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:~: Monday, February 05, 2007 :~:

Happily Ever After . . . Why, Exactly?

We're starting something new this week at Romance Worth Killing For - Theme weeks. A couple times a month, we'll pick a topic and each one of us will tackle it in our own unique way during the week. Five different backgrounds, experiences, and view points on the same subject. This week's topic - ironically - starts at the end. We're going to be talking about that magical cornerstone of every romance out there - the Happily Ever After.

I think anyone who reads or writes romance - regardless of sub-genre - loves the happy ending. Really, if you didn't, you wouldn't read it and you certainly wouldn't write it. When you pick up a romance, you know it's going to end well. You can usually tell within the first few pages who the hero and heroine are. At that point, without even reading the whole first chapter in most cases, you already know they're going to get together. So why bother reading if you know they'll make it in the end?

Over at Yahoo! Answers, this question was asked: Why Do You Read Romance Novels? The following are a sampling of answers:

1. It puts you into a fantasy world.
2. It's an escape for me!
3. Because every once in a while they appeal to a cheesy, dreamy/romantic side of me that I don't acknowledge very often.
4. Because they are very interesting and sometimes some of us can relate, or wish that there was a true love out there like in the books.
5. ...they are predictable. In a world filled with uncertainty, [we] want to know that there is a place [we] can escape to where the women are always beautiful, the men always strong and the ending always happy.

Amen to the last one. I pick up a romance novel because I know for sure it's going to end well. That doesn't mean I'm opposed to trials and tribulations, murder and mayhem and the awful parts of life (I do write romantic suspense, after all). Through it all though, I want to know that no matter what happens to the characters along the way, good will overcome evil, the good guys will always win, and that love conquers all.

World Book Day did a survey last year about books with happy endings. Overall they found that:

1. The nation’s favourite happy ending is Pride and Prejudice.
2. A happy ending is the preferred choice of people of all ages, genders and regions.
3. Almost a quarter of people say that reading a happy ending makes them feel better for the rest of the day.
4. The sad ending people would most like to change is Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Tonight, my oldest and I were watching The Natural on TV just before bedtime. We happen to be big baseball fans here, and while the romance between the hero (Robert Redford) and his hometown girlfriend (Glenn Close) was very minor, the happy ending - for himself and his son - made me smile. My favorite books and movies have happy endings - all of them - doesn't matter if they're romances or not. Any Indiana Jones movie, When Harry Met Sally, The Hunt For Red October, Into The Blue, Wedding Crashers, The Lord Of The Rings, The Rookie, Cars . . . the list goes on and on. I can't think of a single book or movie that didn't have a happy ending that ended up being a favorite of mine. People might say that's a girl thing, but my husband - who isn't a big reader - buys just as many movies as I do, and when I look in our movie closet, guess how many unhappy endings there are? Very few.

Most of you reading this are romance readers and therefore must already enjoy the happily ever after element, but I'm curious. What is it about the happy ending that appeals most to you? Be it a romance or not, why do you read books or watch movies with happy endings? And can you think of a single book or movie that had an unhappy ending that turned out to be a favorite of yours?

Also, on a side note, before I forget...

Joan posted the first part of our online read yesterday (scroll down). We need your input to help get the ball rolling. So be sure to visit yesterday's post and help us shape our characters for this fun, interactive story.

In addition, Joan's still collecting taglines for her CHOCOLATE GIVEAWAY on February 14th. In case you missed it, all you have to do is add a tagline to the comment section of her Got Chocolate? post to be eligible for the $40 gift basket from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Don't miss it!



Blogger Maria, Lover of All Things Romance said...

Why do I like Happy Endings? Is, 'because they're happy' enough of an answer? I also love happy endings because they show that fate is always working for the greater good. There is someone out there for me who will love me as I will love him forever and that's a wonderfully happy thought.

Though I have to say that my favourite movie is 'Steel Magnolias' and that sure as hell does not have a happy ending

12:53 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

I think that's a great answer, Maria.

As for Steel Magnolias - I agree: great movie. I loved it too. But I would argue that it does have a happy ending. Shelby wasn't the main character in Steel Magnolias. M'Lynn was the main character, and it was the relationship between her and the people around her that made that movie. Yeah, it was sad, and heartbreaking, but if Shelby hadn't died, then M'Lynn's character arc wouldn't have been complete. And the happy ending (in my opinion) was that no matter what, life goes on. In the last scene, Annelle's about to have her baby - a baby she's going to name Shelby. There's that whole circle of life thing going on. Everyone's at the Easter Egg Hunt, and even though they all lost someone they loved, the movie ends on a positive note.

Now, if M'Lynn had committed suicide over the loss of her daughter, then THAT would have been an unhappy ending. She wouldn't have learned anything. ;)

Thanks for the comment!

1:04 PM  
Blogger Linda Winfree said...

I don't have to have the happy ending, as long as there's resolution in some way.

Books I love with less-than-happy endings:

1) The Great Gatsby
2) The Awakening (although it can be argued that the heroine's suicide is in fact her own happy ending)
3) The Good Soldier
4) Any Shakespearean tragedy -- Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, etc.
5) Leaving Atlanta
6) A Separate Peace
7) The Crucible
8) The Scarlet Letter

Great post, E!

2:06 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

I second Maria's answer. :-)

I'm surprised at the statistics you mentioned -- didn't realize so many people liked/wanted happy endings. Guess I'm not the only sappy type around after all.

Great post, E.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

LOL, Lin. That doesn't really surprise me.

However, if that's the case, then why do you write books with happy endings?

