Romance and the HEA – A Promise to the Reader

true-loveAt its core, a romance has to have to things: a central focus on the relationship between two characters, and a HEA ending – Happily Ever After.

I’ve noticed lately though, a tendency for writers to be considering writing a romance without the traditional HEA. Perhaps this has always been discussed, and I just haven’t read it, or perhaps it is new, following a general trend in society for ’real’, non happy endings.

Of course, there are a lot of well known love stories that DON’T have a happy ending, and I can count a lot of these as favourites of mine: Gone With the Wind and Love Story. Others though, have left a taste that wasn’t so pleasant, the most notable being City of Angels. Yes, it’s a movie, not a book, but it left a very lasting impact. To this day, I can’t talk about it without remembering the anger.

So what’s the difference? In both cases, the story ended badly for the characters, but one I loved, the other I hated.

The difference was my expectations. I had a pretty good idea how Gone With the Wind went. Everyone knows the famous last line – “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Love Story, by Eric Segal, is even more open about the ending, beginning the story with the line: “What do you say about a twenty-five year old woman who died?”

I’m typing those lines from memory, so they may not be perfect. My copies of these stories are up in my garage, but I’ve read both enough times to know passages off by heart.

With City of Angels, I went into it not knowing the ending. It ran exactly like a romance, had a perfect ending, and just when the closing credits should have run, they threw in a tragedy.

I’ve never watched the movie again. Thank heavens I only rented it!

The trick then, is to make sure readers know what to expect. If you try to fool people into thinking they’re reading a romance, when really it’s a love story with a tragic ending, then don’t worry, readers will tell each other in the reviews! I’ve skipped quite a few ’romance’ stories because of these sort of reviews.

For me, even though I’ve loved some love stories, these days, it’s all about the happy ending. I like knowing that I can read the story without really fearing for the characters. I can relax knowing that no matter how impossible it seems for the characters, that it will all work out in the end. That’s why I love reading romances. How many other genres can you read with that sort of knowledge?

It’s also why I write romances. I have zero interest in writing tragedy. I love happy, positive endings, to the point of being a little sappy sometimes. Readers of my stories can rest assured that they know what they’re getting in to.

Do you like knowing the story will have a happily ever after, or do you prefer to be surprised? How about those stories where they throw in a twist right at the end, and change everything you thought you’d known?

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4 Responses to Romance and the HEA – A Promise to the Reader

  1. Nana Prah says:

    Great post. For me romance means happy ending. When the author categorizes the book as a “novel” then I have no expectations of the ending. City of Angels pissed me off, too. I couldn’t understand why they would end it like that. Not cute at all.

  2. Rosie Amber says:

    I like a twist, but it should be in line with the rest of the book, if its heading for a HEA then I like it to be not too predictable.

    • Rinelle Grey says:

      Yes, I think that’s an extra challenge for the romance author – to come up with a HEA that isn’t predictable! I like to throw in some surprises, but they don’t have to be tragic.

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