Two weeks ago I unleashed THIS POST on the world. Ever since then I’ve been thinking about the over-criticism the romance genre as a whole takes and I find myself wanting to talk more and more about the elements of a good romance novel. As I am often wont to do, I’m starting at the end.
The end of the book, I mean. I decided to start there because the ending is the most important part of a romance story. When writing romance, you have two options:
- Happy Ever After, in which your characters hook up and will live forever in whatever bliss they create. It is not just implied that they’re happy – we know for a fact they’re happy and will continue to be happy forever. Hence the ever after portion of that tag.
- Happy For Now, where your characters are satisfied with the outcome, whether it’s forever or just for the night.
No matter what you do, the only way to satisfy your audience is to make absolutely certain your characters are happy in the end. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They have to be happy and the story has to be tied up in a nice, neat little package.
Yes, there are exceptions. There are always exceptions, but if you want to be one of them, then you’d better have a damn good reason why your characters aren’t happy.
So you want to write a series and it requires your heroine go missing at the end of the first book? Okay. This is not unusual and something I intend to discuss in more detail later, but for the purpose of this post it’s on the no-no list. But if you insist that she be missing, then make her missing. Just remember that your readers have to know two things before you stop the story:
First, that there WILL without a doubt be a second book. Second, that your hero will stop at nothing to get her back. And I do mean nothing. If he’s required to face Hell itself to get her back, he better be putting on his flame-retardant gear when the curtain goes down.
Nothing disappoints a romance audience faster than a one-and-done ending with no emotion and no satisfaction. Like I said in that original post – the whole point of reading romance is to fall in love over and over again. The best way to accomplish that is by giving the audience the illusion of eternal happiness.
[INSERT DISCLAIMER HERE: I’m getting ready to ruin the endings of two of my books! Consider yourself warned!]
Personally, I’ve written both endings. In Marked, Russell and Tabitha have their moment of post-coital afterglow, but they’re both satisfied. They’re both happy. And even though there’s not a hard and fast commitment, the implication that they’re going to remain more than friends is there.
I did that for a reason. It’s a stand-alone story but I love Tabitha. One day (and I’ve been asked!) I might get a wild hair and decide to write a sequel. And that’s fair. I’ve not left loose ends, and there’s no unfulfilled anticipation.
I’ve also given my characters Happy Ever After. In Something in the Air, it’s a short courtship, yes, but Nic and Kelly Ray take it all the way because they know it’s meant to be. But just because a beautiful wedding in the Cayman Islands is right for them doesn’t mean wedded bliss is right for every couple.
It all comes down to personality and timing. Not every scenario needs happy forever. Sometimes they just need happy for now, and that’s okay.
Just make sure they’re happy, and your readers will be too.