Thursday, June 28, 2012

Romance novels—Always a happy ending?

Do romance novels always have to have a happy ending? I was thinking about this the other day because some stories just don’t end well. I suppose then the stories wouldn’t be labeled as romance, but as tragic romance. Would romance readers want to read a romance that doesn’t end well? The Greeks had tragic love stories, one of which was Artemis killing her lover by accident, and then there is Romeo and Juliet, one of the most popular tragic love stories.


I have a book coming out that is part of a past lives series. This is a tragic romance because the first time the hero and heroine meet their story doesn’t end well. This has to happen so that they can be reborn and have their happy ending in the other books. I would compare this story to a cross between the Iliad and Romeo and Juliet. It’s a tragic romance set against the battle between the Titans and Olympic gods. My heroine is a vengeance goddess, one of the Erinyes, so that is a clue that this story can’t end well. Even though I knew I had to write a tragic ending, it wasn’t easy for me to do. I decided to add an Epilogue to give my characters the happiness they deserve, and also to please readers, and myself.

Personally, I don’t mind reading romances that don’t end well. Sure, it’s sad when someone dies and the romance ends in a gloomy cloud, but sometimes these heartbreaking stories stay with me longer than the stories that end well. Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but too many happy endings don’t satisfy me.

I realize a lot of romance readers would disagree with me. They need to have that happiness at the end of the romance novel. I don’t want to mislead readers so I’m thinking of putting a warning on this book since I normally write romance with happy, or happy for now endings. I wouldn’t want to get a bunch of hate emails. Or maybe I wouldn’t mind.

Kelley Heckart, Historical fantasy romance author

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A Greek vampire, Celtic kings, vengeful goddesses, an ancient faery curse…

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All three books of my Dark Goddess trilogy are available in Print and Ebook. Set in Dark Age Scotland, I mixed history with a Samhain/Beltaine myth that revolves around an Irish clan and the goddesses Brigit and Cailleach.


Lara said...

I would definitely want a warning that the book didn't contain a HEA. When I pick up a romance, I _expect_ it will have a HEA or a HFN. I don't demand that of other genres, so if I don't get it in my romance, it does disappoint me.

Erin O'Quinn said...

Dear Kelley,

One of the best romance novels I've read in a long time, Miriam Newman's THE KING'S DAUGHTER, does not have a HEA...because, due to the nature of her unique universe, the MC is fated in the next book(s) to wed a kinsman of her first lover. Perhaps if I had known that the ending would make me cry, I would not have read it. But the fact is, the story is absolutely satisfying on a literary and metaphoric level.

That being said, perhaps you're right that the editor (or the author) needs to issue a "warning," or to write an epilogue, that tells the reader more.And the commenter Lara is correct, too, that she has a right to expect a happy ending. Most publishers will not even accept a MS if it does not have a HEA, so the problem solves itself most of the time.

And lingering conviction, as you so well put it, is that happily-ever-afters are simply not always the best or most logical ending of a good romance. A pie-in-the-sky ending can seem contrived. Coward that I am, I would not risk it. But that's just me.

Thanks for letting me vent...Slán, Erin O'Quinn

Brenda said...

As much as I love happy endings, it isn't a must for me. I say go with what works best for the story.
But I do know there are people out there who would flip out if a romance didn't have a HEA or a Happy for now ending. So a warning may be needed.

Celtic Chick said...

Thanks for all the wonderful comments to my post. There are differing opinions on this subject, but I think most romance readers do expect that happy ending so I will be sure to label this book as a tragic romance.