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What do you consider happily ever after?


Santino

Queer Romance and HEAs (happily ever afters)  

29 members have voted

  1. 1. Do romance novels need a happily ever after ending to be a true romance?

    • Yes. At the end of a romance novel, I need to know that the main characters will be together indefinitely.
    • Yes, but I am also fine with a "happy for now". No need for a life-long promise of commitment officially stated in the text.
    • No. I think a novel should still be classified as a romance as long as the primary plot is romantic, even if the MCs have to part ways or if one of them dies.
    • Yes and no. I think novels should be considered "romance" if the primary plot revolves around love/romance even if the MCs part ways at the end. However, I normally prefer to read romances with a HEA.


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Recently, there has been a heated debate in the other writing community I participate in about what should and should not constitute a happily ever after in a romance novel, and whether a novel should NEED a happily ever after to be considered a romance at all. The response has been overwhelmingly "Yes, a HEA is needed for a novel to be considered a romance", but that response has largely come from an overall homogeneous audience with a very small handful of writers/readers disagreeing for varying reasons.

 

For full disclosure, I will say the overwhelming response of "yes" has come from readers/writers who identify as females and the few responses that have said "no" have come from readers/writers who identify as queer males. I don't want to bring the women vs men argument into this particular topic because it got very unfriendly on the other board (and in social media), and I do feel like it's irrelevant in the long run because different people have different perspectives regardless of their gender. However, I bring it up because GA is MUCH more diverse as far as gender and orientation, so I'm curious as to what the results of this question would be here.

 

Please satisfy my curiosity by answering the poll? Pretty please? What do you consider a romance when you are writing?   :worship:  :worship:

 

Do romance novels need a happily ever after ending to be a true romance?

 

1) Yes. At the end of a romance novel, I need to know that the main characters will be together indefinitely.

2) Yes, but I am also fine with a "happy for now". No need for a life-long promise of commitment officially stated in the text.

3) No. I think a novel should still be classified as a romance as long as it contains a strong love story and romantic arc, even if the MCs have to part ways or if one of them dies.

 

Edited by Santino
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I think if love is a central theme of the story, it's a romance. No HEA is necessary, although if the question was "is a HEA necessary for you to READ a romance novel", my answer would be yes. That's not to say romances with tragic endings aren't good, it's just that I'm absolutely pathetic about love, and if I'm in a sappy mood during the tragedy, I'll end up being a wreck for the next few days :lol:. That's not something I want to do to myself, so I avoid romances with no HEA, usually, although if I'm bored and not sappy I can read them without blinking XD

 

Fascinating question, though :) can't wait to see other opinions!

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I think if love is a central theme of the story, it's a romance. No HEA is necessary, although if the question was "is a HEA necessary for you to READ a romance novel", my answer would be yes. That's not to say romances with tragic endings aren't good, it's just that I'm absolutely pathetic about love, and if I'm in a sappy mood during the tragedy, I'll end up being a wreck for the next few days :lol:. That's not something I want to do to myself, so I avoid romances with no HEA, usually, although if I'm bored and not sappy I can read them without blinking XD

 

Fascinating question, though :) can't wait to see other opinions!

 

Thanks for replying! I really hope others reply/respond because I want to know how a larger audience feels about the issue. Also because this community seems a lot more respectful to each other!

 

I should add a fourth choice with "No I don't think so, but I wouldn't personally want tragic endings".... You made an awesome point there.

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I like the HEA, but I'm fine with the characters not professing their lifelong devotion to one another. Sometimes it's more realistic if they don't. Happy for now or heading in a reasonably good direction is a worthwhile place to be.

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To me happy ever after and romance are two totally separate things.  I generally like a romantic plot and it has nothing to do with the ending is happy or not.  If I already know what the ending is, or the ending is predictable, the writer better gives a very compelling reason why I want to continue reading this story (e.g., the journey of the story has tons of twists and turns, or the characters are interesting people).

 

BTW, HEA sounds like the name of a drug....  :P

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I think if love is a central theme of the story, it's a romance. No HEA is necessary, although if the question was "is a HEA necessary for you to READ a romance novel", my answer would be yes

 

Precisely, faxity. A romance (straight or queer) is an indulgence for me, so if I'm going to have the indulgence, I'd like to take it the whole way and have the HEA also. Like fish and chips or popcorn with my movie. But by HEA I only mean "happy for the forseeable future."

 

And that doesn't mean that Love Story, for example, isn't a satisfying romance. It just isn't necessarily something I'd seek out on a regular basis.

