Posted in Bookish Things, Writing, Writing Tips

Happily Ever After – Really? How to Nail Your Story’s Ending

“And they lived happily ever after.”

We’ve all heard it a million-quadrillion-zillion-times-two times. So-and-so saved the day, so-and-so was happy, and they lived happily ever after. But did you ever stop to think how unrealistic that is? It’s the stuff that belongs in age-old fairy tales and bedtime stories, but not in today’s fiction.

Fiction, even if it is unrealistic fantasy or dystopian or sci-fi, must have an ending that is believable. You can wrap things up as much as you want – you can even smack the horridly cliche “happily ever after” thing at the end – but it won’t make your manuscript better.

My advice for nailing the ending of your story? Don’t write what’s been written a thousand times over. Make it memorable. Make it stick. Make it tough. Make it solid.


Duh. The obvious ones are the fairy tales. And that’s just fine. Let happily ever after stay with the fairy tales and let us move on. However, if you are penning a retelling of a fairy tale, don’t let it be happily ever after. Now that would be good.

Another example of this sort of cliche ending is Pride and Prejudice, the movie. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t speak for that, but the movie is certainly “happily ever after.” All the important characters – except maybe Lydia – have found their truest love and all is well. And while perhaps this movie isn’t the best example in the world, the movie The Princess Bride certainly is. That’s as cliche happily ever after as it gets. Just saying. And don’t get me wrong, I love that movie!


Not-so-happily is what you need to nail down a solid ending for your story. Yeah, it can be tough, it can be annoying, because you love your characters sooooo much, they just have to have it all together! Yeah, no.

Okay, so some examples. Let’s see. Lord of the Rings. Here’s probably the best example. The day is saved, but the characters still have to deal with the fallout, and the aftermath that it results in causes the not-so-happily ending to the trilogy. Don’t let that discourage you from becoming a LotR fanatic, though. It’s epicness at its finest! 🙂  As a writer, learn from J.R.R Tolkien.


Let me see . . .  One more example . . .  *fishes through bookshelf*

Ah! The River of Time Series by Lisa Bergren. Awesome books, awesome characters, good plots . . . and even better, a not-so-happily ending to the series. Now, both of these examples were wrapped up fine in the end of the story, they just were not happily ever afters.


If you can look at the end of your story and say, “They all lived happily ever after.” 🙂  Or more specifically, if you can say that “all’s well that end’s well” or “all my characters and readers and fans are so happy with this ending.” That’s dangerous. Don’t forget, you can’t please everyone. Better to please the One you’re ultimately writing for than to please the ones you’re writing about.


Easy as pie. Ironic that it’s taken about five-hundred words so far to explain a few simple things.

Leave some loose ends, especially where secondary characters are concerned.

Allow mistakes made during the story to have some residual effect towards the end.

Leave room for character growth. This is so important. If you’re writing a series, this is more geared to book one, but if you’re writing a standalone, it’s just as crucial. Leave room for characters to grow some more after the book is closed. People want a hero, but a hero without flaws is wasted space.

If you’re writing a series, let every book before the final one end in a cliffhanger. I don’t recommend a cliffhanger for the last book, if you want to keep your readers. *grins an evil author grin and pulls more examples from the shelf*


A not-so-happily ending is as important as it is because happily ever after isn’t life. Many readers want happily ever after in a book, so as a writer, you’ll have to answer that part for yourself. But I’ve answered it for me, and I hope you can find some wisdom from this if it applies to you at all. I don’t want my writing to be wrapped up in a neat bow. Period.

AND WHAT ABOUT YOU? Leave feedback. I’d love to hear how you, my friend, have or have not conquered the happily-ever-after trend in your work. Whether you’ve discarded it from your writing or not, I’d love to hear about it! Share your notes, and leave your experiences behind for others to learn from.

God bless you all this June, and my Highlights and Goals post is coming next post, just so you all know.



Hannah Gaudette is a home-school teen living in the hills of New England. When she’s not writing stories or training dogs, it’s a safe bet you can find her with some other animal, like cats. She’s a life-enthusiast who loves the ocean and The Piano Guys. Enough said.

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