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Is ‘happy for now’ happy enough for you?

Not that many years ago, there was a push within RWA to narrow the definition of Romance to one man and one woman. Although the campaign was pretty obviously a fear and ignorance-based reaction to the idea of same sex and polyamorous Romance, it did spark discussions about how Romance should be defined, and about how specific that definition should be. As I’ve argued elsewhere, it’s difficult to narrow the definition too much without conflating genre definition (what the form of something is) with individual taste (what individual readers find romantic, moral, inspiring, etc.)

With the rise of many different expressions of Romance, RWA has wisely chosen a pretty broad genre definition:

Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

However, for many readers of the genre, a happily-ever-after ending is still essential to distinguish a book as genre Romance, as opposed to books ending in an HFN, or “happy for now.” In 2007, Jane argued at Dear Author that the HEA was essential for her because,

I am willing to give myself over completely to author in a romance. She can take me anywhere because I know, in the end, for all the suffering, pain, separation, unhappiness, that these people will end up together. It makes it all worth it. Now, not every book ends well. Not every romance delivers but the reason I read more romances than any other genre? Because I feel safe in the certainty of the book’s ending. It’s not because life is tough because it is. It’s not because I like to read about the leisure class or lords and ladies or vampires and werewolves. It’s because these journeys that I am on always end the same way – together and happy. For romances, I don’t need to read the back of the book. They all (should) end the same.

By contrast, author Jeannie Lin wrote a blog post last year asking “are my happy endings realistic?” Lin said that

A common criticism that my romances receive is that the endings are unrealistic, clichéd, convenient. It seems that the other stuff, the research and the details and the character interactions pass inspection, but not the endings.

She talks about how cultural expectations of readers can shape their perceptions of her books and asks, “Are Chinese heroes and heroines allowed their fairytales too?”

Her invocation of the fairy tale is important, because we often associate the happily ever after with a fairy tale scenario, even when an author – like Lin – strives to provide a historically sound context for her stories.

Perhaps, as Jane said, it comes down to trust for many Romance readers, especially when real world relationships are failing at such a high rate. Knowing that you can find constancy in a fictional love match can be a point of comfort for readers. Also, readers invest considerable time and emotional energy in reading, and the HEA can serve as a dual payoff– not only do readers know that their time will not be wasted with protagonists who may not go the romantic distance, but there can also be a sense of emotional justice for characters who suffer or undertake a really difficult struggle to find true love. The more obstacles protagonists face, the more invested a reader may become in seeing the protagonists in an enduring happy relationship.

Moreover, happily ever after isn’t just limited to the book itself; when the reader walks away from the story, she can trust that the lovers have found their forever partner(s), and there may be a certain kind of closure for the reader in knowing that whatever they may face in the future (imaginatively speaking), there will always be the guarantee in place that they will do so as a solid unit.

However, I think that the HFN is equally important to the genre. I believe it increases the number of stories that can be told within the form, and allows readers the imaginative space to fill in the lovers’ future. In other words, readers who want the HEA can draw that out past the story’s end, while readers who prefer to see a couple’s happiness as primarily a present-tense situation can do so without the emotional burden of the HEA.

How can a happy ending be an “emotional burden” for the reader? How about, for example, when the lovers have just endured so very much that it’s difficult to see them without future crises in their lives and their relationship? The book that always comes to mind for me is Patricia Gaffney’s Lily. By the time the heroine gave birth in a cave, there was pretty much no way I could imagine trouble not following this couple around like a shadow. The most recent Shelly Laurenston book, Wolf with Benefits, includes numerous shifter couples who have either been together without marriage for decades or couples who are “mated” but not necessarily guaranteed for life. The reader can infer that lifetime coupling, but one of the reasons I like the way Laurenston handles her endings is that her heroines, especially, are so incredibly independent, powerful, and complex (and often just plain difficult) that part of me feels like the HEA would too fully domesticate them. Laurenston is doing all sorts of things with gender, race, species, and culture in her books, so I imagine she’s thought about the various implications of domestication when building out these relationships. And that self-consciousness is part of what I appreciate about her books.

