It’s a pretty classic story: the underdog team claws and fights their way into the big competition, only to face off against a much more powerful opponent. Against all odds, the underdogs pull together and carry the day. Unless they don’t. Sometimes, the story ends with the unexpected outcome instead. The hero doesn’t always have to win, but if you don’t write the unexpected outcome the right way you aren’t going to win, either.
When the Hero Loses
Look, good guys don’t always finish first in life. The inspiring underdogs don’t always win, the hero doesn’t always defeat the villain, and sometimes the unexpected outcome is the result. But when the unexpected happens and the hero loses, you've got to be really careful about how you end the story.
The twist ending is a powerful literary tool, particularly when you flip a stereotypical plot on its ear and surprise the audience with the unexpected outcome. But when a reader goes through an entire story expecting the good guys to win and the hero to defeat the bad guy, the twist ending can be quite shocking.
If you don’t handle it the right way, it can even be depressing. You want to buck stereotypes and surprise the reader, but you don’t want to drag your reader straight into Bummerville.
Don’t have your hero go down in defeat and that’s the end of it. Make sure that readers, and the hero, get something out of the loss. Does the hero learn a lesson? Is there hope that perhaps this outcome can be changed in the future? Has something happened because of the loss that’s really a positive thing? If you give your readers something in return for the loss, the pain of the unexpected outcome will become joy instead. That’s how you twist a story and flip it upside-down the right way. Remember that in writing, many literary devices are really trade-offs.