HEA HEA Why art thou Happy?

Lou recently wrote a blog post about a bait and switch on a book that she thought was a YA romance which was marketed and looked like one. However, it ended unhappily with the heroine dying in the last few pages which is the biggest No No in romance. Breaking that convention for most readers definitely doesn’t make it a romance; a love story certainly, but the one thing that most people who read and love the genre is that there has to be a guaranteed Happy Ever After  – or even a Happy For Now.

Nonetheless, within the comments of that post a commentator thought that Lou shouldn’t be upset about this factor and that the emotions and story is the important thing, and a happy ending shouldn’t be a requirement because its something that is easy and predictable.

Now this got me thinking because I disagree with this sentiment and I don’t think this commentator realised or understood the appeal of why HEA is so important for romance. Anything can go with Romance; different premises such as the girl/boy next door, or set in a crazy universe with marauding alien pirates or a faraway land with star crossed lovers from opposing sides.  The journey with the characters to discover love and commitment to a relationship is what hooks me, and what makes this genre so popular to readers who love Romance. The idea of not having a happy ending or even a hopeful one with with the protagonists committing together after overcoming harsh obstacles and personal difficult experiences is an anathema to me.

So why is this attitude that having an HEA is unrealistic and is an easy way to end a story and is so prevalent to those who don’t read romance or regard it a cheap convention?

Is it because of the sneering snobbery about romance?

Why is this idea that art has to be tortured and authors/artists have to bleed on their keyboards or canvas to make their text/artwork which most of the time has to be tortured and depressing to have worth. And why does this context and approach have to be so much more valuable than a writer or artist who doesn’t bleed or have to go through an existential crisis to produce beautiful and meaningful art?

Classical literature, for example have instances of the HEA, books like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice are the archetypes of modern romance from the brooding heroes like Mr Rochester and Mr Darcy have inspired many modern romances. Yet they are considered to have real high brow value even though they have all the conventions of a typical romance. So why can’t a Nora Roberts book is seen to be the same value? Why do so called critics who judges what should have critical value because they sneer at these conventions and the message that love can lead to a positive ending because its not ‘realistic’ to them.

What is the hell wrong with reading and enjoying a story about two people overcoming the odds and finding love and some hope after a difficult time and having a hopeful and happy ending?
We all yearn for love, and its an important theme in other forms of art, such as: music, poetry and artwork. It really makes us tick in many ways, but the fact that a HEA is sneered upon really stumps me.

And romance is not the only genre that must have a fixed ending with conventions. For example, mysteries and thrillers must end with finding/discovering the killers or the perpetrators at the end. Can you imagine the uproar if the killers/perps get away with murder, and the reader doesn’t even know who it is, let alone getting caught? I also think if books like this are written they wouldn’t be successful to their readers because there is no satisfaction or hope that everything will be okay at the end.

I actually think the idea of a tormented and tragic romance ending is actually melodramatic and overwrought most of the time, and that for me is a cheap way to target a reader’s emotions. It doesn’t give the love story more value to one that ends happily. But a tragic love story is not a romance; there is no hope and there is no reward for the reader or for the characters at the end. Would you feel good reading a romance or a love story that ends unhappily at the end?

Are we being wusses to feel like this?

I think it’s very hard to write a damn good romance and make the journey for lovers to discover and maintain that love believable. The HEA is not an easy way out but it’s a reward for the reader and for the characters. I am not saying that every love story should end happily, far from it and I have enjoyed tragic love stories in the past but I do prefer to read ones that do have a HEA. That is why I love Romance, it does make me feel better that the couple at the end do find happiness and love at the end of the story and the best ones don’t always necessarily tidies everything away with no problems. It makes the story feel real if there is still problems and issues but the satisfaction is that the couple will be committed to overcome that and stay together to face that.

At uncertain times especially, we need hope and love, and romance provides and offers that need to escape as well as giving us hope. Its interesting to note that sales of Romance have risen in the past few years and I suspect that this might be a factor. Whether a reader reads a Harlequin Presents or a dark gothic romance, the HEA and Romance has as much value as any tortured  or highly critical author’s offering and if people want the latter that is fine with me. Reading is subjective and as long as people read that means books of all different types and genres will always be around and that IS a good thing. But give me hope and love any day of the week because it makes me feel better and therefore a stronger person to face life’s challenges.

Comments

  1. says

    *applause* My opinion exactly. Fantastic post hon!!

