So, here’s the thing.
We all know the right in the feels ending. Usually it’s some noble sacrifice made by a main character to ensure the group’s victory.
I’ve written it before for a variety of reasons.
One time I was really upset and had just listened to End of the World one too many times.
One time was because I had a whole narrative thing about the inevitability of fate and making the same decisions you condemn others for.
One time I had a character who had this whole thing about putting everyone else before herself and I was really exploring that as a flaw, rather than a strength.
And more than a few times, it’s because I just didn’t know what to do with the character after the final confrontation.
The greatest secret about right in the feels endings is that they’re a great way to give closure to the audience if you don’t think you can wrap up the character adequately enough in the last chapter/epilogue.
Endings are hard.
And I don’t just mean the final confrontation.
That last chapter and/or epilogue has to say goodbye to the characters that the audience has (hopefully) become attached to. It has to wrap up their story in a way that leaves the audience satisfied and not wanting more. You have to set up what the rest of their lives will look like (or just skip forward a decade or so to show it) in a very short amount of time.
Of course, you could leave the ending ambiguous, but not a lot of writers want to chance that because it risks leaving an unhappy and unsatisfied audience.
The best way to write a happy ending (if the main conflict of the book isn’t personal in nature) is to rely on tropes and deeply engrained ideas of “happiness”.
They get to go back home is an easy one if the character had to leave home for their quest.
They ride off into the sunset with their love interest is an easy one if there was a romance sub-plot (this usually comes with heavily implied, if not outright said, “they will get married and have children”).
But then there are disabled characters.
These happy endings often require a suspension of disbelief.
We have to believe that this character will now go on to live a relatively conflict-free life.
But we don’t believe that’s possible for disabled people.
Most people have no idea what life is like for disabled people, and so think that our whole existence looks like one of those gray-scale adverts for charities with the sad voice-over, trying to get your pity money.
Which makes the suspension of disbelief required for a happy ending even harder. Because what would that ending even look like? And how would you convince the audience of it in such a short amount of time.
So, the writer has no idea how to write a happy and fulfilling existence for the character in the short space after the final conflict, which means that they get the right in the feels ending.
(Or, worse, the cure ending, which is its own post.)
These endings are fine on their own, but once they become a pattern, it’s alarming.
People need to believe that they can have a happy ending, in the most Disney of senses.
Once you’ve seen it a dozen times, it does get boring, but able-bodied neurotypical writers need to understand that happy endings are a privilege that not all of us get.
You have to have something in the first place to get bored of it.
Grim/dark endings for us aren’t revolutionary. They’re all we get. And that’s pretty sad…