I’m up to my neck in my latest rewrite and it’s got me thinking. What do readers REALLY think about happily ever after (HEA)? What are the rules of the classic HEA? What about a happy for now (HFN)? How do readers feel about an unhappy ending?


I did a quick poll of my Facebook and Twitter followers, and the answers may surprise you. (Or not, that was my blatantly obvious attempt at suspense.) The HEA may not be as necessary as we think, and readers want, what’s this? An ending that makes them think? Who knew?!


Warning! There are spoilers from Allegiant in the next paragraphs.


Sara says, “I don’t like when it feels unnecessary to the story. Romeo and Juliet needed that ending… I just finished the divergent series… And I was not a fan of the ending…”


Me neither, Sara. What is it about killing off a main character that makes us so angry? Especially when we spent three books growing to love the absolutely kick ass Tris. While Veronica Roth promises she wrote the ending she saw for the story, I have to wonder, how could she put her characters through all that turmoil just to let her die? It hardly seems fair or necessary. Sorry, Ms. Roth. I think you’re fantastic, but we’ll never see eye to eye on this.


Jacci says, “I don’t like them because they ARE like real life. Some people read to escape to a “happier place” than what their life is about.”


I’m down with this, but it kind of limits the genre of books you can read. And…what about that dreaded, unexpected unhappy ending? Sometimes they take you by surprise (see previous rant about Allegiant). Sometimes you go into a book expecting a character to die, why hello, every John Green book ever written. Sometimes the author gives you the heads up, thanks Cassandra Clare. And sometimes, you know EVERYONE’S gonna die.


Lana says, “If it’s an unhappy ending in the first book, then it’s really not necessarily an unhappy ending. So long as you don’t continue these unhappy endings in all of the books! Because then you would be Game of Thrones.”


I’m about a quarter of the way through A Clash of Kings by good old George RR Martin and I already know not to get attached to anyone. Spoiler alert: Everyone dies. Don’t believe me? Behold the series, with every death tabbed.


It seems closure is important:


Angela says, “I would prefer happy endings, but if they are not necessarily happy but at the end I feel like I had closure, then I’m okay with it. If it’s for the best, you must do what is needed!”


Leah says, “First book, ok, overall, not a fan. There’s Harry Potter where everything was resolved, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it happy. We lost a lot of good characters in the fight for peace. I was good with the closure.”


Of course, we had to bring up Harry Potter. I’ll admit, while it was a semi-happy ending, half of the characters died. Damn, there’s another spoiler. Sorry. I’m fifty-fifty on the end of Harry Potter, only because I didn’t even care about any of the characters until the end of the fourth book. I wasn’t ready for them to die yet. And, she didn’t kill any of the main three characters, so, can we really count it as unhappy? Harry got Ginny. Ron got Hermione. Good won. Sounds pretty darn happy to me.


Jeff says, “If the ending is unhappy because that’s just the way the story was going to go, that’s fine. If the ending is unhappy because the author just decided to be mean spirited, then no. I’ve seen stories end where everything went to crap at the last minute for no discernible reason, and I hate it.”


A mean spirited author? Well…I’ve never! I have to agree with Jeff on this point. Some writers employ the “I’m God, therefore, this can happen,” approach. Need your character to fly? Suddenly they have powers. Need them to turn invisible? They amazingly discover this ability. Same thing goes for endings. If you can’t give me a legitimate reason…I’m probably not going to buy it. (Want an example of this? Read anything by Alyson Noel.)


Kristin says, “First of the series = good story telling. You’ve sucked the reader into an unhappy ending and now you HAVE to read the next book, because naturally we secretly want resolution.
And in the case of a single novel with an unhappy or uncomfortable ending…… Sometimes the moral of the story is the hard lesson we take away from the book. Maybe the death or catastrophe needs to happen so that the character learns something, or the reader learns something. I like a variety. Some happy, some not.”


Yes. Yes to this so much. Want a perfect example of this? Read The Fault in our Stars by John Green. The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare. If something makes you uncomfortable, then we’re probably headed in the right direction.


