Happy endings still depress me, Especially if the writer has had to cheat to save the hero with deus ex machina. That is why the best Stars Wars film is the Empire Strikes Back.
Originally posted 19.04.11
So the detective has solved the crime and the villain has been unmasked. It’s time to tie up all the subplots and let us know what happens to your characters.
If your novel is a one shot, you can effectively do what you like, you are not bound by the restraints of the beginning and middle of the novel anymore, this is it, everyone can die, the villains can get away or be caught. The hero could get the girl or she could die in his arms.
If you want to write a series about your main character, their survival is important, although this does make putting them in peril awkward. If we know there are or will be later books, it is a pretty safe bet they will escape the molten lead/acid/strawberry jam that is about to engulf them.
Does the villain get away? Again, if you want to use them in a later book it useful for them to escape. They could of course break out of prison, but coming back from the dead is a bit too much to swallow, especially if they have died in a spectacular fashion. No amount of ‘it was a double’, ‘they were in a coma’, etc. will convince us if you resurrect them later.
But why do we almost always get a happy ending? Because that is apparently what the reader wants and expects. Hokum, I want the bad guys to win occasionally. Why? For the very reason I read mystery crime writing; because I wouldn’t see it coming, I would not guess that is what would happen.
Should you do this all the time? No, mix it up, keep the reader on their toes. Then they won’t be able to guess what you are going to do and will be drawn into the story all the more.