Does every book need a happy ever after?
Does every book need a happy ever after? Obviously not. But when it comes to romance – even dark(ish) romantic comedy, readers have a right to expect that the story ends in a certain way.
‘Happy ever after’ might be too much for some tales, but ‘happy at least for now’ is essential. The story can end as it starts. It can end in uncertainty. But it must end in some kind of hope. There has to be a future for the lead characters – even if (and this is more common than you might think) at least one of them is dead.
In a romance, even when it is a darkly comic romance, we want to believe that the characters got what they wanted (or want) in the end. We want to believe that the story is not a bad joke with a nasty hidden punch line. As we reach the end, we want to be happy for the characters. We want to believe that their story – our story – ends a certain way.
If it doesn’t, then I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been played. I’m not against being played. I love it. A ‘Gotcha!’ ending can be one of the most satisfying moments in any story. A ‘Gotcha!’ ending can be a perfect way to end a story.
But with a story that’s been so carefully constructed to mislead you and make you think it’s about one thing when – turns out it’s about something else entirely. It’s a bit like the curtain suddenly being dropped. And it’s not just about the characters. It’s about the audience, too. Our trust and faith in the story has been betrayed.
Happy for now
Silas French, the hero of Ghosted, is 68. He still loves his late wife, Nancy. He misses his son, and worries that by not making up for foolish words years earlier, he’s letting nancy down. Ellen Gitelman has never found closure after her husband perished in the 9-11 attacks. She still sees him everywhere. If she’s to move on, she needs to know that it’s time. I’ve put them both on the MS Viking for a Christmas cruise with 3000 gay men. They’ll find a happy for now. But it won’t come easily.
So what’s your take on this? If you buy a romance book, do you expect a certain type of end to each story?