Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Ever After?

Most (all?) romance publishers insist that a romance must have a happy ending. Most romance readers read romance as a kind of escapism, knowing that all will end happily for the main characters, which sadly may not happen in ‘real’ life.

It’s interesting to note that ‘romance’ in the grand tradition, like Tristan and Isolde, Romeo & Juliet, Wuthering Heights, Gone With the Wind, Love Story, often didn’t have happy endings. It’s the tragedy in these stories which make them memorable.

However, women (and yes, it is usually women) pick up a paperback or download an e-book romance, and expect it to have a happy ending.

But is a happy ending the same as a ‘happy ever after’ ending?

Happy-ever-after conjures up an image of the hero and heroine living on Cloud Nine for the rest of their live, with a perfect marriage, a perfect house and perfect children. I don’t think romance readers necessarily want or visualise this.

Romance authors don’t write ‘fairy-tales’. They don’t wave a magic wand so that Cinderella and Prince Charming, after just one evening at a Palace Ball, are reunited and live ‘happily-ever-after’. I never did hold out much hope for that couple’s future together anyway!

Instead, readers of romance want the hero and heroine to work through their problems and conflicts and in the process learn more about themselves and about each other. They want a convincing and satisfying resolution of all those problems, because they feel the hero and heroine have worked hard to deserve it.

Maybe the romance author's job is to bring the hero and heroine to a place where the potential for happiness is restored. This is the happy ending.

They are on their way to creating a life together in which their new understanding of each other will help them resolve future problems. They’re not going to live ‘happily-ever-after’ (i.e. have perfect, easy lives from now on), but, at the ‘happy ending’ of the story, they  are better equipped to develop a lasting and mutually satisfying relationship because of the struggles they've won and the life lessons they've learned.

PS I shall be away waving to Mickey Mouse in Florida when you read this, so apologies in advance for not being able to reply to any comments.

I wish a very Merry Christmas to all who celebrate this festival, and a Happy Holiday to all who don’t. See you all again in the New Year!


  1. I think the difference between the "happy ending" and the "happily ever after" is that one is short term and one is long term. The ending has to be happy and satisfying to the reader, but if you want to show that more conflict exists, you can have a series, where the characters continue their lives. Robyn Carr does this with her Virgin River series and you see characters from previous books living their lives and going through difficulties like anyone else. But the conflict usually is resolved by the end of each book.

  2. An interesting distinction, Paula.

    Perhaps those examples you listed would be considered more of a love story than what we think of as a 'traditional' romance nowadays. Modern romance does seem to require the 'happily ever after': whatever it means to each writer and/or publisher.

    (Oooh, have fun with Mickey...he's my favorite! Give him a wave for me, too!)

  3. Hi,

    Just popped over to wish everyone Happy Holidays!

    As for romance and obligatory HEA... I blame Mr Mills & Mr Boon! They set a trend and because their books were cheap paper novels (original almost pocket book format) they sold in millions and such became the red guiding light to other publishers for a given romance formula.

    There is escapist romance and escapist reading, and like Paula said the most memorable romances are those with tragic endings!! O.K., who's up for bucking the M&B formula? It's possible that's where we're all going wrong in writing the status quo...Who will remember our novels when we're gone? But, and it's a big but, Jane Austen kind of fits with the HEA theory, yet her work airs comedic and Emma is pure Rom-com, whilst the others are Regency chick-lit! ;)