Damn Good Romances VIII — Happy Ever After…For Now

This post is part of a series.

Part 1: Damn Good Romances
Part II: Romantic Tension
Part III: Romantic Conflict
Part IV: Emotional Intensity
Part V: Heart-Stopping Moments
Part VI: Uncertainty of Outcome
Part VII: Moment of Ultimate Vulnerability
Part VIII: Happy Ever After…For Now

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Happy Ever After…For Now

About every five years or so, a romance publisher tries their hand at releasing a romance novel with an unhappy ending.

Everyone has to try it.  No one ever succeeds.  I can’t think of too many genuine romance novel lovers who can take Nicholas Spark novels unadulterated, for more than two in a row, without breaking out and reading a “real” romance, because everyone dies in Spark’s novels, and the romances rarely end happily.

There’s a reason we find romance novels comforting and one of the most popular of the genre novels of all time to read (currently 54% of all popular fiction bought is romance).  And that reason is the guaranteed Happy Ever After ending.

When I first starting reading romances (the Mills & Boon my mother introduced me to) the guaranteed ending was always a marraige proposal, if not the wedding itself and a pregnancy thrown in as a bonus.  Sometimes, we even got a quick scene a year later where they were blissfully happy and a baby, too, but that was a rare easter egg.

These days, the declaration of love and commitment is the ideal happy ending.  There are so many variations of what commitment means, that “marriage” is just one on a long list of possibilities.

But even “commitment” can be a transitory thing in today’s world, so the romance industry has come up with the idea of the “Happy for Now” ending.  Authors apply this ending in various ways, but the ultimate measure is reader satisfaction.  You (me)…we the reader needs to be satisfied that the love the hero(es) and heroine have found is geniune, and enough for them to want to commit to each other..for now.  If the story world they’re in and the circumstances surrounding them means their commitment might undergo some strain in the future, well, that is for future stories, or the reader’s imagination, or both.  But their hearts are true for now, and that is what counts.  It makes for a nice, tidy and gratifying ending to the novel.

Happy For Now endings also open up the possibility of true sequels, where the same hero and heroine get to star in second and/or third books in a series, their relationship strained to the maximum yet again while we worrying about how it’s all going to turn out before we breath and relax when we reach the happy ending once more.

Happy endings, done right, are the cap on the perfectly written romance.  If the author has done her work, then how the happy ending is reached is the joyride full of doubt and upheaval for both the characters and the reader, and the happy ending is the pay off.

For that reason, Gone With The Wind is not really a romance novel (and it has never pretended to be).

But Pride and Prejudice is — it ended with two weddings, not one, and a happy ever after ending that still satisfies readers, two hundred years later.

There is a lot of elements an author has to juggle to make her romance a damned good one, and this final one is the most critical one of the lot.  Without the happy ending … well, the book would probably not get published in the first place, but if such a miracle were to happen (perhaps another publisher is trying their hand), then romance readers would almost universally be so mortally wounded by such an unhappy ending, the author would become instantly unpopular.  That’s how important the HEA ending is.

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This is the last post in this series.

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