Edited by Irritable1
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According to this Wikipedia article, and I agree with this part: A romance must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." If I am to read a romance--occasionally I do--it better have an uplifting outcome. Notice that happily-ever-after is not a requirement of this principle. It is well and good enough that characters make it from point A to point B in time without having to think about some undefined future reference point.

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My opinion, for what it's worth: a Romance novel implies by the genre that the protagonists remain together indefinitely.  That being said, it is also what I like to see at the end of a story or novel.  The only exception to this in my mind, would be if one of the characters can no longer actually be present to fulfill their end of the relationship...say through illness or death. 

 

I confess to not having much experience with romance novels--the genre doesn't appeal to me--but I have read some novels of gay romance by Gordon Merrick, and found them good reading if not high art.  Perhaps it's the era I grew up in, but happily ever after was what was supposed to happen between lovers, even if it wasn't always a reality.  I did not grow up in an environment with exposure to other gays that I knew of--so my ideas are colored by that--love is/or ought to be permanent, equal, fulfilling and comfortable when you get home of an evening.

 

If the main characters are not going to be together long-term, then the story seems to be not much more than a work designed to satisfy one's physical needs rather than emotional ones.  I wonder if more guys aren't willing to commit to something permanent due to a misguided sense of machismo?  A theory has gone around among sociologists and anthropologists that males of many species do not keep to a single mate because it narrows the gene supply for the next generations, and thus promiscuity is a positive evolutionary trait...but is at odds with our Judaeo-Christian ethos which stressed monogamous relationships.  Pre-AIDS, after the beginning of the sexual revolution in the late 50s, both gay and straight men had no need to curb natural instincts, so it seemed to become the norm in the community that sleeping around was the way it should be...sad to say, that hasn't changed in our post-AIDS world.

 

Growing up in a small town in the 70s, I have never felt like I fit into the gay community at large--because of that upbringing, I consider myself a man first, then a gay man.  Am I old-fashioned?  Yes.  Idealistic?  Yes.  A hopeless romantic?  Yes.  With lasting relationships in both gay and straight society becoming rarer, I cringe at the thought of our world being run by a generation who have known nothing permanent in their emotional lives--it will yield nothing but cold and calculating people seeking only what satisfies them now, rather than what can make them a better person. 

 

But then, they won't know it is missing anyway.  So, a true romance novel must have a happily ever after.

Edited by ColumbusGuy
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According to this Wikipedia article, and I agree with this part: A romance must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." If I am to read a romance--occasionally I do--it better have an uplifting outcome. Notice that happily-ever-after is not a requirement of this principle. It is well and good enough that characters make it from point A to point B in time without having to think about some undefined future reference point.

 

This was actually the main point of contention in the original blog post, so I'm glad you brought it up. :D

 

The "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending" is interpreted by one side of the debate as the heroes/heroines live happily ever after with a subset of that side saying "but happy for now is okay as long as it SEEMS like they will stay together" and another small subset saying "i want my HEA wrapped up with a bow that guarantees indefinite".

 

The other side of the debate made the claim that "emotionally satisfying and optimistic" (as defined by the Romance Writers of America") did not automatically mean traditional happily ever after with a solid promise of an indefinite future (i.e. marriage, kids, saying "i love you", moving in together, etc) because what is emotionally satisfying and optimistic to one group may not be emotionally satisfying to another. A smaller subset of this side of the debate made the claim that no HEA was needed at all and a strong love arc throughout the novel was enough. That opinion drew pretty serious and angry criticisms and traditional romance readers seemed to feel they were under attack.

 

The debate ultimately, in my opinion, narrowed down to the question of: should the standard definition of what genre romance is be expanded so readers do not always expect that wrapped with a bow ending? AND is the expectation of a traditional HEA in LGBT romance limiting since traditional romance reader expectations have come from decades of primarily reading about M/F romance?

 

I was in the camp of my expectations of a romance novel are that the main couple intends to work through any issues/barriers to have a strong relationship, but I found the expectation of a wrapped in a bow guarantee of till death do you part unrealistic, and that it was frustrating to me that a romance (to some readers) should not be classified a romance unless that "till death do us part" sentiment is there. Some of my reasons were that 1) that expectation excludes stories about a lot of people in the LGBT community who cannot possibly be out about their romance or proceed into the future with a carefree existence and 2) i think endings should be character driven and not prescribe to a specific formula, so why is that "bow" needed if it doesn't make sense for the story? I don't think romance has to be unrealistic to be emotionally satisfying.