Still, even when I read straight contemporary Romance it’s sometimes difficult for me to feel that the protagonists will remain happy forever, and for me, the HEA can be more restrictive than reassuring. One of my favorite Lisa Kleypas books, Smooth Talking Stranger, most definitely implies a HEA, but I frankly don’t want to think too far ahead for Ella and Jack, not because I don’t think they can make it, but because it’s too easy for me to imagine some of the things a couple like that would likely face, and that actually complicates the fantasy rather than comforting me.

Also, I sometimes enjoy really complicated, difficult, even combative relationships in Romance, and placing an HEA on those relationships can feel shallow and unconvincing to me. Had Nora Roberts not extended Eve and Roarke’s story past the first few In Death books, I don’t think I would have bought their HEA. It’s only after 30+ books that I actually feel comfortable thinking of them in those terms. Ditto Tack and Tyra from Kristen Ashley’s Motorcycle Man; I would much rather an HFN for that kind of relationship than a toning down of the relationship to make a HEA more convincing. And Lena and Trig, from Kelly Hunter’s What The Bride Forgot still have a long way to go emotionally at the end of the story, even though the narrative brings us to their wedding day. I think it would be great to see more of them in future West Family books, because I think both of them have more growing to do, and I’m not convinced marriage will always be easy for them.

For me, at least, a book isn’t necessarily any less romantic if I don’t expect the lovers to be together forever. In fact, I often don’t think past the ending of a book, because I’m most satisfied with the ambiguity of the HEA question (maybe they will be, maybe not). Sometimes I want the emotional intensity of a stormy relationship and a solid HFN, while other times I want to be able to imagine the protagonists always being happy and together. Still, the HFN can give me enough to build on that expectation, merely by making a convincing case in the story itself, without, for example, a wedding or baby epilogue.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want to see how the lovers are doing in a few years; that’s one of the pleasures of series – you get to check in with your favorite relationships to see what’s happening. I just don’t always need the guarantee of forever happiness. Sometimes I definitely want that security and comfort, but more often than not, I just want to feel like the lovers are in a solid place emotionally with each other. That’s often enough of a guarantee for me.

In terms of the genre’s form, I would argue that the other part of the definition — the central love story — is more fixed and less flexible. Therein lies the work of the story and the building of the reader’s emotional investment. I understand that for some readers the HEA is essential, but at the most basic level, the centrality of the love story is what lays the foundation for the reader’s  emotional payoff in a “satisfying and optimistic ending.” The ending can feel powerful, perfunctory, or even contrary, depending on how the reader has engaged with the development of the love story. For me, if the central love story is especially stormy and intense, an HEA may feel emotionally trivializing rather than amplifying. That doesn’t mean I find the story any less romantic or part of genre Romance – it just means that the bar for “emotionally satisfying and optimistic” is set at a different level.

For those of you who would argue that the HEA is necessary, does it need to be prescribed by the book itself, or is it enough that the reader infers it? We know that readers often disagree about whether lovers will go the distance, even if the book tells us they do. So is it the HEA on page that defines the lovers’ future, or is it the reader’s expectation for them? Or is it both? And if so, why? Is it enough for readers to finish a Romance novel emotionally satisfied and optimistic, or must the lovers meet that standard in a particular or uniform way?

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

74 Comments

  1. Kaetrin
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 05:00:04

    For me, a HFN doesn’t mean I think the relationship won’t last – but rather that the HEA isn’t on the page. It depends on where the story takes me – if it’s a very young couple or a very new relationship (or possibly a novella that’s not a relationship in trouble story for example) having a wedding/forever-HEA seems so unrealistic it is likely to make me actively disbelieve. I’m not generally a fan of instalove – it takes a lot/special circumstances for me to believe it. But if that same couple have a HFN, I find that just as satisfying and more appropriate. In the case of YA and some NA, getting married so young seems like a really dumb idea to me. I feel more confident if they don’t rush into those kinds of formal commitments.

