Monday, April 25, 2011

U Is For Unhappily Ever After

Okay, this is going to be an über short post because I am so very far behind in just about everything and I really need to get caught up. Or, die trying, as the case may be.

Anyway, a while ago, I was looking at a publishing company's website and reading their list of FAQ's. One of the questions asked something along the lines of, "My story's a romance but it has a tragic ending. Is that okay?"

The short answer was No. No, it wasn't okay because, as the site explained, it wasn't a romance then. A romance means a happy ending and that's what they wanted for their readers.

I don't have a problem with that. If they only want to publish stories with happy endings, that's their business. They can do whatever they want. I do, however, kind of take issue with the idea that if a love story doesn't end happily that it's not a love story.

And not just because I have a tendency to write love stories with unhappy endings.

Or maybe it is. I don't know. So I'm opening up the floor for discussion. What do you think? For me, romance is not synonymous with a happy ending. Look at Romeo and Juliet. Very famous love story. Very famous tragic ending. Lancelot and Guinevere. Tristan and Isolde. That whole Love Story movie. There are countless examples of love stories without a happily ever after and we still count them as love stories. Don't we?

On the flip side, there are countless number of the opposite. Insert Disney movies here. Insert any number of genre romance novels. Happy endings are good. I like happy endings. I just don't think they're what defines a romance.

But again, I ask: what do you think?


  1. I don't think love stories need a happy ending, because to be perfectly honest, it's not very realistic. I don't know many people who actually get their happily ever after. And in the past it was even harder! Girls were married off to the highest bidder, not whoever loved them the most.

    It's nice to have happy endings every now and then though, but agree, they're not necessary for a true love story.

  2. I don't think a story has to have a happy ending to be a love story. It might be a tragic love story. Which, honestly, I do not care to read--if I'm investing my time and energy in caring about characters, I want them to have a happy ending--or at least potential for a happy future, even if it ends on an ambiguous note. I will read all sorts of horrible things happening to them during the story, though. ;)

    My personal preferences for endings aside, though, love stories are not always happy.

  3. I've heard that one should never try to write a story with a tragic ending, unless one is a Shakespeare-level genius. Not considering myself one... I tend to stay away from 'em.

    If you are trying to sell it as genre romance, it needs a Happily Ever After. A book doesn't need a HEA - unless you are trying to put it in that niche market. If a book is labeled "erotica," it had better include some smokin' sex scenes.

    This is where chick lit (yes, I know that's a dirty word nowdays!) and other forms of fiction come in. Also, consider that a HEA in non-romance doesn't necessarily mean the male & female lead are together at the end - it may mean she decides she's better off without him.

    The thing is, does the ending give the reader a happy ending? Does the reader feel the ending fits, feels right, and is true to the characters & story?

  4. I think most of the time, I can pick up clues from the author as to if they're possibly going to leave me hanging. I'm okay with that, but I don't want it to come out of the blue. There are some books I read for fun, and there's a certain genre and writing style in there that needs a happy ending BUT you do NOT need a happy ending to write a love story.

  5. I agree that a genre romance should have a happy ending. It would be strange if a bodice ripper ended otherwise.

  6. There is a big difference between a love story and a romance. Romance tends to follow a formula, and that has a happy ending. Love stories are not formulaic and can have a tragic or unhappy ever after ending.

  7. If every romance has a happy ending there is never any need to read the end ! Thinking of films, City of Angels springs to mind love drives commitment which in turn could be seen to be wasted.

    Some love stories have SAD endings that's life !! and should be reflected in stories.


  8. Don't you think romance by definition is tragic? The entire ordeal of dating is a tragic set of events that with one slip-up becomes fatal. It is only winning a romance that makes it a happy ending.

    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  9. I think there is room for a tragic love tale. One of my favorite movies from childhood is "The Last Unicorn" (in fact, I just got finished watching it with my daughter, who adores it). At the risk of a spoiler: It doesn't end with the romance one may hope for. The characters are just too different, and there is no way to make it happen. Yet there are no hard feelings and the story supposedly ends happily (though I tend to yearn for a different ending). And that's a cartoon romance! I should note, though, that I don't typically read romance, so I may just have a different view of it than someone who actually really loves romance. I like a taste of romance in my books, but I don't read them for a romance and nothing else, I guess.

  10. Hmmm...Interesting question. I'd have to think about it. I can see people wanting happy endings. If it is a series of books that I invest in, I don't know if I could do tragic endings. But defining romance...I believe there are romantic comedies and romantic tragedies, yes? Shakespeare has both and I like to use that as my gauge...

  11. They want happy endings since people read romance to escape reality for a while. It feels good to know that someone, however fictional can go through hell and end up on top.

  12. I so feel you on being behind ... A-Z is finally catching up to me! Sometimes I'm in favor of unhappy endings, especially if I think it completes a story.

    My perfect example of this is (and will always be) Harry Potter. I won't spoil for any poor soul who hasn't read them, but the ending of the series would have been better with an unhappier ending.


  13. I prefer the unhappy or unsettling/ambiguous . It's still a love story, but it's much more realistic. None of the sappy-lovey-dovey-happily-ever-after stuff for me.

  14. I think genre romance should have a happy ending because that is what (most of) the readers of that genre are looking for, eager to escape reality as MJ put it. Anyone who is looking for romance that is more realistic should look for love stories, perhaps in literary fiction.