Stories with lame endings

Why are scenarios, role playing and games such powerful training tools?  While it’s true they are engaging and interactive (the good ones at least) in my [strong] opinion, it’s the story.  There are so many documented examples, and cognitive theories of, that I’m not going to try and extend those but I need to vent about the use of stories used to suck me in that I engage in and care about then get punched in the face at the end. 

A confession that I’m going to have to own up to…  I like to be be told happy stories.  It’s true.  Given the title for this post, you’re probably thinking that I’m about to go on about “predictability” or “lack of closure”, but those are just examples of bad story telling. 

What I’m talking about is a good story – or even a relatively innocuous one – that has a sad ending.  This is relevant just now because I’ve just seen the trailer for Bridge to Terabithia.  Ha! looks cute and fun and blah d blah d blah… nice little imaginitive fantasy…  I read the book… DON’T BELIEVE IT!!!  Two other examples jump to mind.

1) My Girl My Girl.  Here is a movie that was looking like the perfect date movie.  Tolerable story, relatively harmless humor and an enjoyable bit of nostalgia.  Mood rings!  Then it ends with her best friend dying… from bee stings (it’s been 15 years – if you haven’t seen it… DON’T)!!  Turns out to be a TERRIBLE date movie (you think anyone wants to make out after seeing that!?!).  I’m still torn up about it 15 years later!  I’m very happily married to her now so I’m not talking about the make out part.  What I am talking about is a story with a lame ending.

2) Sommersby Sommersby.  You had to swallow some pretty big Hollywoodisms in this one but I’m all for the story of people overcoming darkness an prejudice to make the world a better place, but, alas.  Another lame ending.  I still try to figure out in my mind how I would have written a different ending to that one.

 So, back to the power of stories.  Ok, it’s been more than a decade and these two stories still haunt me.  Maybe “haunt” is too strong a word but you get the idea.  I see the power of expectation failure and how the story that breaks the mould is the one that you remember but the emotional let down is too much.  In the design of instruction, do we have some kind of ethical responsibility to give learners a “happy” experience?  Obviously, when we are training someone on a life-or-death type of skill (CPR, firearm safety, etc.) there needs to be fatal consequences (patient dies, someone gets accidentally shot, ect.) so learners can see the implications of the skill we’re trying to give them, but, what about when the story could just as easily be happy and inspirational?  Why am I so hung up on this?  I know sad things happen and that “life” works out that way some times but – especially when I pay my $$ to be entertained – I want to be told happy stories.  There is plenty of the sad stuff on TV every night.

What other sad ending stories are there?  Am I the only one that feels this strongly about this?

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4 Responses to “Stories with lame endings”


  1. 1 nkilkenny December 12, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    I think Sommersby is based on a true story from Medieval France shown in a movie called the “Return of Martin Guerre” (with Gerard Depardieu). Sommersby just changes the setting to Post Civil War South. I haven’t seen the American version so I can’t say anything about the ending, but I did like the original French film.

  2. 2 pfender December 12, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    I haven’t seen the French version (although I did read about it on wikipedia). Sounds like it had what I would have called a lame ending :(.

    What do you think of stories that end with unhappy endings? In general? In a “training” setting?

  3. 3 nkilkenny December 13, 2006 at 8:41 am

    If you mean unhappy by what happens when you don’t have training or the right training intervention, I think they can be didactic or actually serve as helpful examples to the training customers. 🙂 In a sense, all stories prove a point regardless of their ending if they are well-crafted, though it is true that watching or listening too many sad ones can be a total downer.

  4. 4 pfender December 15, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    😀 “Total Downer” is a vastly under used descriptor.


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