    For me a HFN means they have more work to do but it doesn’t mean I don’t think they will get there. They just haven’t gotten there on the page.

    I think that if I read a full length novel, I’d mostly expect a HEA – but there are mostly always exceptions to rules. The one thing that’s not negotiable (for me) is some kind of happy ending in order for me to consider it romance.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 05:28:46

    I think I actually prefer a HFN, most of the time. A really well-done HEA would be fine, but far too many of them feel forced and sacharine, to me, and leave me thinking the characters are hopelessly naive if they really think there aren’t going to be further struggles in their romance.

    But I think I do have more trouble than many other readers in letting go of reality and letting myself be carried away by the romance of a book. So maybe the HFN preference is just an aspect of that challenge.

  3. Lil
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 07:26:46

    Me, I want the HEA, but that doesn’t mean I want to excommunicate authors who provide HFN. There’s plenty of room in Romancelandia for both.

  4. Laura
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 07:39:43

    @Kate Sherwood:
    Yeah, me too. For contemporary romances, I usually prefer an HFN. An HEA often makes me roll my eyes. Depends on the story. But frequently it doesn’t work for me.

  5. Sirius
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 07:42:25

    What Kaetrin said – in many stories HFN is perfectly okay for me, depends on the story. Also what you said – sometimes couple went through so much that perfect HEA may not feel believable and I can imagine that it will happen later on. Just you know – don’t kill one half of the couple, especially in the epilogue ;).

  6. Tina
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 08:11:40

    On some level, don’t you think all romance novels end on a HFN that you simply take on trust is actually HEA? I mean, unless the author gives you an epilogue that tells you the H&H lived until the ripe old age of 90 and died in each other’s arms, you really can’t say 100% for sure what happens when you close the book.

    If they marry at the end and have kids you hope they have a successful marriage and it didn’t end in divorce, infidelity or recrimination.

    As long as I am convinced by their relationship has the bones to last and they are together as a couple at the end of the book that is good enough for me.

    I have to wonder if the whole explicit declaration of ‘I love you’ is what signals the HEA vs. the HFN? I remember back when I used to read Harlequin romances that until when hero admitted he loved the heroine in the actual words that was what really signaled the HEA. But I don’t necessarily need that to feel optimistic about the couple. I remember at the end of ‘Willing Victim’ by Cara McKenna, which I think is the very definition of a HFN, I was very convinced that Flynn and Laurel could make a go of things. So they met the standard of a satisfying romance for me.

  7. Jayne
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 08:13:44

    It seems like I need to rethink my definition of HEA and HFN as they relate to Lin’s books because here I am thinking that all of her books – that I’ve read, and I’ve read the majority of them – have HEAs that I find believable. In fact, that’s one thing I’ve come to expect from her books – a HEA despite what might seem impossible odds against one.

  8. dick
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 08:32:06

    Because it’s a romance novel, I think all happy endings therein are HEA’s. However, that happy ending has to seem possible from what has preceded it. For example, the happy ending in many of Balogh’s trads seem impossible if one remembers what has preceded them in the book. But I don’t put those books in the class romance; rather, they are stories that contain the first half of the requirement–the relationship–but lack the second half–the HEA.

  9. It's Me
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 08:55:03

    @Tina
    “On some level, don’t you think all romance novels end on a HFN that you simply take on trust is actually HEA?”

    This is exactly what I was thinking when I read this. I was thinking that the HFN is fine for me, because in my mind I always think they stay together. Because, isn’t that the premise of a romance afterall?

  10. Ros
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 08:55:28

    In general I am happy with either, provided it’s appropriate for the couple and the context. I don’t need it to be spelled out for me via an epilogue, and especially not a babylogue, and ESPECIALLY NOT a magic infertility cure babylogue. Ugh.

