Saturday, December 15, 2018

TIPS FOR WRITING BITTERSWEET ENDINGS // at least... how i wrote one!

I've never been comfortable sharing writing tips here on the blog, which is why I tend not to post writing advice articles. For one thing, whenever I try to write writing-advice posts, I usually feel like a very amateur writer who doesn't know what she's talking about. And for another, I read a lot of blogs/websites whose primary focus is giving writing advice, and I don't want to end up unintentionally paraphrasing their epic words of wisdom. Especially if I don't have a whole lot of experience on the topic.

I hate being uncertain about these things. :P

Today, though, I have something to say. Advice I haven't seen before. A topic I have some experience with. And I couldn't say I'm completely certain about any of it, but then again, since when is anything about writing set-in-stone? The realm of storytelling is a vast ocean full of possibilities. Its flexibility is part of what makes it so fun, and so beautiful. <3

But I digress. Today we're going to talk about bittersweet endings. Why do I love them even though they're painful? And how does one write a bittersweet ending effectively? I haven't written a LOT of bittersweet endings - story conclusions that are a mix of happy and sad - but I've written one or two. So... I'm kind of wingin' it here, but not totally. :D

Why I Love Bittersweet Endings:

1) They're realistic. As a Christian, I know I'm going to ultimately have a sweet ending (and by ending I of course mean eternal ending, as paradoxical as it sounds). But temporally speaking, there's always going to be SOMETHING unpleasant, stressful, or downright painful going on in our lives, whether we're talking a pinprick or a tsunami. Most books, I'd say, end with at least a pinch of bitter along with the buckets of sweet. What I'm referring to by "bittersweet ending" in this post, however, is a more even division of the satisfactory and the sad. Like Allegiant, for example. (though maybe not quite so brutal as that, idk.)

2) They do things to your heart. Done right - and the rest of the book done right - bittersweet endings will TORTURE A READER'S FEELS. Something about that fascinating blend of satisfying and heartbreaking messes with us. And the realisticness of it only adds to the intensity of the feels punch, while at the same time solidifies once and for all our undying love for the book.

3) They're memorable. Ties in with #2. A bittersweet ending sticks with us more than a sweet ending does.

No one's going to forget the end of Allegiant.

White Sketch Pad Beside Cup of Coffee


Now that we've established why bittersweet endings are FTW, and briefly what I even mean by "bittersweet," the most important question now is, How does one write a bittersweet ending effectively?

Here are some things I think are important to keep in mind.

Tips for Writing Bittersweet Endings:

1) Make sure the bitter part of your ending is important to the story. Don't kill a beloved character simply for the sake of being able to say your story has a feelsie ending. If the bitter (sad, heartbreaking, etc.) part of the ending is thrown in with no relation to the main plot, doesn't have an equal or near-equal impact on the characters as the sweet part, or hasn't been foreshadowed/built upon throughout the story, then it's probably going to feel like it doesn't fit quite right. Which probably means that it doesn't fit right. Which probably means that your bittersweet ending is not effective.

By all means, lay on the bitter! Shatter my heart and squish my soul! But you've gotta make sure that feelsie ending is important. Make sure it fits.

2) Make sure the story has closure. Unsatisfactory ≠ bittersweet. Unless your story is the beginning or middle of a series, make sure you tie up all the loose ends. And whether there's a next book on the way or not, be sure the main storyline is resolved and complete. It's important to tie the plot together with its proper bow, because the sense of satisfaction it brings is what puts the sweet in bittersweet. 100% bitter will just leave a bad taste in the reader's mouth.

Don't leave me hanging. Instead...

3) Leave me with an ache in my heart but also with a smidgeon of hope. I don't care what horrible thing you did to your character(s) to put the bitter in bittersweet. By the very last page, I need a sliver of hope in regards to that horrible thing. I need at least a half-promise of healing and restoration, however small or gradual, to accompany the satisfaction of a well wrapped-up storyline and to tap the brakes on my broken heart.

The last thing you want is to leave your reader with a feeling of hopelessness. Leave them with tears in their eyes. Leave them soaked in feels. But please, don't forget to squeeze on a drop of hope that even after that terrible thing, maybe whoever or whatever was affected by that terrible thing will be okay.

Cappuccino Coffee Beside the Notebook

Examples of Books With Bittersweet Endings:

1) Allegiant by Veronica Roth (will never recover)
2) Scorpia Rising by Anthony Horowitz (sooooo well-done *sobbing*)
3) North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson (a little different because it's in the middle of a series, but it still fits the bill)
4) Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin (wouldn't recommend this one, but it CERTAINLY fits the bill)
5) Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer (eeeeeep <3)
6) Chasing Jupiter by Rachel Coker (I hope I'm remembering this one's ending correctly...)
7) Messenger by Lois Lowry (#ShatteredHeart #SquishedSoul)


So that's my two cents on bittersweet endings - the most realistic, most feelsie, most memorable story conclusions. So heartbreaking yet wrapped up so nicely. Sad yet satisfying.

Now comment down below with your opinion on bittersweet story conclusions! Do you love them? Hate them? What are some of your favorite/least favorite books that end bittersweetly? I would love to hear all your thoughts! <3

The Lord's Truly,


  1. Yessss Messenger was sooo bittersweet. My heart's still a little bruised by that one.
    I'm trying to put my own bittersweet ending on my book, so thanks for writing this post, Lila!

    1. IKR!!! I shan't recover from Messenger. :'(

      *high-five* Yay for bittersweet endings! That's so cool, Abigail!! And I'm so glad my post is helpful. :D

  2. Oh my word, Messenger was ROUGH.

    Great post, Lila! I’m thinking that one of my books will have a bittersweet ending, so this was very helpful!

