Monday, September 2, 2013

UNhappily Ever After

I’m drawn to darkness like Sleeping Beauty hurtling toward the spindle of a spinning wheel. Throw angst, tragedy, and a broken character facing impossible circumstances at me, and I’m unable to resist the lure of a sharp and deadly needle prick.

And I don’t need a “happily ever after” ending to bring me back to life either. In fact, it’s the “unhappy” endings that tempt me the most.

That’s right.

UNHAPPY endings.


No matter how thrilling a story is, or how much torture a character goes through, the promise of a neat and tidy resolution dampens the thrill. Knowing the handsome Prince will rescue the slumbering Princess blocks me from really assimilating with the character and experiencing what they experience. I don’t care as much as I could or should.

I’ll admit killing off a lovable secondary character will smack me in the face and make me pay attention. So will a sympathetic antagonist (think Hannibal Lecter struggling to reconcile with the death of his innocent little sister). But nothing is so enticing, so compelling, and so painful as a character facing the loss of his or her own life, or the life (lives) of the ones he/she loves. And I don’t mean the threat of loss—I mean the actuality of it.

I want more stories where the Princess doesn’t wake up—or things will be worse if she does. Or where the protagonist irreversibly destroys a relationship destined for eternal bliss. Or where the antagonist wins. Or where—gasp!—the protagonist dies.

This Eureka moment struck me while reading The Hunger Games trilogy. I’d read the first book a couple years ago and couldn’t face the sequels right away. The idea of sending children off to battle one another to the death twisted my stomach into a Pepto-Bismol-immune knot. I locked the idea of reading Catching Fire and Mockingjay into a vault and threw away the key.

A couple weeks ago, I dug up the buried terror of kids killing kids and…

…devoured the books in a matter of a few days.

Like the talons of a hungry hawk, the uncertainty of survival gripped me. The guarantee that one of the main characters was 100% undeniably and inevitably going to die transformed my role as reader from an observing bystander to an active participant. I lived the Hunger Games.

Wild, right?

What about you? Do you like UNhappy endings? Do you enjoy the bittersweet torment of loss, grief, and sacrifice?

*** Thanks for stopping by and reading my FIRST EVER post with YAtopia. I’m so stoked to be a part of the gang. Thank you!

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  1. I love unhappy endings...but the end of Mockingjay didn't sit well with me. There were some things about it I couldn't accept.

  2. YES YES YES!!!! I LOVE BITTERSWEET/TRAGIC NOVELS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought I was just weird but no!! "A Tale of Two Cities," "Les Miserables," and "The Casual Vacancy" are three of my top four books of all time! Glad to see someone shares my love with me :D

  3. Mary--Funny you should bring that up. I've been thinking about it (for the upteenth time) and I have to say I wish it had ended differently...maybe that's part of what makes it hurt so good, lol!

    SC Author--YAY!!!! Always good to find someone of a like mind.

  4. I agree. Unhappy endings really grab me. I have a habit of axing characters. Welcome to YATopia - great first post!! :-)