    I did have an odd experience with a vintage M&B I read last year. It was published in 1939 and set in London. I found it very hard to feel the couple and the secondary characters were going to be ‘happy’ for at least the next 6 years, given their circumstances. They were not worried for their future, obviously, but I was. He would have been called up. She would have been subject to the blitz. Her younger sister might have got a job in one of the women’s auxiliary services. So it wasn’t that I thought their relationship was likely to fail but that their lives were going to be so much tougher than they could possibly have imagined. The optimism of the HEA was tarred for me because of the timing of the book. This isn’t, obviously, a criticism of the author. I do not expect writers to be able to predict the future! But it was an odd and unexpected experience as a reader.

  11. Tamara
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 08:55:42

    Yes, every story ends on a happy-for-now. It’s the combination of believably written romance and the reader’s optimism and imagination that creates the happy-ever-after.

  12. Isobel Carr
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 09:25:01

    I’ll echo Tina and pretty much everyone else. This is a non-issue for me. HFN/HEA are the same thing. I don’t read them, or react to them, differently. I don’t need an on page marriage ceremony (or even an on page “I love you”) to believe the couple is committed, happy, and in it for the long haul. I just need the author to SHOW ME that the couple is in love and that they’re together at the end and making plans for their future.

  13. Lexie C.
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 09:25:31

    Its interesting that you would post about this after I found myself questioning my interest in a romance line because of the lack of HEA not even 12 hours before. I was reading one of the Cosmo Red Hot Reads, the third I had read from that particular line of books, and instead of finding the book interesting I grew more and more irritated because the story was very obviously not going to end in a HEA. However instead of making it clear that neither wanted a HEA and that “love” wasn’t entering the picture, she had her characters–at least one of them, I can’t honestly remember if the other was in love by the end–fall in love and expect more from the other character who stuck firmly to not discussing more.

    For me if the author wants to end a book or story on a HFN that’s fine, but it should be made clear that neither party expects MORE at some point later. In the romance genre I find it hard to find a romance where neither party expects there to be more feelings or more commitment at some point and seems to be compromising by accepting the HFN ending while still leaving the impression that they expect a HEA eventually.

    Odd as it sounds I find the HFN ending more often in genre–paranormal or suspense or futuristic–romances then in contemporary (and never in the historicals–I think Lin’s “The Lotus Palace” or “The Sword Dancer” came the closest for me, but she buttoned them up into HEAs in a believable manner as far as I was concerned). And since the paranormal genre is riddled with the ‘mate’ and ‘fated’ and ‘destined’ and ‘soulmate’ trope to get two people together initially it makes it doubly amusing.

  14. Bella Swann Erotica
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 09:38:26

    Ok. I know this might sound weird coming from a writer of erotica but when I read romance novels, I do want a HEA not a HFN, In fact, even in erotica, I still want to feel that my characters will be HEA not HFN, Just an odd kink of mine, I guess.

  15. Amanda
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 09:44:08

    I love a HEA but sometimes they just don’t fit. I recently read All For You by Jessica Scott, it was great but the characters went through a so much and a sudden HEA just wouldn’t have worked in that book. I do prefer a happly-ever-after ending but if the authors can not add extra pages to show us how the characters get there than I would rather they leave it with a HFN. A tacked on HEA can hurt a book, I mean how many times have we seen the “ending seemed rushed” criticism.

  16. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 10:23:00

    I struggle with this because of the short time frame in many of my books. My upcoming novella, Island Peril, takes place in one day/night. The focus is on the couple’s chemistry and emotional connection, but it’s too soon to exchange I love yous. It’s more of a happy start than HEA or even HFN.

  17. Angelia Sparrow
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:19:54

    I prefer “Happily Ever After…until the next time!” I write adventurous characters, so there is no truly happy ending, because they are going to keep having adventures. They’ll just do it together, and the stories won’t be romances anymore.

    HEA always makes me think of Anne Sexton’s poem “Cinderella”
    Cinderella and the prince
    lived, they say, happily ever after,
    like two dolls in a museum case
    never bothered by diapers or dust,
    never arguing over the timing of an egg,
    never telling the same story twice,
    never getting a middle-aged spread,
    their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
    Regular Bobbsey Twins.
    That story.

