Creating Happily Ever After Endings

“…And they all lived happily ever after.

Each of us has a dream, a hearts desire. It calls to us. And when were brave enough to listen, and bold enough to pursue, that dream will lead us on a journey to discover who were meant to be.

All we have to do is look inside our hearts and unlock the magic within…”

This Walt Disney World Fireworks display opening which lasted from 2017 to 2021 provided its audience with a few magical moments of believing that dreams can come true if only we embrace the power of courage and hope and the belief in ourselves to get us there.

Breaking down the story behind Happily Ever After, Jennifer Heymont writes in her Tour blog from 9-11-22 titled: 5 Reasons Id be Thrilled for the Return of Happily Ever After, about the six distinct sections (or chapters) of the happily ever after story leading up to the finale.  She explains that the first section speaks of longing and dreaming, followed by empowerment and change in the second section, before the third section of exploration and friendship, leading into the fourth section in which the audience learns that some people are worth “melting for”, followed by the fifth section in which she says: “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.”, playing tribute to struggle. Finally, she ties the end up with the sixth section in which the castle is rebuilt better than ever after having been destroyed in section 5, as the story heroes are projected on the castle in their moments of triumph. 

This is a typical story structure in which a protagonist/ hero (or heroes) embarks on a quest to overcome adversity and not only resolves her or his problem by the end, but comes out better because of it.  And that is indeed a happily ever after ending, right? Doesn’t it make sense then, that our story endings should end this way in fiction since we want those happy endings in our real-life stories?

Or not?  Perhaps this perfect ending is an ambition toward which we should look more closely.

Rob Blair Young questions this idea when he writes in his 2013 Literary column, with regard to endings: Unless you define it (the end) by “the last printed page,” it can be hard to put exact definitions on what makes an ending an ending. “Happily ever after” does a favor for audiences: It affirms that the story has reached its conclusion. There was a major conflict, it’s been resolved, and these characters never had a major conflict again.

But he does not end his thought there.  He further questions whether this Happily Ever After conclusion is the best option for our fiction.  Is it about creating endings to tie everything up in a neatly placed bow, or is it about creating an ending to mirror reality, to guide readers toward real-life expectations instead of away from them?

Is this Happily Ever After the ending our readers truly want or expect or need or deserve?

Most readers expect to escape into an undiscovered pretend world when they begin a new story, away from the real world in which they struggle to remain healthy, find love, make a living, pay bills, raise a family, find purpose and feel joy. In between the day to day chapters of their real lives they seek to find a temporary respite within the chapters of someone else’s dreams, hopes and life, where they spend time with a character to whom they connect or relate. Therefore, naturally they would seek and expect a happy ending in the grand finale.

 But would they really? And if so, is this the best ending for them?

Further dissecting  this debate, H.E Edgmon attempts to answer this question in his November/December 2022 Writer’s Digest article; Sometimes Happily Ever After is a Lie. He writes the following:  “Rose colored glasses don’t exist in my work, but I don’t think of my stories as dark, either. They fall in the middle- they’re hopeful.”  His point is that while he understands writers who want to protect “jaded” children (or anyone really) from their own realities by writing happily ever after stories, it could sometimes “erase” them entirely.  He says the writers’ hearts are in the right places, as they don’t want to imagine the nightmare world to which these children are waking and living every day, therefore; in creating a world in which individuals can live free of pain for a few hundred pages, so be it.

But, on the other hand, in a way it might invalidate their pain at the same time. While Edgmon questions these writers for the idealistic happy endings they provide, he also does not want to write stories of darkness and pain to persuade children (and people) to give up hope entirely.  Consequently, he wants to blend the two extremes into a practical middle ground, to provide realistic hope.  He says the following: I believe that hope is  necessary. The knowledge that things can get better is the only reason some people keep waking up every day.  And I write for them.  I don’t promise happy endings, because sometimes, happily ever after IS a lie.  I don’t promise that my books will be tied up with a neat bow, that all of the problems will be solved by the last page, that my characters will conquer bigotry once and for all. But I promise there will be air in their lungs and people who love them exactly as they are and hope for what comes after the last chapter.

