Geez, two new stories published this week, both with not-happy endings? What’s up with that? Am I really that dour? Do I hate happiness? Do I find sweet endings to be distasteful? Am I just a sourpuss?
Honestly, it’s just that those were two of the stories that happened to get bought. If you look at my other published works, you’ll find that in general I do enjoy happy endings.
My first published story, “Fire on a World of Ice,” ends happily and setting up a possible continuation. It used to be available for free, but the magazine hosting it died. (That’s really sad, by the way. Ray Gun Revival was a fantastic magazine.)
Other stories end happily. “Grounded” ends with the guy getting the girl. “No Star to Guide Us” ends with reality being reset so the bad guy doesn’t win. “Tempus Fugit” ends with the timeline preserved. And “A Dragon Bigger than My Stories” ends with the hero saving the day, though she pays a great price to do so.
And here’s where I think my definition of “happy ending” may be different than many other people’s. You see, I don’t like costless victories. If the protagonist is going to come out on top, they must pay a price.
In “A Dragon Bigger than My Stories,” the protagonist faces a choice: She can either flee the city and finally have the life she’s dreamed of with her dragon, or sacrifice herself to save the city, but lose her chosen life. In the end, she chooses to sacrifice herself. It’s a happy ending; everyone is saved except the hero. There is a price to pay for that happy ending.
Many of the stories I write, especially those that are more recent, run on that philosophy. A happy ending is possible, but someone must pay for it.
What that means is that sometimes… the ending isn’t happy.
Right now I have eighteen stories out on submission at various places. Hopefully some will get purchased; realistically, not all will. And this time around, the two stories that happened to get published didn’t have very happy endings. Maybe that speaks more to what publishers are looking for and what they think other people want?
I’m not sure. I know of the eighteen stories spooking around in various slush piles, the bulk have happy-ish endings. Again, that doesn’t mean everyone gets what they want. In one story, the hero sacrifices what she wants to protect her city. In another, the protagonist agrees to another trial if it means his city is released from a deadly curse. In yet another, the main character is able to free a boy trapped by an old god, but is in turn trapped himself. So, happy endings… kind of.
Why is this my philosophy?
Because I’m Christian.
OK, I get that my ministry blog is over yonder and isn’t this blog. But hear me out, just a minute.
Some people think that Christianity is about getting into heaven free. They… kind of have it. Some people think Christianity is about having to behave to pay your way into heaven. They’re wrong.
But Christianity is about the huge price that I owed. The wages of sin is death, after all. That’s what I owed. A price had to be paid.
And this person named Jesus paid it for me.
I get a happy ending because someone else paid the price for me.
And that idea bleeds over into much of my writing. Happy endings come at a cost.
I’m happy Jesus paid the cost for me.
And I’m happy my protagonists generally also are willing to pay the cost!
So if you read the two stories that were published this week and think I’ve got something against happy endings, I don’t. Again, those were just the two that happened to be purchased.
But happy endings… someone pays a cost.