    HEA means there is no more to be told. As Twain says “When one writes a novel about grown people, he knows exactly where to stop—that is, with a marriage;”

    I like HFN

  18. hapax
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:20:13

    I’m with the others that say “it’s more complicated than that” than HEA vs HFN.

    I do expect to end the story convinced that the couple are committed to each other — in whatever manner makes sense to the characters, not necessarily a tacked on marriage / babies / joint tombstone epilogue — and that they have enough emotional chops to weather whatever life throws at them together.

    I *don’t* expect it to be all sunshine and rainbows forever after; but also I don’t like the sequels with (what seems to me) artificially trumped up obstacles in order to re-create the tension that keeps the story going. NR’s Eve and Roarke are a good example of how to do the serial love story right; I was pulling for them at the end of the first book, and would have been satisfied with that conclusion, but it was good to see them changing and *growing* in ways that brought them closer together yet still felt natural. (Please God that she won’t ever throw babies into the mix, though; that is one couple I can simple not imagine as being parents!)

    I don’t usually project the story out in my imagination after the end of the book; even if I don’t know about the impending wars and plagues and whatnot in a historical, I do know that every love story ends tragically, since none of us get out of here alive. I do tend to roll my eyes at YA romances with an explicit HEA, though, since the protagonists are so young. Think of the ending of Harry Potter; is it really plausible that EVERYBODY winds up happily married to their high school sweetheart?

  19. Jules
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:24:15

    When I am reading my mainly historical romances, I expect the HEA. I don’t think I can recall any HFNs just due to the subgenres I read. At the end of the book I want to see them just be happy with each other.

    The problem for me comes when I see them show up later in a series or a Christmas novella or something. When I see this couple again it is like they lost all characterization now that they have found their True Love. They turn into uninteresting love zombies, always with a glaze over their eyes, a bun in the over, and their significant other on their breath. It’s boring. I still read series because I want to see the interesting secondary characters I’ve known get their HEA, but I just don’t like lingering overlong in the HEA because that is when the spell gets broken for me.

    Authors who can bring back couples in later books in the series while not making them love zombies are much appreciated but rare to find.

  20. Emily A.
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:34:38

    I agree with others I don’t always see the difference between an HEA and HFN. I think of the HFN is more of a Happy Eventually After.

    Occasionally I have seen couples where I didn’t like the couple together. Then I wished for a Happy For Now. If I was reading a book where people I didn’t want to be together, got a happy for now I would probably think they broke up eventually. Then again if I read an HEA for that couple, where I didn’t buy it or want them together, I probably would imagine they split up or died something. in contemporaries I’d think they’d get divorced.
    That being said when a couple is perfect together I sometimes why the author doesn’t go for the HEA versus the HFN. But it doesn’t totally ruin my enjoyment.
    As for the RWA, I was upset when they included books in the teen category, where one of the lead protagonists died. That I do think it breaks the spirit of “Emotionally satisfying and optimistic”.

  21. Emily A.
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:35:52

    It should say split up or died or something.

    Sorry

  22. Ridley
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 11:52:38

    What, exactly, is the difference between HEA and HFN? Because it sounds like we’re talking married versus not married by the book’s end.

  23. Lexie C.
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 12:03:37

    @Hapax – see that’s kind of what I think. When I’m reading a romance I understand that even if its a HEA, unless they both got lobotomies, the personality clashes and quirks that irritated them before/during their relationship isn’t going to go away, but I do expect to feel like they now have a way to compromise on those things.

    If at the end of the book the author is pushing for a HFN, well I expect to feel like those two haven’t found a way to really be together without their quirks and clashes getting in the way. I don’t expect to feel like the one character will bury their expectations in order to make something work for that moment.

    Since I don’t’ read a whole lot of non-paranormal New Adult–actually I don’t read any–maybe others can say something to this, but the NA that I see my friends/sister read seems to love the HFN ending. Is this typical of the genre?

