Tragic Endings

This last week I was reading a post by Lara Schiffbauer, How Dark is Too Dark. She was struggling with the darkness of her current WIP and the tragedies her characters go through.  And it got me thinking. Could I ever write a story with a tragic ending? Because even though I enjoy dark stories, I’m more of the Happily Ever After ending type.

I have read three stories with tragic endings, and I came away with mixed feelings.

Spoiler Alert… Skip the next 3 paragraphs if you don’t want to read about the ending to these stories

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison – It’s been years since I read this, and I can’t get it out of my head. Maybe it’s a good thing, but I hated the ending. The mother of the main character deserts her to go with the man who sexually and physically abused the mc. I have never been left with such a feeling of desolation after reading a book. Others may interpret it differently, but my feeling at the end was that this teenage girl would have nothing but a life of misery due to her story. Even though her extended (but dysfunctional) family was there for her, HER MOTHER left her for her abuser.

Claws by Will Weaver – This was one a total punch in the gut. I was riding along, almost to the end. The 2 characters, brought together by their cheating parents, who initially hated each other, eventually fell for each other. After a harrowing experience in nature, WHAM! The girl dies in a helicopter crash. I seriously had to go back and re-read the words. I couldn’t believe the author did that. This was a few chapters before the end. And although I got the impression that the main character would put his life back together, I couldn’t get over the shock of the girl’s death.

Shattered Soul by Jennifer Snyder – This is a story that involves drug abuse. At the end, the main character finds his girlfriend who committed suicide by overdosing on drugs. The boyfriend/mc holds his own brother responsible (I do too) and tries to kill him. The cops are there and the mc essentially commits suicide because he knows the cops will shoot him if he shoots his brother—which he does.

End Spoiler Alert

I thought about the above 3 stories and their tragic endings. I LOVED Shattered Soul. I really liked Claws, until the ending. I liked Bastard out of Carolina, until the ending. (Although the overall tone of the story was depressing.)

I think for me, there is one big difference. In Claws/BOOC, the tragic ending is something out of the main character’s control. It was not really due to the decisions he or she made. They had a crappy situation because of others in their life and a crappy ending.

Whereas SS, the ending was completely due to the choices of the mc and his girlfriend. The story was about the mistakes they made, over and over. They had control over their lives, and they chose a path which sadly led to death.

So back to me. I’m not sure I could do it. Maybe a story like SS, where the consequences of a mc’s actions have a tragic ending. But one where that tragedy is forced on the mc due to other’s actions… I don’t know if I could do it.

Maybe one day I’ll try. I have no ideas as of yet, but it’d be interesting to see if I could stick with the tragic ending. Or would I have to make it happy. I don’t know.

Could you write a tragic ending to your story?
And can you think of other current novel that ends in tragedy? Did you like it?


9 Responses

  1. Thanks for the shoutout! I have to say I would have hated those stories you listed. After musing about this darkness thing for several weeks, I’ve wondered how much of the terrible things happening all the time to characters is because of the “ramp it up” attitude I’ve read over and over about in how-to books. Instead of conflict going up, it’s the shock value that’s gone up. Someone might have mentioned that in the comments, too.

    With my story that’s dark, it starts out dark and ends up semi-happy. The bad stuff that happened is already over and gives the antagonist an opportunity to manipulate the mc. I can’t have a story I write turn out depressing. It has a touch of sadness at the end, but like you said, it’s a natural outcome of the antagonists choices and thought processes. I still don’t like it being sad, but it has to be. The other two have a happy ending, although it’s not a “all’s right in the world” ending. There’s too much depressing stuff in the world for me to write more into it, plus I’m naturally a hopeful person. I don’t want to write tragic endings!

  2. What a great post and something to think about. It’s hard for me to write happy endings. I don’t know why. I sometimes get disappointed when I read a story without a happy ending, but sometimes I’m okay with a story without a happy ending. I guess it depends.

  3. I’m okay reading books with tragic endings, as long as it matches the tone of the entire story. But as for me, I write pretty upbeat and humorous stuff, so happy endings are just what goes with it, lol. Not sure if I could make myself write a book where those characters don’t kiss in the end! 🙂

  4. One of my WIPs has a sad but hopeful ending. I don’t think I can go full tragedy.

    I’ll have to check out these books. I read Living Dead Girl and Skinny, which had sad endings. I’m sure I’ve read other books that have tragic endings, but I can’t recall them.

  5. Dana

    Hm. I think I mostly write sad endings, but that’s just where the stories go. I know the ending first, write the beginning next and fill in from there. I don’t always enjoy fairytale endings, but if they are happy endings that fit the story it feels ok. Now that I have children, my writing has changed and my stories are not as sad.

  6. I can write a cliffhanger (which I do 🙂 But I can’t do tragedy. I think it is because I don’t really believe in tragedy. If something tragic has happened it just means the story isn’t over yet. Plenty of terrible things happen to my characters, but I plan to give them the ending they deserve 🙂

  7. Rachel Schieffelbein

    I had a hard time killing people off in the YA zombie novella that I wrote. I don’t think I could have a truly tragic ending to a story of mine. I’m too big a wuss.

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