 

WHEW. I sound SO SUPER SERIOUS, but it is nice to be able to talk about this with a group who is sharing their opinions calmly.  :worship:  :worship:  GA is the best.

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I'm sorry Santino, but I don't agree with your 'realistic' romance idea.

 

The idea of a romance novel is to present an ideal outcome which should be striven for--something to inspire you to be a better person for your partner, gay or straight.  Those who are not in a satisfying relationship, and who cannot make it work, should move on and try again, taking greater pains in choosing again.  That 'realistic' attitude is sure to doom one's expectations to mediocrity.  If you 'settle' for less satisfying circumstances without attempting to make them better, then you cannot grow as a person or partner.

 

For those who cannot 'come out', the happy ending can fulfill their frustrated desire to find one for themselves vicariously.  You are confusing a happy ending with the physical details, not the desired union of two people sharing their lives together...of what satisfaction is a house if there is no one to share it with you, of a future spent alone because you had no desire to find anything better?  What is the point of children beyond replacement of yourself in the next generation if you don't want something better for them--that makes them real people rather than a mere thing to occupy space. 

 

The concept of romance has existed since the early Middle Ages in the songs and stories of the troubadors and minnesängers--it was not often achieved, but it was a standard to measure yourself against and try to do as best as you could.  It separates Man from Beast, Hell from Heaven.  For the last half of the 20th Century, the world has lost a sense of the Ideal thanks to corruption in government and commercialism stressing personal advantage over community.

 

I think the Greeks summed it up pretty well: Know Thyself.  Once you understand your motivations and capabilities, who would be satisfied with being forever the same?  This has been submerged in the drive for 'me first' and physical accumulation of more things than you could ever use or need. 

 

Why should not our literature make us better people, challenge us to think beyond our own needs?  The happy ending can do that for us--I for one--would rather try for it than be as rich as Bill Gates.

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I think all romance novels are love stories, but not all love stories are romance novels.

 

For a romance novel, I expect the HEA. There doesn't need to be speculation for afterwards because everything was concluded and they got together. The end. Unless there's a continuation and they're once again thrown through hoops of fire, but I expect them to stay together. The end once again. The HEA is inherently indefinite because as far as we know as readers, their story has ended.

 

My two cents anyways :)

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Two random thoughts: 1) is it necessary or desirable to define a genre that closely?  2) Even straight romances have gotten more reflective of life as it's lived. I mean, there is still a subset out there where the female MC is virginal etc., but it's pretty common to have a female MC who is a single parent or a male MC who is. Or for a woman to have a successful career or a struggling business... Or a male MC who isn't a millionaire. Or a female MC who is too old to get pregnant.

 

I know these all seem like very basic concessions to reality, but they've happened over decades. 

 

So suppose you've got a closeted same-sex couple who are in love with each other and the story ends somewhat cautiously with them still in love and not out yet--it seems to me like a reasonable next step for the genre. No?

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Two random thoughts: 1) is it necessary or desirable to define a genre that closely?  2) Even straight romances have gotten more reflective of life as it's lived. I mean, there is still a subset out there where the female MC is virginal etc., but it's pretty common to have a female MC who is a single parent or a male MC who is. Or for a woman to have a successful career or a struggling business... Or a male MC who isn't a millionaire. Or a female MC who is too old to get pregnant.

 

I know these all seem like very basic concessions to reality, but they've happened over decades. 

 

So suppose you've got a closeted same-sex couple who are in love with each other and the story ends somewhat cautiously with them still in love and not out yet--it seems to me like a reasonable next step for the genre. No?

I'd expect a sequel. :P

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I don't know if I was clear. I mean, I'd expect same-sex genre romance to span the same range from picket fence-and-grandchildren to... something less perfect. How much less perfect, I dunno. Edit: closeted-forever does seem very harsh, but if it's still one step up from reality? Addy, would you want a sequel where they came out?

 

Oh last thing--I make no secret of my fangirl devotion to podga  whose work introduced me simultaneously to romance and same-sex romance. His stories give the impression of awarding the MCs exactly 100% of the net happiness they might hope for in real life, given all constraints, and no more. That's about my ideal dose: you find the right person, you're happy in their company, and you're done. That's it.

Edited by Irritable1
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I would say closeted for ever will never work, at least not while they're together. Personally: I hate horror stories! So, yes I'd expect a sequel where they come out or separate. Which of course wouldn't count as a HEA, which I would never read but might write.

