Happily ever aftering

by Diana 

This was supposed to be posted on Saturday, but, well…  it wasn’t. Life intrudes. 😛 So now I’m squeezing it in between the Sunday Quickies and the regular Monday post, so that I don’t feel like a total slacker!

So. Happily ever after.  I never realized that this was a Very Big Deal until I started talking to romance novelists. Apparently, the Happily Ever After (or HEA) is considered by most to be THE defining characteristic of a romance novel. The reader who picks up a romance expects that, by the end of the book, the romance will be successfully consummated and that the two lead characters will live happily ever after–or at least will be on the road to happily ever after. There’s a happy ending, a satisfying conclusion.**

Personally, I disagree with the idea that Romance is defined as a story that has the Happily Ever After. After hearing romance folks talk about the importance of the HEA, it got me thinking about other genres. HEA is important in every genre, not just romance.  Ultimately what makes a romance a romance is the fact that the core of the story is about the development of a romantic relationship between characters. But what makes an HEA an HEA is not the fact that the prince and the princess (or whoever) get married in the end. It’s not about two people finding Twu Wuv. It’s about the satisfying conclusion to the tension and conflict that was introduced in the story. Boiling it down to its most basic principles: In a romance, yes, it’s about the resolution of the romantic tension. In a mystery, it’s about finding/catching/stopping the bad guy. In fantasy/science fiction it’s about good triumphing over evil (or variations on that theme.)

Therefore, I would argue that in all commercial fiction ***, the HEA, in one form or another, is a requirement. Depending on genre it might take several books to get to that HEA, and depending on genre that HEA may take on vastly different forms, but at the end of the book or the series, if the storylines are not tied up in a satisfying manner that makes the reader feel glad for at least some of the characters, the reader is going to feel a large measure of disappointment, chagrin, or outright anger.


** Romance purists will probably have plenty to jump on me about the above summary, but please don’t come down too hard on me. I’m not maligning the genre, I’m just trying to give a brief précis. I have a point. I think. 

*** I know that there are many people who are going to jump up and down and point to a particular title that might happen to be shelved in SF that does not have an HEA. I’m going to go out on another limb here and say that just because a book is shelved in a genre section, does not make it commercial fiction. My personal definition of commercial fiction is fiction that is satisfying entertainment. There’s a lot of literary fiction that is shelved in genre sections simply because it has SF/F elements. I’m not saying that literary fiction can’t be satisfying entertainment, but I don’t believe that it’s the primary goal.

1 Response to “Happily ever aftering”

  1. 1 mentatjack
    May 15, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    What few romances I’ve read (but more from what I’ve read about romances) much of the issue is how you get to the HEA … it’s a romance if every decision the protagonist makes is weighed against the (or one of the potential) HEA. There may be political intrigue, it might be science fiction, it might be crime fiction, but if you have to choose between your country and HEA or the fate of the galaxy and HEA you find a path toward HEA.

    I see that in detective stories as well … everything has to be weighed against solving the case.

    In a less pigeonholed novel, figuring out WHAT the HEA is seems to be half the fun. Hmmm. I don’t think I found the HEA of this comment. *sigh*

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