The point of this well-worn line is to satisfy a reader at the end of a story. We’ve got to know the characters and we want to know what becomes of them. Google ‘happily ever after’ and you get 191,000,000 references.
In fairy tales, it’s the end of journey full of its mix of risk and conflict and fear and sadness.
These stories – well, any story really – have an arc and a structure. The structure keeps us engaged. There’s the bit at the start where we come to like the characters, the ups and downs, the predictable ‘all is lost’ moment and then the happy ending. Watch most films and you can pretty much swap characters from one to another. Han Solo is Snake Plissken is Star Lord is John McLane is Indiana Jones is Rocky Balboa. Princess Leia is Lara Croft is Hermione Granger is Mulan is Katniss Everdeen is Dorothy Gale is Cher.
The pattern of the narrative is comforting. It’s a bit like a three-chord song. You can lay pretty much any melody over it, but the chord structure (the fundamental narrative) remains the same. Rock Around The Clock and Common People sound very different, are very different, but they both have a three-chord structure.
Today we look for these stories everywhere – and when situations don’t conform to the story arc, facts are bent to suit them.
I have no idea whether Harry and Meghan and William and Kate are engaged in some sort of soft play Game of Thrones. They might not get on or they might get on famously. The trouble is that the media are at least in part inventing their characters. They do this to help the story. For example:
Harry and Meghan SETBACK
Palace Aides worry over Royal Couples’ ONEUPMANSHIP
Piers Morgan slams DIVA Meghan
I dunno. I doubt the veracity of most of these. The last one – well, yes, but that’s the business model, right?
It’s a common problem. If there’s no dirt, someone’s going to shovel it over you. The trick is to invent the dirt on your own terms. If you’re a business and everything is going swimmingly, that is (a) dull and (b) risky. So think about how to build a bit of not-unhelpful conflict into your story. A tricky goal that’s going to messy to achieve perhaps. It could immunise you against someone trying to impose something on you.
As a related aside, the fly on the wall documentary, much feared and rejected by larger companies, universally adopts the same approach – telling a story built around a conventional narrative structure. It means that it is a broadly safe choice, subject to a clear understanding up front about scope. There will be the point in the story when things get a little tense, but it’s (a) life and (b) part of the storytelling process. There’ll be the happily ever after moment. No guarantees about the future, but you can be reasonably sure about the way the programme will look.