This Lynne Marshall blog first appeared at Romance University.
And They Lived Happily Ever After
A writing teacher from an extension course I took at UCLA once told me, “Every story has a beginning, middle and end, with hope…not a bow.”
I beg to differ.
As romance writers, we specialize in bows. Our promise to readers is a happily-ever-after (HEA). If a marriage proposal hasn’t occurred by the end of the book, it is eminent, or the couple is clearly devoted to each other even if not headed down the aisle.
There has been much branching out in the romance genre in recent years, and relationships come in many different packages. But I think we can still agree that any true romance must have at its core, a committed couple by the end.
After The Bow
Sometimes I worry when I see an epilogue in a book. I think, oh, no, that perfect moment the author created in the last chapter may be over. The shine may have already worn off the brand-spanking-new couple package. Reality may have set in.
As we know in our everyday lives, infatuation, lust, and crazy-stupid love cannot be sustained. The reality of love (love without makeup, if you will) and life’s demands (the necessities of life) comes rushing in at the day-to-day level.
Real life couples don’t live by love alone, but our readers don’t want to read about that in our books. Since the HEA is what our readers expect, unless the epilogue makes that HEA happier or ties that bow in a prettier fashion, authors might want to skip them.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tends to kick through the love-shack door and break down that lust-induced glow. It can’t be helped, and mature people understand it. In real life, that’s where the intense commitment part kicks in. That’s the deeper love. True love, if you will.
But True Love isn’t nearly as heady or glamorous as First Love. We have our whole lives to experience that kind of true and tested love. When we read, however, we like to escape reality. If our job is to write fiction, our products are allowed to be served with a generous suspension of disbelief. In other words, people can have sex on the back of a galloping horse.
The beauty of the HEA/Bow scenario is that it steps out of reality. The climax of a good book takes a single moment in time, suspends it, puts a spotlight on it, and let’s the reader take in every nuance and thrill. We can share in and relive that heartbeat of time over and over again, something that is impossible to do in our day-to-day lives.
The Theme of Love
Themes are universal ideas shared by humanity, something we can all relate to.
Many of the great themes in literature deal with love: Acceptance, healing, protecting, perseverance, compassion, loss of innocence, love conquers all, trust or lack of, family: blood versus love, friendship that changes into more, can’t buy love or happiness, the noble sacrifice, fall from grace, love and revenge…
The list goes on and on, but one thing is very clear, love’s lure is wide and sweeping. It is universal. Humanity digs it. And so do we.
Although many literary genres contain themes of love, romance novels are more absolute about those themes, and therefore require a definitive happily-ever-after.
The Romance Genre
The romance genre is a force to be reckoned with in literature because of the universality of the subject. Love is what we all strive and yearn for. It nourishes our soul like nothing else. It is the glimmering hope at the end of the long and dark tunnel we call daily life.
Literary authors want to take us to the messy side of life, show us the dirt in pores, and then often leave us there, staring at craterous blemishes. This isn’t my idea of escaping into a book.
The romance genre sees love as a “return with the elixir” found in that special world on that long and difficult Hero’s Journey in the book. But in romance, the battles are within—relationship barriers—and fought by imperfect soldiers (H/H) with character flaws, yet the victory is just as satisfying. Conquering—or giving in to—love is a huge accomplishment, and the romance genre does it book after book.
After we wrench the guts out of our characters, force them to face their greatest fear, (black moment) insinuate that all is surely lost, then insist they see the light and change (epiphany/resolution) we must reward them with the prize of true love. Otherwise, what was the point of the story?
So even though hope at the end of a book is a good thing, in romance, tying that happily- ever-after bow is far, far better.
Tie it with pride.
There has been quite a debate over recent years as to what qualifies as Romance. Is the committed couple or are the ready-to-explore-commitment characters still a Romance requirement for you?
Until next time, make it a great one!