  24. Ros
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 12:05:44

    @Ridley: I don’t think it’s just that, though generally if there is a wedding, I’d say that’s an HEA. For a HFN, I’d expect there to be some acknowledgement that there is more work to do before they’re ready to make a forever commitment. It could be that there are some issues still unresolved between the couple, or something in their circumstances that means they aren’t ready or able to do more than see how it goes, or enjoy it day by day. I think you can certainly have an HEA that doesn’t involve a wedding or an engagement.

  25. Janine
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 12:27:39

    Robin, I’m curious how you define the difference between HEA and HFN in terms of what’s on the page. Does HEA=marriage? Or is living together a sufficient commitment? If it does equal marriage, does that mean it has to include an epilogue with kids on page? Or a wedding ceremony? Or just a marriage proposal and acceptance? And where do marriage of convenience plots fit in?

    As @Tina says above “all romance novels end on a HFN that you simply take on trust is actually HEA.” And if a reader has enough of that trust, like in my case, it’s hard in most cases to distinguish between a HFN and an HEA.

    Which is why I’m asking this question — I can’t answer yours without being able to tell the difference between the two.

    When I read a romance, I want a happy ending, but that doesn’t mean I need an epilogue with babies or else a wedding ceremony. If it’s a historical I often want to see a proposal but I don’t think it’s required. With other settings, where the characters have more options, I have sometimes gotten irritated if I’ve felt the couple rushed into marriage. I would love to see more couples move in together or just agree to date exclusively and see where that takes them.

    Epilogues often annoy me because I trust the couple’s happiness and don’t feel the need to be assured of it. It’s like showing me the characters tying their shoelaces– I trust they are tied and don’t need to be shown.

  26. Lynnd
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 12:42:32

    Like many others here, whether the book ends in HEA or HFN really doesn’t matter to me. In fact, I think that I actually prefer the HFN, particularly when the characters meet and “fall in love” within a very short period of time. For me an HFN means that the couple is really just at the “we’re going to try to make this work out and maybe we’ll end up committing to a long term relationship at some point” vs. HEA in which the couple is actually making the committment to a long-term relationship. I find that far too often authors really need to stretch too hard to manufacture an HEA and I just can’t suspend disbelief to buy into it. I am quite satisfied if the author leaves me with the belief that the couple is going to work on the relationship and try to build a life together with all of the ups and downs that entails and maybe it will work and maybe it won’t. I really don’t need and sometimes actively dislike the sunshine and roses epilogues and babylogues where everything is perfect for the couple years later without any apparent work on their part.

    @Ridley, I think that there are many people who equate marriage with HEA. I don’t really understand this since there are and were a lot of unhappily married people (in any time period) and I know a lot of people who have never married who have been with their partners for longer than many marriages last. For me, it all comes down to where they are on the “committment curve.”

  27. Sirius
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 13:21:05

    @Ros: Right, for me HEA is just seeing that I am confident that the external and internal circumstances would not conspire against the couple. I mean, obviously as Tina said it is possible in any event, but I have to see that there is no unresolved work left that I can see. I have to be sure that they really love each other and want to stay together and lets say that they wont be dead tomorrow. Again – it is possible anyway, but true HEA for me is the end that inspires the belief that this does not happen. Belief is enough for me.

  28. Lynn Rae
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 13:31:05

    An interesting discussion and relevant for me as I’m struggling through a re-write of a contemporary. I’d written my protagonists into a family situation that guaranteed no possible HFN let alone a HEA. My female protagonist was put in position of leaving my male protag because staying with him would ensure the estrangement of his family and she simply wouldn’t be a party to that. So now I’m going back and easing some of the drama and bad behavior simply to make it more believable that they’d possibly have a chance at a future together. It’s a tricky thing.
    I don’t write epilogues for my books, even though I know exactly how things turn out for all my characters!

  29. Isobel Carr
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 13:38:22

    I was reading one of the Cosmo Red Hot Reads, the third I had read from that particular line of books, and instead of finding the book interesting I grew more and more irritated because the story was very obviously not going to end in a HEA. However instead of making it clear that neither wanted a HEA and that “love” wasn’t entering the picture, she had her characters–at least one of them, I can’t honestly remember if the other was in love by the end–fall in love and expect more from the other character who stuck firmly to not discussing more.

