Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Do you prefer Bittersweet Tragedy or Happy Ever After?

No one wanted Danny to die in the movie Pearl Harbor. In fact, when Danny died, I threw my shoe at the TV, gasped like a dying whale, and used up my Puffs Plus with Lotion like there would never be another box made in my lifetime.

Check it out: (there is a bit of war graphics so be cautious if you don't like that sort of thing)

If you watched that scene, we all know why we don't want the hero to die. It's heartbreaking, heart rending, and we feel the loss as if they were our own. Typically, by the time the hero gives his last breath, we have traveled with him through an entire novel (or movie) and more than the just the hero is lost.

Striving for something. A hero is reaching for something, needs to conquer something, or is overcoming insurmountable obstacles. In the movie Pearl Harbor Danny already lost his best friend Rafe, or so he thought -- he fell in love with Rafe's girl, and then Rafe returns from being MIA to find his girl committed to Danny. It's betrayal of the worst sort. Not just to Rafe, but to Rafe's memory. Danny wants his best friend to return, but insurmountable turmoil both emotional and the toil from war, keep them from overcoming the bitterness. Until this last scene, when Danny gives his life for Rafe and Rafe shows forgiveness and grief as he tells Danny that Danny is going to be a daddy. "No -- you are". It's the ultimate love, the ultimate gift ...

As a writer, I'm trying really hard to learn the balance of a great hero. Heroes, frankly, come way easier to me than writing heroines. No clue why. But I do try not to off my hero if it's not necessary. Really. Because most of the time it doesn't add to the story -- sometimes my story can be richer if the hero, you know, lives!

BUT! In Pearl Harbor, it was necessary to communicate the horror of war, the sacrifices our heroes made in one of the darkest times in American history, and -- one of the boys had to get the girl, they couldn't both have her. 

Which brings to mind Nicholas Sparks. He's certainly carved out his niche of faithful followers. But in reality, a lot of readers want to escape reality and not dwell in the sadness that is grief and loss. But even in Sparks' novels, the character's death serves a purpose. Without it, the story could not happen. But I swear, every one of his novels is riddled with that bittersweet, throw your shoe, type of romance. And he's a best selling author.

So as a writer, here is my question for you as a reader: How do you feel when a main character dies in a novel? Are you a Sparks reader, or not? 

I'm just trying to gauge that balance between the bittersweet tragedy vs. the happy ever after, as both seem to be very popular.

Talk to me! Tell me what you think!


Jaime Jo Wright
author of spirited turn-of-the-century romance, stained with suspense


March 2016, "The Cowgirl's Lasso", The Cowboy Bride's Novella Collection, from Barbour Publishing

August, 2016,"Gold Haven Heiress", The California Gold Rush Brides Collection, from Barbour Publishing

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  1. Um, I love these questions. I am cool with a main character dying in a story IF it's well-foreshadowed and IF it fits the story.

    I am not cool with it if it's done for the sole sake of emotional manipulation. Which is how I feel about Nicholas Sparks' stuff. He's done it so often now that you just wait for it...and it feels like he's doing the same thing over and over just to get those tragic tears from readers.

    That said, I suppose there's real branding value there. Readers know what to expect and they get it. I just think character death should be used more sparingly for it really to have the right kind of impact. (Or I'm just horribly biased or something.)

    I actually just finished reading a series in which my absolute favorite character died...but it was soooo incredibly well done and so impacting. And there were also teeny tiny hints that someone was going to die so even though there was still an element of shock as to who it happened to and how it happened, I wasn't completely blind-sided...and it fit the story.

    And now I'm just rambling. Fun topic!

    1. No, I love your rambling because that's pretty much how I feel!! The one series I read where i was like nooooooooooooooooooooooooo but yes was Dee Hendersons. I bawled when the one sibling passed. Sigh.

    2. Oh my gosh, I know what book you mean. That was soooo crazy sad!

  2. I only read stories with the whole happily ever after ending - And, I willingly admit, I've been known to read the last few pages of a book to make sure all the characters are still alive before I buy a book - scandalous, I know, but there you have it.

    1. ME TOO!!!!!!!! We shall be scandalous together! *Jaime hooks arms with Jen

  3. confession: sometimes, when i know there will be a bittersweet tragedy in a book, I just can't bring myself to read it. I have felt enough of that in real life lol - I prefer the happily ever after in my fiction :)

  4. I'm fine with a main character dieing if it fits the story. I actually prefer not to see it coming.. more of an emotional impact..

  5. I've always been a happy ever after girl, BUT I've been appreciating more of the sad endings also because they don't seem as common to me and do lend a depth and element of surprise to a story. :)

  6. I didn't want Josh Hartnett--I mean, cough--Danny to die!! It was horrible and bittersweet and, I suppose, necessary. But seriously. We can't be killing off characters to wrap up the story in a neat and tidy bow. That's the first thing a reader asks in situations like that: "Which one is going to die?" I wish there had been some other way. Regardless, now I want to go and watch Pearl Harbor again.

    My least favorite character death was the hero in Siri Mitchell's book, Love's Pursuit. Sorry if you were planning to read that book--but don't! It was horrible and I literally felt like I threw away several hours of my life for the tragedy at the end. I re-read the scene three times to make sure I hadn't read it wrong. Didn't like it at all. And so unnecessary. But, it was her book to write, I guess. :)

  7. You know I love Nicholas Sparks stories and I'm such a sucker. I don't mind that he has a formulaic way of having someone die. Maybe that makes me shallow. But he often has it linked in some way to the aging generation passing on a legacy of meaning to the next, and in that is my silver-lining-happy-ever-after. Maybe that shows my age or my life experience. But even in fiction, I want to know that death has meaning, healing, and that a passing life has significance . Because that makes me believe that everyday life is worth living, worth loving. That there is always "joy-in-the-suffereing" to be found. But if a death in a story is empty, crass, without, meaning, and only convenient for the author--chuck it!


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