This guest post is by Steph Nickel. Steph is a freelance editor and writer. She blogs at Steph Nickel’s Eclectic Interests. You can view her editing services here. Follow her on Twitter (@StephBethNickel).

How do you want a story to end? Should it have a fairy tale ending? A hopeful ending? Or do you like stories with more realistic endings—even if the protagonist doesn’t come out ahead and the villain doesn’t get his?

happily ever after

Photo by AForrestFrolic

Realistic Endings vs. Happily Ever After Endings

While some would consider me a bubbly extrovert, they would be surprised to learn that I’m not a big fan of the fairy tale ending. Sure, I like the occasional Disney movie. Who doesn’t? But I prefer not so happily-ever-after endings.

I have to care about the characters. I will forgive problems with plot and storyline if I just have to know what happens to the characters.

To make me care, the characters have to be genuine, authentic, real. I have to know they are, in many ways, like me. We all have our commendable qualities and those we’d rather keep hidden from the world. As writers, our characters have to be the same. Otherwise, the reader won’t be able to relate and will too easily dismiss them.

Realistic? Yes. Dark and defeated? Definitely not.

Turn Off the Lights, But Leave the Door Open

Christy Harkin said, “The difference between writing for adults and children is this: You can lead children into a dark room, but you must leave a door open.”

I actually prefer that open door myself—or at least a distant pinpoint of light.

Action adventure. Suspense. Drama. In all of these genres, the moments we can take a breath—maybe even laugh a little—help us prepare for the intensity to come. These moments must be skillfully crafted. They can’t boot the reader out of the story altogether.

  • Maybe the protagonist’s best friend cracks a joke when he’s nervous.
  • Maybe the evil antagonist has a soft spot for kittens and he ends up renting from a crazy cat lady.
  • Maybe an unjaded, innocent child plays a key role in the story.
  • Maybe the protagonist grew up surrounded by love and laughter, moves back into her family home and is reminded of those memories everywhere she looks.

Even the most sobering, the most depressing story can have its upbeat moments and a positive yet realistic ending.

Can our stories be believable and realistic yet sprinkled throughout with positivity? Yes, I believe they can.

What do you think? Is there such a thing as a realistic but positive story?


Spend ten minutes and write an intensely dark scene. List three or four ways you can shine a light into the darkness. Choose the most believable and write for an additional five minutes, bringing the light to bear.

Post your scene below and take the time to share some positive comments with your fellow writers.

Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let’s Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).