I have the power to change my story
On Happy vs. Hopeful Endings in Short Fiction
As authors, we’re acclimated to writing about darkness. In writing groups, I’ve read a myriad of stories and novel chapters that involve murder, infidelity, abuse, cannibalistic families, and Latin American megalomaniacs. And many of these pieces have dark or ambiguous endings. Let me be clear, I’m just as guilty on that front. I’ve thrown more than a few rocks at my characters and given them dark endings. In one such scenario, a young man overwhelmed by student debt and hunger must choose. He chooses eating. Not exactly a happy ending.
But now I seek to take a new path, a path to hope. I seek hope. But I do not seek a happy ending.
What’s the difference?
A happy ending is something out of a fairy tale or a rom-com, where everything is wrapped up neatly without nuance. Imagine the apotheosis of a movie, where everyone tells the lovelorn main character to go out and “get her,” while a horrifically upbeat soundtrack plays. But in fiction, especially literary fiction, that’s just not kosher.
I believe in the power of literary fiction to speak to the human condition, to create verisimilitude on the page. Feel free to beat me up for being pompous. But in all seriousness, a character in fiction (as in life) seeks out a goal, and faces inherent complications. Most importantly, they experience key moments of change that make returning to the old order impossible. Therefore, the key is to find a hopeful ending, an ending that holds possibility, but also leaves things open to a certain extent. Life is an open door, full of many possibilities, after all.
Let’s use an example. A young man wants to reunite with his long-lost older sister, with whom he was once close. Perhaps she went away for years. In any event, he meets her. Complications ensue, perhaps based on the very different shape and scope of their lives. Maybe she’s a bohemian, while he’s a 9-to-5 type, immersed in the banality of spreadsheets. Maybe Sis challenges him to fight the conformity of his job, and he reacts badly, scared by new possibilities.
A hopeful ending, following some reconciliation, might be some small gesture. Perhaps the brother sends his sister a contrite email. Or maybe he treats her to a couple drinks at a bar, his way of saying sorry.
Perhaps the story ends with her saying her drink is a little too sour, albeit with a sly smile. Or maybe it ends with her calling him by an old childhood nickname. Better yet, they leave the bar, telling jokes, while the brother vows to quit his banal job. These small gestures connote the possibility of something else happening. What happens next takes place off the page. The reader can make their own inferences.
Maybe the brother becomes Van Gogh (without the lost ear). Maybe he tries and fails. But there’s the hope of something. Just no happy soundtrack and obnoxious montage of wrapped up obstacles.
Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. His stories, “Soon,” “How To Be A Good Episcopalian,” “Tales From A Communion Line,” and “Community Time,” were nominated for Pushcarts. Yash’s work has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Ariel Chart, among others.
An Interview with Kathleen Osborne
by Ana Paulina Lipster
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Our most recent release
It’s hard to believe, after all our hard work, Deceit, our sixth book, is available to you in e-book and paperback.
AND… We have completed the Seasons Series with the release of our last book, Summer—When Doors Open. Our current book release is similar to our very first anthology, Tolerance. Our new collection is called Deceit. It contains ten stories for you to enjoy and was released in November.
Deceit… Our lives are full of deceit, from the little white lie a person might tell to a lie of omission to the world by its leaders spouting untruths. Deceit can come packaged as protection yet is actually deception meant to harm another. Countries involved in covert to overt manipulation attempting to change their status or political influence are seen every day, revealed by the press, bloggers, social influencers.
The thing is, can you trust them ? It’s the little things each of us do that prove out as either intentional, or not–how you can tell the difference?
Let the Transcendent Authors fifth book unravel deceit in its many forms.