Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Comedy and Tragedy

Comedy ends in marriage and tragedy ends in death. An obvious over simplification (especially if we were going to agree with Oscar Wilde and say that they are more or less the same thing) but in one thing the statement is correct. even in the aristotlian deffinitions the main difference is in the ending.

There may be other differences. Comedies are more likely to be light hearted and tragedies are more likely to explore complex morals and metaphysical truths, but there are dark comedies and tragic farces. Comedy and tragedy both involve miserable characters trying to be less miserable. The determining question then is, do they succeed?

Some days I need a happy ending. Life can be confusing and frustrating as it is and I just want to see somebody, somewhere, succeed and make sense of things. Other days I feel cheated when things settle too easily for the characters because it would never happen that way in real life. The first time I saw the movie Across the Universe I felt that, by having Max come home safely from Vietnam the script writer had taken away from the antiwar statement. When I saw it again I was depressed and the ending made me feel better.

As a writer it can be frightening to think that someone's over all satisfaction of a piece can depend so much on the mood of the moment. We have all heard over and over that it is subjective but I tend to think of it as being subjective depending on the person, not depending on what is going in each person's head at the particular moment they read a piece. I can say from my experience in voting on pieces to go in my campus literary journal that some days I felt more forgiving than others. Some days the bitterness of a piece would bother me and some days I would enjoy it. I could do my best to stay objective but really, when you are done with a story the only thing left is a feeling and feelings are the polar opposite of objectivity. The comedy to its tragedy.

So, with this in mind, how do I end my stories? In death or in marriage? It depends on the moment. Writing is as dependent on the moment as reading. Sometimes I need a happy moment and sometimes I need a sad meaningful one. I can only hope there will be a reader out there who will, at some point in time, need the same thing as I did.

What about you? What kind of endings do you like?

(Dont forget. you still have six days left to send an entry for my Topsy Turvy Challenge)


  1. I like dark endings, but it depends a lot on the story, the sort of built in expectation. A light, fluffy, humourous story with a brutal ending... probably won't come off well. Same goes for a brutal story with a fluffy ending.

    I suppose, in truth, I like sort of ambivalent and ambiguous endings. Some things are achieved, but at what cost? A mixture of dark and light, success and failure.

  2. The important thing to me, as a reader, is that the end delivers what the rest of the book promises. It can be happy or tragic, but if it's a sudden change in tone or theme from the rest of the book, just for the sake of twisting things up, I will hate it.

    When I'm writing, I tend to to end things with false resolution that becomes ambiguous as the reader thinks more about it.

  3. You know.... I'm not a fan of the dark endings, but I do think sometimes they are needed to either close out the story or move it along. I always used to feel so disappointed when I read a book, and everyone I had grown to love died.

    You're so right... some days you need that happy ending, but I'm beginning to understand the appeal of the dark moments/endings too.

    I think the best thing is a mixture of both :)

    Great, thoughtful post!

  4. I always need something positive at the end. Not necessarily a sugary ending, but if things end in death, there has to be something that makes it worthwhile, you know?

  5. I write romance so I am limited to the happily ever after. I find that, unless I'm in a dark place, I prefer to read happily-ever-afters as well. Life already full of the alternative.

  6. I was actaully talking about this with my sister the other night and she said she liked Hopeful Endings. I may steal that phrase because it doesn't necisarily ask for everything to fall into place for your characters so much as imspire the readers. It also implies in some way or antoher that the story isnt' completely over.