    This sounds like a genre issue to me. If there’s no HFN/HEA, then while it may be hot, romantic, etc., it’s NOT a “romance”. If the Cosmo Red Hot Reads are not promising a romance, then it’s unfair to expect one (I have no idea, since I know NOTHING about them), conversely, if they ARE promising a romance and not delivering one, then there is a whole other problem.

    And like href=”http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/is-happy-for-now-happy-enough-for-you/comment-page-1/#comment-725172″>Ridley, I’m not sure we’re all using the same definition for HFN. When I use it, I mean the couple ends in a committed place (so not part of the trilogy about one couple trend), but the story may not end with a marriage. E.g. Victoria Dahl writes mostly HFN endings by my definition (they frequently move in together, but there’s no BIG WEDDING or baby epilogues). A lot of UF series have less concrete HFN endings (Kate Daniels, Mercy Thompson, etc.), where there’s an arc over many books that lead to a solid HEA. And like @Jill Sorenson said, some books happen so quickly that a HFN (we’re going to give this thing a try!) is all I need or want.

  30. Lexie C.
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 13:52:57

    @Isobel Carr:

    I’m not sure what the Red Hot Reads are meant to be seen as honestly. In the ones I’ve read the characters are talking about romance and hooking up for hot sex equally. In the first one I read the aim from the author was clearly to set up the beginning to a romantic relationship, another seemed to almost fall into one accidentally (though since the lie told was never resolved so I’m not sure how that would end out) and then this latest one was very disjointed in that the one character started out not wanting anything more then a hot time, ending up wanting more, growing visibly upset when the guy stuck to his wants and then deciding to settle with the implication being she WANTED more even though the guy had never spoken of anything more then a hook up situation.

    See your definition of HFN is my definition for HEA – I don’t necessarily want nor expect a marriage/engagement at the end of my romances. I don’t personally believe in the notion of marriage so I don’t care if the couple gets married or wants to get married. However tsk its hard to describe. You can FEEL when reading something if the couple will “make it” as it were. Whether its because the author has written their connection so believably or the characters just seem to go together that well, it leaves me with a feeling of certainty even when words aren’t spoken to that affect.

    Equally though I “feel” when a couple shouldn’t be together and don’t’ feel like they will make it even if the author has them suddenly in marriage and writes the epilogue where they died together at 95. When I’m reading and a writer is purposely leading towards a HFN ending, I don’t want to “feel” as if that isn’t really what one of the characters wants.

  31. Isobel Carr
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 14:02:33

    @Lexie C.: So, yeah. I think some of us are using HEA/HFN as essentially interchangeable, or very closely related, and some of us clearly have a totally different meaning for HFN. For me, they’re basically the same thing in a romance. If the book doesn’t have a HEA/HFN I buy into, then it fails as a romance.

  32. Tina
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 14:10:19

    @Lexie C.: “See your definition of HFN is my definition for HEA… You can FEEL when reading something if the couple will “make it” as it were. ”

    Hmm…maybe that’s the rub here. Maybe there is no real easy way to define these two things because in end it comes down to how each person received the romance s/he read.

    This brings me to mind Marilyn Pappano’s ‘Some Enchanted Season’ which although the couple were already married and talking about love and forever in the end, I simply did not buy it. To this day I am sure they divorced eventually. LOL. So to me that book was definitely a “well they are happy NOW, but I don’t give them good odds.” But based on other reviews I have read others are completely convinced they in the couple’s HEA.

  33. Lexie C.
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 14:21:58

    @Tina: Oh I’ve had books like that. Its frustrating sometimes when talking with my friends. Granted they think part of my problem is that I read so very much that I go into books with expectations because six books ago I read a similar enough situation and that went better then this current book. Meanwhile they read maybe 6 books a month and feel the writing was perfect in its depiction.

