If you ask any romance reader what they love most about their genre, most will say it’s the happily ever after (or HEA, as it’s lovingly referred to). It’s the defining characteristic of what makes a romance a romance. It’s the number one requirement for romances novels entered in Romance Writer of America writing contests: “the resolution of the romance must be emotionally satisfying and optimistic.”
Satisfaction, optimism, romance readers wants to be left with an uplifting feeling. Picking up a book on the romance genre shelf is like entering into a contract: at the end of this story, I will feel good about what happens. Which, in an unpredictable world where so much can go wrong all the time, is a priceless commodity. There isn’t much we can guarantee will go well in our lives. There’s always the chance for something to go sour, but with a romance, the reader is guaranteed a positive outcome. And for those of us who are devoted fans of the genre, we come to depend on it.
It becomes an addiction of sorts—like going after one’s dose of happy sauce. I think of it as chocolate in reading form. When I have a rough day, it’s chocolate and a good romance that are my medicine. It’s comfort on the page that wraps you up in the trials and tribulations of a story, and the truth that no matter how bad it may get on the pages of the book, it will end well.
It’s therapeutic and stress relieving. But so often I hear, if all romances end the same ending, don’t you get sick of them? Only a non-romance reader asks that question, because well-written romance novels are never the same.
It’s a mark of the brilliance of the great writers of the genre, the good ones keep you guessing and on your toes until the very last page. I love a book when on page 250 I’m still thinking, how can she possibly end this happy?
Sure, some writers fall short of the mark. Like in any genre, there are tropes, predictable things that the reader has seen before and can predict how they’re turn out. But the great writers take familiar tropes and flip them inside out. Like taking a cliché and mixing, they make it fresh.
People ask me, doesn’t writing the same ending all the time get boring?
But on the contrary, having a limiting factor is actually a catalyst for creativity. Given a restriction, like having a writing prompt, it often spawns creativity rather than stifles it. I love having an inspiration for a character or situation and thinking, so how could that character come to an HEA? What sort of partner in life would a person whose experienced that need to live a fuller life?
Here are some options and different ways to get to happily ever after. The possibilities are endless.
1) Variations in relationship conflict
The conflict between the two protagonists is of paramount importance. There’s all relationship combos: strangers to lovers, enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, and every option in between. What is in the way of the two lovers from getting together is what drives a romance and keeps it thrilling, despite knowing the outcome. It’s all about the struggle to get there.
2) Variations in resolution
How they get to the HEA, by what means, by whose help by what reconciliations and what compromises. How will the characters change and get over their personal obstacles to be together? Even given the same obstacle no two characters will arrive on the other side of it in the same way.
3) Variations in character expression
Whenever someone asks me, don’t you get tired of writing love scenes over and over? The answer is, never. If I feel tired while writing a love scene, it’s because I’m tired and/or I’ve lost touch with the characters. No two people will make love the same way, and no two people will make love exactly the same way twice. The differences are incalculable.
4) Variations in plot structure
There are as many variations for how two lovers can get together as there are real love stories in this world. Every couple has an origin story, and people ask all the time “how did you meet?” It’s because even if there are similarities, there will always be differences.
Despite the ending always being of the happily-ever-after sort, I will never grow tired of a well written romance. In fact, it’s because the ending is the same that I will turn to romance again and again. Happily ever after is not just the defining characteristic but a unifying characteristic. It’s why the romance genre has a thriving community specific to its genre in the Romance Writers of America. The comradery that builds around the people who are all in love with happily-ever-afters—we’re all lovers of the same thing.
Robin Lovett writes contemporary romance, and her next series of dark romances will release summer 2017, beginning with STRANGER. She loves to chat on Twitter @LovettRomance and every Sunday evening you can find her chatting with other romance writers at #RWChat. She is represented by Rachel Brooks of the L. Perkins Agency.