I hate happy endings.
This statement is not entirely true, but I thought it would be a good way to begin this post. I've been thinking of doing this for awhile, but a secret over at RP!S just drove me over the metaphorical bridge and I have this self-deprecating problem where when someone doesn't like my opinion, I have to justify why I like my opinion and explain my case, even if the situation doesn't call for it... Usually I don't, because debate makes me spazzy, but I have the urge anyway.
The truth is, I don't like happy endings unless they're earned and sometimes not even then. I can understand that when you've put your characters through absolute hell to have everything not end happily just seems cruel, but that's not how life works to me. You reach the top of the hill after everything's falling apart around you, you learn something about yourself, but that doesn't mean that life is suddenly going to suck less just because you came to an understanding with your soul or got the girl or killed the dragon or whatever. If there's anything realistic about the way I write, it's that. The journey doesn't end with hearts and flowers just because I kicked the main characters' asses down seven different flights of stairs and killed their dog- I can settle for a bittersweet ending at best, usually, but it's very rare that anything ends with hearts and flowers. I'm just not that kind of writer.
What kicked this whole rant off was that there was essentially a secret in RP!S (which is roleplaying, yes, but this is true of my actual writing as well as my RP and since this journal is for writing/rambling about fiction, that's what I'm focusing on) that complained of people focusing too much on trauma for character development. As someone who does enjoy trauma as a means of character development, I found that a bit unsettling. Yes, there are ways to develop characters that have nothing to do with trauma. I have done it. I have written characters who slowly came full circle thanks to a morality pet and characters who shifted their entire worldview because they spent too much time with one person who was a good influence on them- I'm not saying that other ways of character development are wrong, just as no one ever said my way of thinking is wrong, I'm saying that sometimes you just have to hit the trauma button repeatedly if you want to tell a good story.
I'm a huge fan of Greek tragedy. I like characters who have pride or a fatal flaw who go through hell and get broken repeatedly and overcome that flaw by the end of the story (and then they usually die). Never mind that I'm the kind of person who is happiest when her favorite characters are suffering. I feel more for characters who get hurt, who get broken, who get put through the emotional wringer, and God knows why. It's fascinating, I guess, to see how they come out of it, because even if ALL ANGST, ALL THE TIME gets a little crazy, no one person handles angst the same way as another person. I like breaking people and then seeing how they piece themselves back together- what parts get sacrificed, what parts get gained, who do they get closer to, who do they push away. It's so brilliant to watch and write and I just don't get the same emotional satisfaction from watching people grow from non-traumatic situations. Maybe I'm just overtly dark, but I'd rather have dark themes and torture and trauma than shiny, happy character development. I want to feel like people have been dragged through hell to get to where they end up, so that they're either better for it or worse. The point is the change and the point is that the change needs to feel real and come after a great moment of self-realization and a lot of self-realization happens after trauma (not all, yes, I know, but still).
I offer Space: Above and Beyond as a perfect example of the kind of fiction I adore. It's a gritty show that's sometimes painful to watch- oh sure, it has its lighthearted moments, but it's about a war and it doesn't let you forget that for a second. It's about a bunch of kids in the middle of a traumatic situation growing up and fighting and breaking and becoming a team, and I would not adore it nearly as much if those kids were in a less traumatic situation, because it wouldn't feel as real to me. The show develops its comraderie so perfectly that you can see when the characters stop being at each others' throats to when they became true friends. And the show, and you'll have to forgive me for the vague spoiler, ends badly. Why? Because it's war. Wars don't end with hearts and flowers and everything being okay. Sometimes they don't even end. Sometimes you go through absolute hell with a bunch of people you love and you wind up still standing in Hell at the end of it. It's beautiful to me. It's real and it's moving and I feel so much more for characters in situations like that than I feel for characters who went through the same amount of hell and got their shiny, happy endings that feel tacked on just because the audience needs the pick-me-up.
The surest way to piss me off in a work of fiction is to give me a happy ending I don't feel is deserved. If I don't think the characters have suffered enough by the end of it or if the happy ending seems tacked on and ridiculous, then I'm not going to accept it and will spend a great deal of energy finding ways to break it just for my own sanity. I hate the way Alias ended, because I don't think Sydney is capable of leaving the CIA/APO- I think that's her curse and I think the series should have ended with her realizing that. I love the girl so much and I understand that she's suffered so much, but it's not realistic that she'd be able to leave the life she wasn't all that fond of- not when they've said that she's too hardwired to be a spy. LOST hasn't ended yet, but you can bet your ass that I will be gnashing my teeth if it ends happily, albeit for a different reason- the show has been established as a story about death and rebirth. It just doesn't make sense to me for it to have a happy ending. It's not my love of trauma talking, it's a storytelling thing, especially with whole plot devices being built around the concept that once you achieve some sort of understanding or acceptance, you die. More besides, I, honest to God, get pissed off whenever I leave a horror movie that doesn't end with either everyone dead or the killer still out there, because horror was not a genre that was ever meant to have happy endings.
And this whole ramble has totally gotten away from me and I'm not even sure if I'm on the point anymore, but the original point stands: Trauma is good in fiction. And yeah, there are people who like their trauma in small doses or people who need fluff and bunnies and I get that- I love Disney movies as much as the next person and enjoy fluff on occasion, but I also want ROCKS FALL, EVERYONE DIES and torture and people dragging themselves out of the hole (literal and metaphorical) or hanging onto sanity by the skin of their teeth. That's how I write and that's how I enjoy a lot of my fiction. You don't get many happy endings from me- like I said, bittersweet is about all I can manage in the best circumstances.
And, of course, the standard disclaimer is that I am not the be-all and end-all on this subject and, hell, what I've just written is all a matter of personal taste and preference. I honestly know I'm overreacting to something that means nothing, but I always meant to write about my obsession with unhappy endings, so at least it gave me a reason to flail. I admit that I'm a dark and morbid person and that not everyone can stomach angst the way I can, but... Yeah.
EDIT: XD And wow. Reading this again has made me realize how horribly fucking cynical I sound. Hilariously, I have not had a shit life that makes me all "LIFE SUCKS THEN YOU DIE." I really do just find darker fiction to be the far more fascinating medium. I have no idea why. Maybe my life is just too happy and contented or something.