Tami Parker Fantasy Author & Other Duties as Assigned

Finding Happily Ever After

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Writing Prompts

Perry and I have been doodling together with the writing prompts I’ve been posting here on the board (you can typically find both of our entries in the comments for them).

In doing so, we’ve found some really interesting parallels in our writing. Our stories tend to be similar in tone or content, even with just a few scant sentences as a seed.

My theory is that this is because we both have a similar sense of “twist” but that’s not why we are here.

Grimdark

We’re here because we both agreed that some prompts WANTED to lead both of us down the path of grimdark.

And we both let it … but my stories tended to end with hope and brightness.

Maybe not a fairy tale Happily Ever After, but the sort of ending that I require in stories that I like to read.

(Both Perry and Faith can attest that I have a very low grimdark threshold)

He asked me how I did it, and until that point I’d never really thought of it, but the conversation has stuck in my head since then.

Where to End It

The answer was simple.

I push past the bad until I find the good on the other side of it.

You cannot have a story without the bad, and the most impactful stories often have very very bad indeed. I remember reading the Arrows of Valdemar series and just absolutely sobbing at the third book — and yet it has remained one of my all-time favorites. Not because it ignored the bad, but rather because it acknowledged the bad unflinchingly and promised light on the other side.

I’ve been listening to the elemental genre episodes of the Writing Excuses podcast and I had a related epiphany.

Horror ends in that grimdark most of the time. It takes you on a journey, stares into the eyes of gut-twisting dread, then leaves you there.

The stories that I write will look past that horrible and thus end up more likely being adventure with a sprinkling of mystery or romance.

SPOILERS AHOY – The Midnight Meat Train by Clive Barker.

A horror story such as The Midnight Meat Train follows a detective as he chases down a serial killer in the subways and just as he succeeds in that goal, he learns that the killer has been feeding horrible monsters that live beneath the earth, and now he either needs to continue feeding them or see the world befall a far worse fate.

The story DROPS you there, with that (wonderful, incredible) horrible twist. That feeling of something bad not only happening, but being worse than it was before.

Not all Horror follows this pattern, of course, but it is a common theme to see that the heroes do not, in fact, succeed in staving off the bad.

My story set in this world would probably take place AFTER the monsters irreparably damaged the world. Perhaps humanity has splintered off into post-apocalyptic tribes and our heroes trudge forth to defeat a monster. Or heck, maybe not defeat them at all, and simply have them as A Thing In The Background.

It doesn’t really matter where I would write it — the difference is that the horror story ends on a stunning note … which is not where I would end my story.

No “Happily Ever After” stays that way in my mind. The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.

But in stories? I want to stop it at a point where the reader feels good about what has happened. Maybe not all of it, and hopefully it ended with events that surprise the reader, but I intend to evoke a solid, good feeling.

SPOILERS END

I think this whole thing is rather magical.

You, the writer, are deciding SO much about the story that you’re writing.

What you focus on, what language you use, and where you end it can determine everything from tone to freaking genre.

The same story in the hands of different authors has the potential to be almost indistinguishable.

And that is awesome. It makes me feel powerful.

And I hope it makes you feel powerful too. <3

5 comments

  • A long, rambling musing on endings. Sorry if it’s incoherent!

    Let me start by saying that I’m a huge horror fan, so grimdark is in many ways my preferred ending. I enjoy happy endings — but I usually forget them as soon as I put down the book. Dark, terrible endings are the ones that touch me and make me think. Blake’s Seven… The Dark Tower…. The Mist (movie version only)… Of Mice and Men… those are endings I remember.

    What I find fascinating is — as you say — the correlation between ending and genre. Horror movies tend to have what I call “the obligatory ‘surprise’ ending.” The hero appears to win. (Yay! Happy ending!) Then there’s a last image of the monster coming back. (Oh noes! We’re doooomed!)

    This trope drives me mad. It’s no longer surprising, it’s just silly. And to me, it’s not even horror. A story’s ending should be integral to the story, not something tacked on at the last instant. That doesn’t mean there won’t be surprises. The Clive Barker story you mention is a perfect example. But there, the ending makes sense. It was something organic to the story. It grew out of it.