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Whenever we get a poll, I tend to get stuck on definitions. In this case, it's the word 'romance'. As I see it there is a distinct section of the market for "Romance Novels", as witnessed the mention above of the "Romance Writers of America". In that particular market space, yes, a Happily Ever After is needed. It's what the target audience demands. If it doesn't have it then, by definition, it's not a "Romance Novel".

 

But I view "Romance" broader than that. As Allan said above, romance novels are a subset of love stories, and I view a love story as a romance. That is, romance novels are a subset of stories of romance. The biggest combination of genres here at GA are Romance/Drama, and that's the combination that's my personal favourite. I'm looking for a drama story that has a core of romance -- that is, a love story. They may not be "Romance Novels", but I still view them as "Romance" stories.

 

Does a "Romance Novel" require a Happily Ever After? I believe the answer has to be "Yes".

Does a "Romance" story require a Happily Ever After? I believe the answer is "No".

 

If people agree with me, then this is more evidence to prove my long standing belief that many serious arguments stem from the two sides having different definitions of the same terms. :boy:

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It is definitely a matter of the definition, and the reason those definitions matter so much in genre and publishing is because of marketing. Recently, it seems like there has been an explosion of LGBT romance in e-publishing (and even a couple picked up by Big 6s) and the debate really boiled down to what belongs in this category and what does not. This, I THINK, is a big deal because M/M authors are perceived to have a much wider reader-base than people who write gay lit (what stories seemed to be classified as if they do not fit into another specific genre such as Romance, Paranormal, Mystery, Etc. so, those love stories w/o the HEA), and some people are voicing a concern that the narrow definition is excluding other perspectives of what a romance is.

 

Again, just to be clear, I'm mostly summarizing the debate! These aren't necessarily my opinions. I can see both sides of the debate, honestly. I have my personal feelings that Romance can and should include stories of queer people in love with endings ranging from a tentative HFN to a wrapped tight HEA (depending on what makes sense for the plot and characters) as long as no one dies or runs off with a new lover at the end, but I also see it from the marketing standpoint of "this is traditionally what readers have wanted and this is what they expect to get when they pick up a romance title."

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I personally have pushed for an optimistic ending, but not happily ever after, particularly if the characters are younger. Who's to say you're going to be in love with the same person at 20 as you are at 30, 40, or 50? With divorce on the upswing, I think it's unrealistic to expect for people to stay together forever.

 

In my own personal case, I've been in the same relationship with my partner for 32 years (how we haven't killed each other yet is a miracle in itself), but I think we're the exception. I know of many, many other gay couples who've split during that time, some due to illness, death, or just meeting new people. 

 

So I am firmly on the side of avoiding a downbeat, tragic ending. I think that would create kind of a hybrid, a romantic drama/tragedy, as opposed to a standard romantic novel. In truth, sometimes the tragic elements are the most memorable parts of the story, whether or not the characters are able to overcome the obstacles.

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I'm a bit on the simple side on this.

 

Romance: Happy for now or HEA

Everything else: Drama usw.

 

Dark Romance: World crashes and burns but hey, the love birds are together ;)

 

I also don't see a need to make romance anything else but optimistic and heartwarming in the end. You don't have to call a story "romance" just for the heck of it, there are so many other genres and categories that probably would fit better, and help a reader decide if they'll like what you've written. After all, genre isn't a measure of quality, but a promise to the reader. "This is what you'll find in here".

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Three words to upset the apple cart:

 

 

Romeo and Juliette

 

Those were my exact first thoughts when I first saw this topic.

 

Romance is a concept, in my mind, that can be combined with other genre themes such as tragedy, comedy and drama depending on what flavour of fiction the author wishes to create. My opinion is that the Happily Ever After is desirable, because the reader usually wants to feel good about the ending to a romance-oriented work, but is not required to make it a good read. Ultimately, if it doesn't fit, it shouldn't be forced. If it does, and it serves the narrative well, then good! It's all context.

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The fact is that happily ever after didn't use to be a thing outside fairytales and comedies. It's a relatively new concept. And the word 'romantic' didn't necessarily have anything to do with love when it was first popularised. It had to do with emotion, expression, freedom and imagination. In most Germanic languages, a novel is called a 'roman', whether it's a love story or not.

 

Historically, great love stories didn't have happy endings. They ended in sad and brutal ways, in suicide or murder or grief, or all of the above. A happy ending was the staple of frivolous love. Real love was deep and dramatic.

 

Me, I just love variety. I'll read sweet and happy fluff pieces, and epic romances, and dramatic tales filled with angst and longing. My main criteria is that it's well written. But I dare anyone to say that Romeo & Juliet or Orpheus & Eurydice aren't romantic.

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