When is a sad ending appropriate?

by Ashy

Question: My story is about a girl in high school with an abusive dad and depression (her mother recently divorced the main character's father). She busies herself with schoolwork and tries her best to fade into the background. While she's struggling with her depression, she gets sucked into an "unofficial therapy group," commonly referred to as the depression society. There she meets her love interest, and the rest of the story is about her personal growth and their relationship.

I don't know which ending I should take. This is my first ending: her mother comes back to visit. She sees how broken her daughter is and decides to take her to a psychiatrist. Her psychiatrist gives her drugs, and as she takes the drugs, she suddenly stops seeing her love interest. The story ends with him telling her that he was never real to begin with and she imagined him the whole time.
My second ending involves her mother not coming back for her, but her love interest and the society helps her get better. The story ends with the main character and her love interest quitting the society.

I like the first ending, but I feel like going with it makes all other events go to waste (and does it feel a bit like the 'Fight Club' ending, or is it just me?). The second ending is functional but a bit predictable (or is that just me too?).

Which one should I go with, and when should I not go for a sad ending?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Answer: Actually, your first scenario reminds me more of A Beautiful Mind, but that's beside the point. I'm not sure I would call it a sad ending, since letting go of her need for the delusion could be seen as a positive step. You could also end with her starting a relationship with a real person.

Of course, you would have to play fair with the reader and plant certain clues along the way about what's going on, so that the revelation at the end increases rather than deflates the emotional impact. The reader should be able to look back and see that there were hints all along that the boyfriend wasn't real.

You also have to consider what message you want to give. Is it that "the mind must heal itself" (the first ending)? Or is it that "love heals all wounds"?

Something else to consider is that your main character needs to bring about her own success or failure. It doesn't work if her mother solves the problem for her. She must choose whether to give up her delusion or not. Similarly, in the second scenario, she must choose to change, to let go of the attitudes, memories, or thoughts that are causing her depression... or not.

Best of luck.

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Feb 23, 2015
by: Ashy

Thank you so much for your advice and quick response! Your website is the most helpful one I've found, and it helped me make a story out of a simple idea. Thanks for sharing all of your helpful articles, and please don't stop making them.

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