I find it fascinating when people need to have a certain kind of ending in order to enjoy a piece of fiction. Person A is upset about that story with the tragic ending and the high body count; she sees enough depressing things in real life and wants everything in the fiction she reads and watches to work out for the best. Meanwhile Person B is rolling her eyes at that story with the happy ending; she thinks the world is a dark, gritty place and has no time of day for fiction that doesn’t reflect that.
Me? Dark, happy, ambivalent, whatever—just give me an ending that fits the story. If you can give me an ending that fits the story yet still manages to surprise the hell out of me, even better.
As for my own fiction, I’ve gotten a reputation among some friends for depressing endings and George R.R. Martin-esque character-killing sprees. A few years back, I recall one person pleading with me during a critique session, “Just one happy ending, Barb? Just once? Please?” But the thing is, I totally haven’t earned this reputation. For starters, I haven’t killed off nearly as many characters as I’ve been given credit for. (Is it wrong that I’m kind of disappointed by that?) In some cases, the characters were already dead when the story began, so technically, I didn’t kill them off. They came pre-killed. And my endings—well, like my tastes in other people’s fiction, they’re a mixed bag. Yeah, there are some dark and depressing endings, but there are a fair number of happy endings in there as well. Most of them fall somewhere in between.
If there’s any kind of trend in my endings, I’d describe it as one of ambivalent hopefulness—stories where things sort of kind of work out for the best, but not without some degree of loss or sadness or uncertainty. Bittersweet might be a more concise term, but I’m not sure it’s quite right for all of the endings I’m thinking of. Some of them definitely, but not all. But whatever you call it, at the end of the day I’m quite pleased when I write a story that gets responses like this comment I once received during a critique: “It’s okay if everyone dies happily ever after.”