In creating a story that mirrors the real life struggles with which the individual battles, ending in credible hopeful ever afters, Edgmon believes he touches on both the need for the reader to feel she is not alone, and the hope that she does not struggle in vain.  While the perfect fairy tale happy ending is meant to provide a view of and hope for a better world, and a path beyond one’s limiting circumstances, with possibility for success or happiness, Edgmon warns to avoid blurring the lines between fantasy and reality so much that only feelings of disappointment, rejection and victimizing might generate as the reader’s consequential lingering emotional response once the story is over.

Likewise, Author Jane K, Cleland says in her October 2018 Writer Digest article “Grand Finale” , Just as there are countless inspiring and effective ways to tell a story, there are countless inspiring and effective ways to end it.  She believes the best endings are those that allow the story’s themes and characters’ revelations to linger in the reader’s mind long after the last page. Likewise, it is our goal as writers to make sure first that there will be feelings that linger, and next to make sure those feelings are of inspiration, open-mindedness , deeper positive thinking, of connection and the desire to  take the risk to start over in a new story.

As Rob Blair Young summed up in his column article:  “This is the 21st century”: We may be hungry for joy, but we are starving for that morsel of authentic human connection.  Along our journey toward the ending we work to create, the connections we make, whether in a chapter way back in the beginning of our story or in the chapter we are writing now, shape us into who we are and build the message we wish to share.

Yes, we as individuals seek the happily ever after in our own real life stories, as we write our life chapters of youth, chapters of mid-life, chapters of end of life, and the chapters in between- of the legacies we hope to leave our loved ones and even society, but in our fiction it is our job to provide grand finales that provide that magical illuminating balance between dreams, hope and reality, and the power of human determination and the capacity to first discover, then create, and finally to blend all of this into the happily and hopefully ever after narrative meant for us and the readers and individuals  who connect with us.  Although our story may not be the fairy tale we envisioned when we first set out on our journey, it can be the right story with the right ending for each of us.  Like the North Star the three kings followed, our happily ever after is out there waiting to be written as long as we believe in ourselves to find and create it.

And so, dear readers, here we are together at the end of another year filled with our past struggles and accomplishments, our pains and our joys, our losses and our gains, as we stand on the edge of the brand new sparkling year ahead.  We remember the adversities and losses we faced while recognizing the value they brought to our lives and the lessons they taught us.  We remember the people and moments we had hoped would remain a forever part of our story only to end up as a turned chapter or two.  We can accept this because we know those chapters and people and moments can NEVER be deleted from our manuscript draft of life on which we continue to work.  They created the bridges toward new connections and moments and chapters ahead, and the dashes that link the chapters between the beginnings and endings, while magically propelling us forward to the present moment in which we will always land.

 And so, we say farewell to 2022 with a pat on our backs to thank ourselves for  “a job well done”, and we welcome in the tomorrow facing us from the immediate and distant horizons of our future that promises to bring more challenges and battles to overcome. But, with that promise comes new wonderful connections and moments that will come and go, and the abundant life lessons, experiences and memories they will create, and the feelings of accomplishment and peace we will derive, that will lead us through the chapters and years to come, toward our own better than happily ever after ending down the road- for the new year ahead and the forever in the distance that will follow.

HAPPILY EVER AFTER LYRICS

Ready to begin?

Let the wonder take hold.

Feel it draw you in.

Watch the moment unfold.

Spark a dream that we’re meant to follow,

Setting out for a new tomorrow.

Every step we take

Brings a new hope, a new day.

Every choice we make

Helps us find our own way.

Every wish finally put into motion,

Diving in with our hearts wide open.

The story comes alive

When we look inside

A new adventure there in your eyes.

There in your eyes

It’s just beginning.

Feel your heart beat faster.

Reach out and find your

Happily ever after!

Find your happily ever after

Wishing all my readers a Very Merry CHRISTmas, Happy holidays and the Happiest, Healthiest and most Hopeful Happily Ever After EVER!  Thank you for accompanying me so far on my writing journey these past 10 years in January 2023! God Bless Us, Everyone! (In the words of Tiny Tim, who always believed, and remained positive and hopeful through adversity!)  XO

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