This is actually a term I adapted from James Scott Bell. He explained in one of the classes I got to attend that stories can’t be about happy people in happy land. Folks is more a “Marji” term, but the point remains the same. And it looks a LOT like the picture here. In fact, the only story I’ve ever read that was about a happy little girl who got even happier was one “written” by my then 5-year-old daughter.
I can’t think of a single novel I’ve read – ever – that has happy, happy, joy-joy from the very beginning.
Not from the beginning, at least.
But I’ve read (and put down) a few that got to happily-ever-after way too early. I think about it this way. What if the “And they lived happily ever after” in Cinderella was then followed by “they had 2.6 children and a dog and a cat and money from Cindy’s trust, and the treasures of the kingdom, and they bought a boat and a vacation home in the Caribbean, and after their children became doctors with successful marriages, and they died in their sleep holding hands and smiling.”
I don’t know about you, but I would have skipped the final page altogether.
And before you think I’m exaggerating, contemplate the many endings of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you’ve seen the multi-ending final movie or read the book, you know what I mean. And indeed, an argument can be made that each of those endings was necessary for the character arc resolutions. Maybe. But LOTR isn’t the only culprit!
A story I read some time ago still stays with me. Not in the memorable characters or moving plot type of remaining. The main characters completed their romance arch a full 100+ pages prior to the ending. Then they resolved the bad-guy plot problem. Then they got money. Then they got more money. Then they had a redemption of a minor character. Then they got more money. Then they got married. Then there was an epilogue with kids and dogs. Yes, 100 pages of that. I read every one of them. Hoping that something else actually happened. Nope. Nada.
As bad as a story with 100 pages of “the end” is, worse is one that ends early then introduces a new character or issue to fill in the gap. Have you ever read one like that? Oftentimes, stories will have secondary plots or new characters crop up about the middle of the book. Keeps things from getting too slow in the middle. But that literary trick goes too far when there’s nothing going on in the main plot. Had this happen in a recently read book. Almost felt like a whole new story cropping up. (This actually borders on another reason to reject a book, but I’ll save it for a future day.)
Happy People in Happy Land also reminds me of Bob from an old car commercial. In a tangle of traffic, one car takes the exit that says, “Bob Only.” He parks in a place with the same label. Cop pulls up behind him with his lights flashing. The window rolls down, and the officer says, “Oh, it’s you, Bob.”
Poor Bob is doomed to the perfect life. No growth, no struggle, no purpose. All because he drives the car that makes life perfect. One of my favorite commercials, though I can’t remember the brand to save my life.
The point is, stories are built on conflict. Problems. When problems are resolved and secrets are revealed, there’s no more story. I prefer novels that set up a plot that ends at the end, and then throws extra rocks and sticks at the main character in between the first and final pages.
Your Turn: So what about you? Am I all wet or have you bored of too much yippee-skippee well before the ending of a book? How much is too much for you?