Following on from my post about tropes, I thought I would write about the single most important trope in romance: the Happily Ever After.
It is this that causes the most derision from people that don’t read the genre. “What’s the point if you know the ending?” they ask.
Well, firstly, these people can take their prejudice and stuff it. But secondly, the point is that we know the ending.
Getting emotionally invested in a book is like getting invested in a relationship – there has to be trust. When a reader knows that they will 100% be getting a happy ending, they know they can connect to the book and the characters emotionally without fear that it will betray them.
This means that writers can go deeper, angstier, and deal with far more difficult themes, and readers will follow them, knowing that on the other side of that misery the characters will triumph. Plus, it’s better storytelling. If a book with a miserable beginning and middle also has a miserable ending, then the story would be too one note and depressing. And if the book is all happy, only to have the characters end up miserable, then what is the point of that?
I could never read a Nicholas Sparks novel and have the same amount of emotional investment in it that I would if I read a romance novel. Some part of me would always be holding back, wondering which, if any, character that I was rooting for was going to die at the end. I couldn’t sink into the book, lose myself in it, because I would know that it might break my heart. My brain would protect my heart by keeping me at a distance.
And if you can’t get invested in the characters and their journey, then what’s the point of reading that story?
Romance novels have the right way of it. Promise readers a happy ending, and they will follow you anywhere.
I’m the kind of reader that likes the characters I invest in to succeed and triumph. I like them to deal with difficulties, and then come out the other side better people and in a better place. There is enough misery in real life. I don’t need it in my fiction, too.
This is why I hate writers that market their books as genre romance, but don’t follow to the HEA ‘formula’. They want the boost of the Romancelandia community and the romance dollars (because, as we all know, it’s the most popular genre in North America), but they don’t want to adhere to our most sacred tenet. It’s no wonder that readers feel betrayed and angry by this. They trusted this book – and the writer – to deliver what they were taught to expect. And the writer broke that trust, as sure as any bad news boyfriend.
So, writers, don’t do that. Deliver the ending that your readers expect (the one you’ve been building towards and your genre demands) or deal with the amount of angry and upset people you’ve caused.
And, readers, know that I am the biggest supporter of the HEA. You can trust that I won’t ever let you down in that regard.