3:04 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

You're not the only sappy one, J. ;)

I have a girlfriend who hated Somersby. She rants about that movie all the time - about how stupid the ending was. My husband hated it as well - for the same exact reason. I felt that way about Message In A Bottle. I think what killed me about these books/movies was that they were romances that ended in tragedies - for no good reason. They could have just as easily ended happily.

I have another friend who loved Titanic, and she has argued with me before that that ended unhappily. But, like Steel Magnolia's, Jack's death helped cement Rose's character arc, and if the movie had ended with his death, then yeah, it could have been considered "unhappy". However, it went on, and the last scene is of the two of them together again, and that to me is a happy ending.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Linda Winfree said...

E, I like resolution in a work, if that makes sense, and that doesn't always have to be a happy ending (Gatsby resolves, but not in a happy sense for any of the characters, except Daisy and Tom, who are shallow and self-centered anyway. The other books resolve in much the same way -- Hester and Dimmesdale can't be together in life, but the truth sets him free finally, Finny has to die because he can't live separate from his innocence, John Proctor must hang in the Crucible, not only because it's historical fact, but because his finding his "goodness" demands he sacrifice himself rather than save his life.). Since I write Romantic Suspense, that means the resolution is a happy ending, because of the genre's expectations. Why write romance if the couple doesn't get to be happy at the end?


I haven't always left everything rosy. A FORMAL FEELING ends with Mark learning his long-lost wife and unborn child are dead -- resolving part of his conflict, completing his character arc, but not really a "happy" ending. In MEMORIES OF US, which is somewhere in my editor's submission pile, the couple's HEA and "I love you's" come amid a really horrific event in one of their lives -- again, not the happiest of circumstances, more of a bittersweet ending, I guess.

Is Message in a Bottle one of Sparks's books? His work is more along the lines of a "love story" than a modern-genre romance, hence why he can get away with the less-than-HEA.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Since I write Romantic Suspense, that means the resolution is a happy ending, because of the genre's expectations.

Yes, but if you don't want to write the happy ending, are you saying you're doing it simply because the genre expects it? Like you said, Message In A Bottle (and yes, that is Sparks) gets away with it because it's slotted in the love story genre instead of the romance genre. So there's an alternative to writing the typical romance if that's what you want to do. I guess my question remains...What is it about RS and the HEA that keeps you writing it?

4:00 PM  
Blogger Linda Winfree said...

I think maybe I approached your question as a reader rather than a writer. As a writer, I want the HEA for my couples -- I spend a lot of time with them and want to see them happy. However, I don't read exclusively in the romance genre, so the non-HEA doesn't really bother me, as long as the ending offers a satisfying resolution. Does that make sense?

5:46 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Yes, Lin. Makes sense. I was just curious.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

I didn't know there was a love story genre. And I certainly didn't know it was a different genre than romance. I would have thought a love story fell under the umbrella of romance.

Always learning something new. :-)

8:24 PM  
Blogger Lisa Pulliam said...

Great post, Eli =D

I have to have a HEA when I read a romance, or at least the hint of one. I'm like that with movies too. I won't watch a movie if I know it will have a sad ending (thank goodness for ruinedendings.com).

Life is stressful and dramatic enough. I want to know there is happiness in the world, something I can look forward to. Or at least fantasize that I will have some day.

All of my favorite movies are funny and light-hearted. My favorite books are funny and light-hearted. My favorite people are funny and light-hearted.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Neither did I, J, until I read Message In A Bottle and then threw the book against the wall after I was finished.

In interviews, Nicholas Sparks makes it clear he doesn't write romance. Between that and the un-HEA, I won't read his books.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Makes sense, Lisa, since you are funny and lighthearted. ;)

I agree with you 100%.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Linda Winfree said...

J, the modern definition of a romance involves the HEA (the traditional, "literary" definition of a romance is far, far removed from what we call a romance!). Gone With the Wind would be a love story (or historical fiction), but not a romance, since there's no HEA. A lot of people would call Romeo & Juliet a "romance" but it's not -- it's a tragedy.

And I'm really having to think hard about what I'm going to post Friday -- E's great post and our conversation here have covered it so well! I can't wait to see what everyone else writes this week . .. and what I'm going to write Friday! LOL.

4:07 AM  
Blogger Elisa said...

This is a great topic, Eli.

If I'm reading or watching a romance, I want the ending to be happy, and for the hero and heroine to end up together. If it isn't a romance, for me it depends on how a story is written. A read a lot outside the romance genre, but I find if I do pick up a romance, I want a happy ending.

I just finished More Twisted by Jeffery Deaver. It's a book of suspense short stories, and very few of them had endings that were really happy. Most of them were open-ended, and I like those, too. Those stories stayed with me for a long time, since I was analyzing them and trying to figure out how they would have ended.

As far as love stories versus romances go, my stories with Changeling Press are love stories rather than romances. The h/h have a relationship, but the ending isn't always a traditionally happy one. In one of the stories, the ending is more sad than happy. I hadn't intended it to end that way,
but when I got to the end I realized the conflict couldn't be tied up with a regular happy ending and still be believable.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

I just read Dawn's comment and it hit me--there are several types of happy endings.

If I'm reading romance, I want the traditional HEA, I love yous, promise of life together (although not necessarily specifically marriage, I'll infer that myself :-)).

But when I'm reading other genres, if there is no substantial love subplot or element a happy ending (to me) would simply be a just ending -- the villain gets his dues, the protagonist reaps his rewards.

I suppose there are quite a few types of happy endings depending on the story.


10:13 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

I think that counts as a happy ending, J - in a nonromance. The villain is caught, the protagonist learns something substantial about themselves, life goes on and the world is a better place.

10:19 AM  

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