Pat says, “I’m thinking of Grapes of Wrath . . . a happy ending would negate the whole premise of the novel. Some people read for entertainment only – they read the same romance novel a hundred times (only the names and a few details are changed) – they know how it will end, and like it that way. I want the ‘end’ of a novel to work – it’s great when it’s happy, but not always necessary or ‘good’ for the reader.”


You mean it’s not okay to be oblivious to things like pain and suffering? This is a novel idea (pun intended).


Lastly, we go to Twitter for my favorite response.


Kevin Moore says, “I feel happy endings are the end for characters. Endings with a bit of disarray let characters live on in the mind”


Right on, Kevin, right on. I mean, who watched Inception? Who is still wondering if that damn top is still spinning?


So, what’s the verdict?


It seems to me that it comes down to planning, plotting, and weaving the perfect story. The ending may be awful, but if it’s necessary, go for it. Now, hold on a minute, don’t be killing off characters for sport (also don’t randomly give them magical powers), you must have reasons. And these reasons the reader must understand.


What say you, readership? Do you like HEA, HFN, or the necessary unhappy ending? Sound off below!


All the best,




  1. LeKeisha Thomas says:

    I’m all for a HEA, but I do get it when there’s an ending that completes what was intended from the start. Allegiant did that for me. I wasn’t as upset about it, as many were/are. Would I have liked *SPOILER* for Tris and Four to live HEA? Yes. Do I think Veronica ended the trilogy that way? Yes. She envisioned that ending from the first word written in Divergent.

    I know a lot of people (mostly younger) are upset about that. Hey, we can’t all get what we want. That was a great book, despite how it ended. I gave it 5 stars easily!

    • I was really rooting for Tris and Four. When she…um…bit it…I didn’t believe it. I thought she was having some out of body experience and then she’d wake up in a hospital or something later. There were many things I didn’t like about that book. I don’t think Veronica Roth lived up to the first two books, so I was left disappointed. Allegiant is perhaps one of the most controversial YA books of late. For a while, I got on Goodreads everyday just to watch the rating drop. It’s interesting to see how an unhappy ending affects the readership. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Janessa says:

    I agree with what Kristin said, as much as I sometimes hate being left with unresolved issues or sad endings at the end of a book in a series that is often what makes me yearn uncontrollably for resolution in the next installment. To end an entire series or book with a sad ending is a trickier business, I am definitely not one who requires a HEA. For instance as much as I enjoyed the twilight series I felt at the end of breaking dawn after all the build up to what I thought was going to be total destruction, so to speak, I was left with such a fluffy unrealistic ending that left me a bit annoyed. I think sometimes a story or character does require repercussions, loss, mistakes etc. in order to show growth or help draw out a path for resolution, if a sad ending doesn’t do those things then it leaves me as a reader frustrated, Allegiant was one example that left me feeling that way but I won’t dive into that.

    • I agree with you about Twilight. I got really excited when I was in the theater for the last movie. I thought the movie business had gotten it right where Stephenie Meyer had gotten it wrong. (Utter disappointment!) This is the same thing I’m hoping with the Divergent series. I hope the production company sees that killing off the main character is bad for business! Thanks for visiting!

  3. HFN feels more true to me. Any story can be happy or sad, depending on where you end it…because LIFE SPOILER ALERT: Everyone does die eventually. I like stories that end on a bit of an upswing, so I can stay optimistic about the people I read about.

    • I love the life spoiler alert (very funny). I find it interesting that everyone thinks an unhappy ending comes from a character dying, which was not at all what I was thinking when I originally asked this question. Of course, any story can be happy or sad, as you said, but what if we leave characters in a giant mess at the end of a novel? Much worse than where they were at the beginning. It’s not necessarily sad, just…difficult. So much product “research” going into my latest rewrite. Hope everyone is satisfied with my ending! Thank you for commenting!

    • Yes. Yes. Yes! I couldn’t sleep for like three days afterward. My husband and I actually went to Chicago for the release party and then, because I read the book on the drive there, didn’t go. I was so heartbroken by this ending. I think I would’ve been less heartbroken if Four had died. Also, I think that Four kind of defied his character in the last book. I just…didn’t like it much at all. I agree with needing the HEA. I was too attached to Tris to let her go.

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