    That darkness really is necessary to horror, in my mind. Stephen King, one of my favorite authors, has moved so far away from grimdark endings that I no longer think of him as a horror writer. His books, to me, are dark fantasy. There are so many times when he seems to pull his punch at the last instant. For example, I think his novella “The Mist” is one of the finest things he’s ever written. But he considered it so dark, so terrible, that he tacked a “happy-ish” ending on the ending. When I think of that ending, I just feel faintly affronted. Like he was telling a tremendous story and then chickened out when he saw where it would lead. I actually enjoyed the movie version of “The Mist” better because they changed the ending. King apologized for that! Yet to me, the movie’s hopeless, shocking ending was what the story deserved.

    One time where he didn’t flinch was the ending of The Dark Tower. Yet again, he felt the need to apologize for it, because people were so appalled that the series didn’t have a happy ending.

    That was the only time when the reader actually got to choose the ending. About 20 pages before the true end of the book, King — the narrator — urges the reader to stop reading. At that point, you could still believe there was a happy ending coming, that things would turn out sort of okay. Of course nobody does, and the true ending is gut-wrenching. When I first read it, my jaw literally dropped. But as I thought about it, I realized that King was right. This is what that character would do. He COULDN’T do anything else, without ceasing to be himself. He couldn’t stop, any more than I could choose to not read those last few pages.

    This is not to say that unhappy endings are better than happy endings. They’re certainly more satisfying. But I do think that it’s critical that your ending grow out of your story, and that the type of ending often spells the difference between horror and dark fantasy.

  • Ooh, such a great comment. Lots of little tidbits in there, but it reminds me of a comment in one of the elemental horror podcasts by someone who wasn’t typically a horror writer … they found they had to stop “fading to black” in the bad scenes in order to make it horror.

    In fantasy, you don’t necessarily show the bad happening.

    In horror, you can’t flinch from it or hide it. You have to write through it and highlight it.

    Really resonated with me, and your comment illustrates it too.

    I didn’t realize the Dark Tower had two endings, that’s fascinating!

  • I have things I would like to add to this conversation, but I’m organizing my thoughts.

    I shall return anon!

  • I like happy endings.

    Happy endings are lovely to watch, and when you’re having a bad day, or going through a rough patch? A nice soul-renewing happy ending to a beloved story can be just the thing.

    But happy endings aren’t memorable, at least for me.

    A happy ending is just…a dime a dozen. It’s so much the norm that it’s started to intrude onto stories that would be better served if they didn’t HAVE them.

    Purely sad endings? Honestly, not for me. They’re powerful, and they have an emotional effect, but it generally tends to be pretty off-putting.

    Case in point? The movie Requiem for a Dream.

    Brilliant, amazingly made movie. And I wouldn’t watch that movie again if you paid me (depends on the amount, really, but I’m sure you know what I mean).

    There seems to be too much dark in the world to make me enjoy the experience of reading….more of it, you know? Having it end on that utterly sad note and calling the end of the story there.

    Things like the movie version of The Mist stands as a good example of this as well.

    Or “that” episode of Futurama. Yes, if you’ve seen the show, you know exactly which one I’m talking about.

    Pure unadulterated darkness isn’t really what works for me either.

    But poignant endings?

    That’s where you really punch my ticket.

    Just…that right blend of happy and sad turns into something entirely different.

    Entirely different and fucking POWERFUL.

    Things like The Orphan’s Tale by Catherynne Valente.

    Things like this short comic: http://imgur.com/gallery/ygEFK

    Things like this stay with me. Ring my soul like a bell, and they STAY.

    Stories that end this way, done right will leave a mark on my heart and I’ll remember it.

    I’ll think about it.

    And I keep striving to emulate that emotional response in my own writing.

    • You and Jenny should become book buddies, methinks. *firm nod*

      Jenny? This is Perry. He’s awesome.

      Perry? This is Jenny. She’s awesome.

      There. *dusts hands* Hostess duties complete.

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