    If I chose to read romance it’s for the HEA. I slowly stopped reading UF because they got more and more depressing with each book. I need the reward at the end. I need to know it’ll end up better than in real life.

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  2. says

    There’s comfort in the familiar and in the hero/heroine getting what they strive the entire story for. That’s why romance lovers like their HEA and why the bad guy getting away with it doesn’t work.

    The fact of the matter is in real life bad guys do get away with it and HEA is kind of seen as a joke (Happy enough is the best most people can do). But that’s real life.

    I don’t read fiction for a taste of reality, I read it to escape reality LOL. I openly admit I don’t require a HEA, but I do want hope that everything will work out. As a reader, I need to know that the characters I’ve invested time and energy in will come out of things okay–hell better than okay.

    Are there brilliant novels written that don’t work like that? Sure. Hundreds of them. But that doesn’t make them better or worse, it only makes them different. It’s why, in general, they have different fan bases.

    Give me my escape from reality and don’t judge me on it.

    Unless, of course, you’re ready for me to make sweeping judgements about you based on your decision to wallow in the misery of the human condition.

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  3. says

    Exactly! I think if a book is marketed/is aimed as a romance then we should expect a HEA. It shouldn’t mean that it will be totally hunky dory at the end but having a HEA doesn’t mean it should be a bad thing.

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  4. says

    I love HEA. Yet again today I got a sneer for reading romance and I just don’t understand the book snobbery towards romances. I read romances to get away from real life. I don’t read crime or thrillers cause there’s enough of that in the real world, just turn on the news. I like the comfort of a HEA because I can relax and enjoy the ride. A romance where the person dies at the end isn’t romance it’s tragedy.

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  5. says

    I choose what book I want to read based on my mood. If I pick up a romance, I do NOT need a good cry. I wouldn’t want to read a thriller and have the killer still be loose at the end (unless it has a sequel, of course).

    Each genre has its conventions for a reason. The HEA is integral to romance and the reasons why we read it.

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  6. says

    I love romances because of the HEA. I definitely agree that it’s the journey through the relationship that makes the book but that HEA is like having a delicious dessert to end a nice dinner – it makes it even better and ends on a high note. Nicholas Sparks writes nice books with deep relationships, but I won’t read him because his endings are not HEA. I don’t mind crying in the middle of a book, but I don’t want to be crying at the end.

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  7. says

    I love this post! I’m a big HEA person, to a fault sometimes. I don’t watch movies if I don’t think it has a HEA. I don’t want to read a book that doesn’t have one either. I have to force myself to read beyond the romance genre, and I don’t do it often.

    I agree with the above commenter, I don’t read fiction to get a taste of reality. I am surrounded by unhappy couples and divorce. Why would I want to entertain myself with more of it? And I don’t want to hear that an inspirational story about a divorcée learning to stand on her own two feet is better literature. If I want that I’ll find a self-help book, thank you very much.

    I want magic! I want to feel the emotion between two people down to my gut. I want to have butterflies, squeals, and something to fan myself with when it gets a little too warm. That’s what romance is all about, and I love that you make that point. Mysteries are all about SOLVING the crime, and getting the bad guy. Romance is all about HEA. To not have a HEA places the book in a completely different genre.

    There are reasons we have genres. Leave those reasons alone.

    Great post!

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  8. Heller says

    Your LOLBaboon is hilarious, btw. Very appropriate.

    When I read a romance I want a romance. I take comfort in knowing that no matter what the characters go through in the end they will be happy. They journey getting there may not be all puppies and Christmas and that’s fine but journey’s end I want a HEA. I don’t apologize for it.

    I love your post, well said! Keep ‘em coming!

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  9. says

    I completely agree. Jayne Castle (a/k/a Jayne Ann Krentz and Amanda Quick) wrote a fantastic speech on this subject…this is my favorite part:

    “Concepts like HONOR matter in popular fiction. Courage matters. Determination matters. These are ancient, heroic virtues. They do not derive from modern psychological theory or the social dictates of political correctness. What’s more, they are infused with enormous survival value for individuals, families and communities.

    The literary genre, on the other hand, tends to focus on an intimate examination of characters who are victims, either of their own flaws or their dysfunctional childhoods. It dissects and explores in often painful detail neuroses, psychoses, obsessions, depression, sexual dysfunction and other frequently destructive aspects of the human condition….

    But the difference is that in popular fiction, these characters must triumph. They must find a positive resolution to their problems… ”

    You can find the whole thing here:
    http://www.krentz-quick.com/bgspeech.html

    (I’m new here — love your blog!)

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