    1. OH YES. Don't mind me, I'll just be sobbing in the corner over Messenger. LOVED that book. Even though it destroyed me.

      Thank you so much! I'm so glad to hear that! <3 Thank you for reading, Nicole. (I hope I'll get to read one or two of your novels someday - they sound AMAZING. And if one of them is going to have a bittersweet ending, then I just wanna read it even more lol! :D)

  3. LOVE bittersweet endings (or sunset endings as I like to think of them, because though the day has ended and darkness is coming, we know the sun will rise again tomorrow). I write a lot of bittersweet endings. Probably more so than not. And your points are so on key!

    I just listened to the audio books of the Divergent series recently. I knew how it would end, so I had that going haha. I loved the story world and characters, though I didn't like Four's perspective in the last book. Felt too sissy in his head or something? Also all the sensuality was just a bit too much. I felt I wanted to love the books more but couldn't for various reasons.


    I really want to read Rachel Coker's book.
    And now I want to check out some of those other books, too ;)

    1. Oh yeah, your Rebellious Writing post! That was SUCH a great article. <3 Bittersweet endings done right are amazing!! XD And thanks!

      I reaaaaallly liked Divergent, Insurgent was eh but okay, and then I highly disliked Allegiant for the most part, for the EXACT same reasons you listed. :P The ending, though... DUDE, IT DESTROYED ME. But yeah, I never liked Four and the sensuality + language in Allegiant was extremely annoying. I agree with you 100%!




      *cough* Sorry. #Fangirl. XD

  4. I love bittersweet endings! Great tips, I think I'll be writing one with a somewhat bittersweet ending soon.

    1. Me tooooooo!! Thanks so much, Skye! Good luck with that bittersweet ending - I know it'll be amazing. <333

  5. Messenger and North! both have such wonderful endings. I feel like you haven't finished the Wingfeather Saga (correct me if I'm wrong) but I will say that the whole series is like that and it's excellent. ;D

    I'm pretty good at bittersweet endings. Maybe. Possibly. I'm hopeful there's enough hope in the endings of the second and third books of my series to balance out the dark stuff...because YIKES. *awkward chuckle* I...we'll just say I tried to be upbeat and ended up kinda sorta dark. Whoops.

    All things being told, this is super helpful, though. My favorite bittersweet endings are the ends of most of the Goldstone Wood books, but most especially book 3, where my ship doesn't /necessarily/ sail but there's other stuff both happy and sad that balances it all out and I just absolutely love it <3

    Lovely post as always!


    1. Eeeeeeeep, Messenger and North!!! *screams* AGREED. Their endings did major things to my heart.

      Yep, you're right - I'm not done with it yet! I'll be starting Monster in the Hollow extremely soon, though, and I can't waiiiiiit. :D AND NOW THAT YOU'VE SAID THAT, I'M EVEN MORE EXCITED.

      I'm sure those endings are AMAZING. I loved the bittersweet elements in the ending of TKD, after all. Perfect. <333 And I totally get you about dark stories; I'm sure yours have just the right sprinkle of hope slipped in there somewhere. :D

      Aw, I'm glad! AND I CAN'T WAIT TO READ GOLDSTONE WOOD. I'm gonna pick it up after I finish Wingfeather, I swear it. XD

      Thank youuuuu!! <3

  6. I have mixed feelings about bittersweet endings. While I love them, sometimes my heart just can't handle the FEELS!

    But seriously, excellent tips here! I'll have to make sure to incorporate them into some of my stories!!

    1. I totally get that! Sometimes the feels punch is just TOO MUCH for my heart too, eeeeeeeek.

      Thank you so much, Sarah!! And good luck with those stories and their bittersweet endings! They're going to be EPIC, I just know it. XD

  7. North or Be Eaten....*sobs* That one...that one made me cry. But I do love Bittersweet endings, mostly because they're REAL. Life isn't happy endings...there's always a bit of sorrow and sadness, even when things seem good. And even when things seem to be a mess and a failure, there's always a bit of HOPE.

    1. Oh goodness, North hit me in the feels HARD. :'( Same!! They're so realistic!

      Yesssssssssss, Julian, you put it into words SO beautifully. <3

  8. Lila, this was a fun post to read! Bittersweet endings can be so special... my WIP will have one that will be so hard and beautiful to write. XD I think those tearful endings somehow express the truth that life's not always perfect, but through God, we have hope of a better future. And there's always beauty to be found. ♥

    Keep writing, girl! *hugs*

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Hosanna! They truly can. <3 And EEP, your bittersweet ending sounds amazing already!! :D

      Amen, sister. <3 There's ALWAYS beauty, because Jesus is always here. And nobody can take the incredible hope of heaven away from us. That's just... wow. <3333

      Thank you so much for commenting, Hosanna!

  9. These are great tips for writing bittersweet endings! Honestly, my favorite type of ending is the cliffhanger, but that's only if it's in the middle of a series! But now I'm wanting to write a bittersweet ending now, even though I have really mixed feelings on them because they BREAK my heart *realizes that all of my series endings are already bittersweet* Whelp, it was nice having a heart while it lasted ;P

    1. Duuuuude, cliffhangers destroy me too!!

      Um, yes, I'm QUITE familiar with your bittersweet endings. XD I could hardly take the ending of ACSOM. (then again, that's only the start of a series... Still punched me in the feels, though.)

      Yep, goodbye to that thing called a heart. It's been stomped on one too many times by feelsie books.

      *picks up another book and allows heart to be stomped on more*

  10. For someone who doesn't always agree with bittersweet endings, your post helped me reconcile some of those differences :). Beautiful post, Lila!

    1. Oh, that's so cool, Catherine! Bittersweet endings can be annoying, depending on how they're written, but in general I love them. <3

      Thanks SO much, Catherine! :)


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