshifter (someone who’s loyalties are in question)
I’ve studied all of this in an actual class (along with the hero’s journey cycle) and now I can’t look at stories any other way. I don’t think books or movies are necessarily ruined for me but now my appreciation for them is different. I’m hoping I’ll be able to look at the bigger picture soon and stop focusing on the repetitive endings!
Have you ever had this problem? Have you ever studied the hero’s journey and their archetypes?