Always has to have a happy ending?
Always has to have a sad ending?
Mixture of the two?
One that keeps you guessing even after it says 'THE END'?
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Almost any ending, as long as it's well-written. An ending that sticks with me is good, and sometimes the heart-breaking endings do that more than the happy ones.
I dislike all-encompassing, Harry Potter style epilogues that block me from imagining how the characters' lives continue. I also hate abrupt cliffhangers right in the middle of the climax like The Knife of Never Letting Go.
What I enjoy? A happy ending, no buts about it.
What makes a good ending? Resolution to what occurred. If that's good, or bad, so be it.
And one that keeps me guessing (as in unanswered questions, without likelihood of sequel) is a reason why I will think twice before I read something by that author again.
EDT for follow up: A trilogy/series must end on a good note, but the sequential books leading to that end does not need to have consistently good endings. I'm fine for a sad ending in the series, but not the series ending on sad note.
Don't Fear Failure.
"Look at the sound of all these people on fire. I want to be on fire, do you want to be on fire?" -- Most Roads Lead to Home, Listener.
"The heights of great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night" -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
A satisfying ending. It can be happy or sad, I don't mind. What I really hate is when a story just stops. That kind of fail is more common with short stories than novels, I think.
Resolution of the primary plot threads, in a reasonable and plausible but mildly surprising manner.
Mind, I'm being a bit circular here: of course I'm going to find an ending "reasonable" and "plausible" if I like it. But I'm always a bit bemused at people complaining about implausibly saccharine endings, because I can't remember the last time I read a book that had one. Maybe I bail on those books early, maybe I'm lucky... but I'm far more familiar with reading books that suddenly dodge towards Ironic Tragedy at the last minute in an attempt to be "edgy" or "realistic," as if unhappy endings are somehow more plausible.
I think one of my favorite examples of a good way to end a book is Elizabeth Bear's Dust. The ending is triumphant, tragic, and almost cliffhanger like, as it finishes right as a dramatic and very dangerous huge new change is being implemented... but it's all perfectly logical and satisfying as a resolution of the primary plot threads and problems raised by the book so far. (And having it end on the start of a huge new challenge works because it's the first of a trilogy, too.)
Conversely, I have long loathed Hyperion for the way it ended, both with the final novel and with many of the individual stories within; some of the dramatic tragedy was plausible and reasonable, but some of it seemed absolutely arbitrary and used as a way to heighten the "Oh god life is TERRIBLE yes TERRIBLE and UNFAIR and WOEFUL are you horrified yet? because if not more ARBITRARY HORROR WOE WOE WOE" tone. And then it ended on a complete lack of resolution for the central question of the book. I would have been satisfied with a tragic ending; I would have been surprised and puzzled at a happy ending, unless something really clever was pulled off; stopping at a lack of ending felt like a cheap trick.
But then, I am seldom in favor of Lady Or The Tiger endings to stories. It can be very powerful if done well, but far too often comes across as cheap and lazy. As if the author couldn't figure out how to end things in a reasonable and satisfying manner, so just shrugged it off and tried to pass it off as clever to not have done the work.
I tend to like it when the resolution is reached with a predictable result but a holds pleasantly surprising method. I tend to put a great deal of weight on the how of a story rather than the what.
But there's nothing more disappointing when I anticipate a creative resolution and it just happens exactly as you expect it to.
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I like happy and sad endings pretty equally. As long as the story makes me think or feel something, I feel like I've gotten my time and value out of the experience. I don't even mind if a series ends on a sad note.
What I don't like is when it's sad or happy *just* to be sad or happy. And I've seen people do both in writing. You have to build up to your end, whatever it is. And for the gods' sakes... an epilogue is not a Band-Aid!
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I like the heroes to win and the bad guys to lose, which is the definition of a "happy ending" to me. That may mean that the heroes lose their lives in the final battle, but the bad guys are defeated by their sacrifice (what I call a "bittersweet" ending), but the heroes still win. I'm satisfied.
