What makes a story memorable?
Is it the jokes that stick with you even after you walk out of the movie theater or put down a book? Is it the way you seem to now live vicariously through the characters? Or is it simply because you know your life is now shaped by a mix of reality and fiction?
For me, it’s always about the impact of a story. I want to feel like these characters have come alive, like they’ve weaved their way through the screen or the page and have now made their mark on my heart.
This is precisely the reason why I prefer sad endings over happy endings.
Now, notice I didn’t say “enjoy.” I take absolutely no joy in watching or reading about my favorite characters dying. It’s painful and brutal, and I cry an endless amount of tears.
But I’ve noticed that whenever someone asks me about a story that’s touched me or shaped who I am, I always turn to a few of the same answers.
And they all have one thing in common: heartbreak.
Sad endings just make everything seem more real. The lives we lead rarely have that happily-ever-after depicted in movies or books. I understand that stories are a way to escape from reality, but there is a certain beauty in watching your life — or the lives of the ones you know — woven into a world that is meant to inspire and touch others.
Let’s take a look at the iconic villain Darth Vader from the “Star Wars” universe. He was once a compassionate man named Anakin Skywalker, but ultimately had a tragic fall that ripped him away from his emotions. It physically hurts me to think about his story because his journey is not an evolution — it’s a downfall.
After I finished watching his story pan out, it was the only thing I could think about for weeks. It was torturous, but it just wouldn’t leave my mind. I found myself trying to find videos of him before he became a villain, and I got so attached my heart just broke all over again.
Even now, I’ll have a moment where I think to myself, ‘Anakin would’ve loved this,’ even though he’s just a fictional character. But isn’t that all the more influential? That someone sticks with you even after their journey ends?
To feel the lingering parts of a story live through you is to understand just how much you can connect and find yourself in it. That alone makes tragic endings so much more powerful and consuming and — arguably — all the more beautiful.
Anakin’s ending is possibly the saddest story I’ve ever watched. It’s been almost a year, and I still feel such grief for his character.
Happy endings have never made me feel anything that strong for that long. They satisfy me, and I’m always left with a huge smile on my face, but those stories never stick with me. I want to think back to a movie I watched or a book I read and feel an overwhelming sense of emotion.
That’s what makes a good story: heart.
It’s always the saddest endings that pull at my heartstrings the most and remind me of how much good my life contains and how human and vulnerable I am. It’s a beautiful feeling.
What are the stories we tell as we sit around the table? Ones that are greater than life, stories that have touched us enough with lessons that we will with us wherever we go.
Real life is not perfect, and I want at least a glimmer of that in the stories we love. I want to see the messy, brutal and cruel parts of the world and still find light and beauty in it. I don’t want my entire imagination to be filled with unattainable fantasies of constant happiness because as much comfort as that may bring me, it doesn’t change the way I see anything.
Now, I don’t know if anything I just wrote made sense. It’s all a jumble of words in my head and just an instinct for me to gravitate towards sad endings over happy ones. All I know is that stories relating to grief and loss are genuine and unfiltered, and I’d rather get a glimpse of that ugly truth than see nothing but a deceiving mirage.
I want something real and although it can be brutal, it can also be life-changing and something worth re-telling and falling in love with.
And I’d argue that’s what stories are all about.