Last week I blogged about tear-jerkers and bittersweet endings. This week I want to talk about Happily Ever After. I love HEA myself—if I didn’t I’d be writing in the wrong genre! I find it interesting that people criticize romance endings as unrealistic.

I know some people who bash romance endings haven’t read the books and seem to think they’re all a romp in a flowery meadow or something. They don’t realize that in a good romance the hero and heroine deal with the “bitter” in the course of the story. They earn the “sweet” at the end.

It’s also a bit like what Paul Gardner said about painting: “A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.” Romance novels end at a happy spot.

I figure the hero and heroine will likely face some more rough patches, though nothing as bad as the author has already put them through. I doubt anyone wants to imagine one of them dying of cancer a year after the story ends. (At least I hope no one wishes that on my characters!) But they still have life to deal with and that means problems. The thing is they’ll face them together. Is that so unrealistic?

Romance readers don’t always agree on what constitutes a happy ending either.

Often the HEA involves a huge brood of children, angelically cute and well-behaved. In a Regency this would certainly be historically accurate as many though not all couples did have large families. (One can also imagine servants handling many of the messier parts of parenting.)

Even contemporary romances frequently include children in the HEA. Jennifer Crusie’s BET ME generated a lot of discussion because the couple in that story chose to have a dog instead. I liked that, as a change, but more because I felt that was what was right for those characters. I also read a lot of reader comments to the effect that it was a more romantic ending because children ruin everything.

OK, they often do! Babies certainly have some sort of sixth sense for detecting when parents are trying to make love, even a few rooms away. Maybe it’s a survival mechanism to ensure there aren’t younger siblings too soon! And all too often “normal” family life is a façade of happiness with a lot of repressed tension. There are certainly bratty kids around, the result of people who didn’t really want them in the first place, maybe.

But functional family life shouldn’t be an unrealistic goal. We aren’t perfect, but my husband and I try to keep it fun and not let things fester. Our kids are pretty fun to be around, at least 80% of the time. I can certainly think of adults with a far worse fun-to-be-around ratio!

Of course real life HEA with children is hard work. Exhaustion battles lust at times. You call a dozen sitters just to set up one night out. Maybe not everyone’s idea of HEA. Sometimes it’s not mine either! Sometimes I yearn for the life Crusie gives the BET ME characters. But that book works for me also because of the realistic characters, the heroine who predicts she’s going to put on weight in middle age, the hero who finds her sexy anyway, the way they nurture his nephew.

Which sorts of HEA do you like? Fairytale? Do you prefer to see her as always slim and him with all his hair, (no matter how much he’s raked his fingers through it, as romance heroes are wont to do)? 🙂 Or more realistic? Are there some HEA elements that you find too perfect to enjoy? Or are there elements of reality that spoil the romance for you?

Do you ever try to imagine characters’ lives after The End?


P.S. Image is an illustration by Eleanor Vere Boyle, from Beauty and the Beast: An Old Tale New-Told. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1875.