I detest endings that don't give me a solid conclusion. I want to know who won, who lost, and what that cost. Stories like The Lady or the Tiger just piss me right off and I'll blacklist that author (or director, if it's a movie) onward. I understand that some people really like being able to decide what it all meant, but I'm not one of them.
Thoughtful and genuine resolution of character arcs. I like an ending written so well that I could write what comes next w/o second-guessing myself. An ending that makes sense. An ending that is thought-provoking.
I also prefer happier endings, even if some of the characters have changed in good or bad ways.
"That is hoity-toity nonsense." ~ Bufty
Happy? Maybe not happy per se, but satisfying. If I like a character I don't want them to die of course, but that goes w/o saying. Also, I do prefer series. All the novels I read are part of a series and I like to seek out new ones while I wait for the next installment of a current favorite, ie. I love ASOIAF, but not sure when Book 6 will come out so I may start some of the Baen books since they've just been added to Kindle.
Any ending that makes me want to think about the book after its over.
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What kind of endings do I enjoy?
Personally, I like a happy ending (too many sad endings in RL). But I also appreciate that bittersweet ending in which the MC (or other prominent characters) sacrifices it all to save the day.
ETA: When endings are not resolved, I would hesitate to buy another book by that author.
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Any ending will do, as long as I'm satisfied with it. Though I prefer a mixture of a sad and happy ending, depending on the book.
Other than that, I tend to enjoy bittersweet endings far more than happy ones. Just as an example - 1984 - I mean, how sad is that? Winston went through all of that and then just caved, but...
What makes it sweet, to me, is that if he and Julia were willing to rebel, even if in so small a way, there've got to be others out there as well. In that thought is where I found hope. That somewhere, in the future, all their trouble would not be for naught.
Books like Sophie Kinsella's Can You Keep a Secret? - while very well written, IMO - depress the fuck out of me. I mean, the MC dumps her long-time boyfriend with no real consequences and ends up with a millionaire who's killer in bed and confident and... ...life's not anything like that. I feel lied to with books like that.
Life is messy and sad and difficult, with just a few bright spots here and there and I like books (and endings) that reflect this.
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I'm a sucker for happy, or at least satisfying, endings. I don't want to see the protagonist bite it at the end, or become evil, or lose the guy or gal she or he loves to the villain (or simply see them go their separate ways).
But I also like thoughtful endings. So if an ending is grittier, I may enjoy it if it's well written and makes me think. Sometimes tearjerkers or incomplete victories work. At some level, the protagonist has to sacrifice something for his or her success. So if the sacrifice is presented in a way that's meaningful, it can still leave me feeling good at the end--even if it's poignant.
One that fits, that satisfactorily concludes the story in an organic, connected fashion. Regardless of genre.
Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.
-- Terry Pratchett
Most of the good guys can be dead as long as a couple have made it and have some hope.
Author of The Death Wizard Chronicles, a six-book epic fantasy. Book 1 (Forged In Death) is now available for purchase on bellebooks.com, amazon.com and other venues. Also, Book 2 (Chained By Fear) is now available here, Book 3 (Shadowed by Demons) is here and Book 4 (Torn by War) is here. And a pair of DW short stories (Torg's First Death and The Black Fortress) also is available for free.
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"It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell." -- The Buddha
Hyperion, all by itself, drove me to frothy-mouthed internet ranting because of its lack of resolution. However, once I found and finished the second book, all was forgiven. Together, those two books are one of my favourite science fiction stories of all time. Apart, they don't form a complete narrative.
Oh--and just so you know, it's best to pretend the series ended after that, because gadzooks, do Endymion and The Rise of Endymion ever stink.
It completely depends on the story. Personally, however, I like a very emotional ending, whether it be happy or sad. I like shocking endings. I hate when a book just "ends." I want to know by how powerful the last page, paragraph or line is that the story is over.
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"Love is not an emotion felt by two people, but the joining of one soul that had before been split between two bodies."