    I do think its more then that though. I’ve read short stories that span a day that made me feel like the couple was the forever kind of love and then I’ve read epically long romances that left me feeling cold despite detailing how perfectly suited the couple was.

  34. MJones
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 15:52:55

    Happily Ever After, to me, is they fall in love and get married and have a billion kids and ride off into the sunset… “And they lived happily ever after.” There are readers who want to see big flowery love and a wedding at the end. Every story ends in the H/Hne getting married and having a kid and being all smoochy.

    I agree that it’s not appropriate for all stories, especially a contemporary romance. A couple that spends 3/4ths of the book fighting their attraction for each other won’t be married at the end of the book. I think if readers are expecting an HEA and get an HFN it seems stunted and disappointing. Really depends on the book, the characters and their relationship arc. I certainly don’t think every story needs to end with a (stereotypical) HEA.

    I’m more of a HFN writer. Most of my stories end with them getting together and leaving open the possibility that they grow old together.

  35. Liz Mc2
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 16:03:54

    This is a really interesting discussion, because I’ve been wondering “what exactly does HEA mean, and do we all mean the same thing by it?” And it seems the answer is no! I think for me HEA means that the couple has made a commitment they intend to be permanent; HFN means that I believe they may be on the road there, but they haven’t said it yet.

    This has also helped me see why I often find the ends of romance books less satisfying than the rest. Too many oversell the HEA, from my point of view, and the older I get the less appealing I find a fantasy version. Coming up on my 20th wedding anniversary, I don’t think HEA means “no troubles or issues ever again, all their conflicts, both within themselves and between the two, are resolved, it’s all hot sex and perfect babies from here on out.” I find those endings saccharine and unbelievable. My issues are NEVER all going to be resolved, and my commitment to my husband is not a one and done event, but an ongoing work of love. I still have a good, happy marriage. I prefer my romance fiction to reflect that reality–I just want to believe these people will be glad to be going through life together, and be better off for it. If HEA = perfect life, I’m excluded.

    Similarly, if the timeframe of a story is really short, I find proposals/permanent commitments (and sometimes even “I love you”) implausible and kind of silly (I want to sit those characters down and ask what their hurry is). If I read a novella that takes place over a couple of days, I’m fine with knowing they are falling in love and starting down that path.

  36. Isobel Carr
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 16:20:23

    @Liz Mc2:

    This has also helped me see why I often find the ends of romance books less satisfying than the rest. Too many oversell the HEA, from my point of view, and the older I get the less appealing I find a fantasy version.

    THIS! THIS! THIS! Even in historical (which I write), I often find myself laughing at, not sighing over, the declaration scenes. they’re overblown and not romantic to me. Kind of like giant, public proposals where the guy makes it a production out of it. Just not something that appeals to me or rings true to me.

  37. jamie beck
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 16:54:42

    I think, like many of you, I’ll take an HFN or an HEA…but either ending must be credible (given the facts and circumstances of the story). Unless the couple has been together for a long time (the book spans months, not weeks), I don’t like it when the conflict is barely over and the couple is suddenly rushing to marriage (prefer an epilogue that takes place 6 + months later if the author wants to marry the couple off). But that’s just me. Based on reviews, many readers seem to love the completely unbelievable, over the top kind of love story.

    I liked reading everyone’s comments. ;-)

  38. Fiona McGier
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 17:16:37

    My friends own all of my books. One of them still hasn’t forgiven me because in one book I had the divorced heroine who already had two pre-teen kids, state that she doesn’t want any more kids. Then it turns out the hero is sterile and apologetic about it. She’s okay with it, and he’s relieved she doesn’t mind. My friend wanted them to miraculously have a baby, because for her it wasn’t a HEA unless there was a marriage and a baby involved. Not for that couple.

    I agree that HFN and HEA are about the same thing, especially in contemporaries, since “forever” is negotiable when divorce is so easy. I do want my heroine/hero to be committed to each other by the end of the book, and my imagination can do the rest.

  39. Robin/Janet
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 18:18:51

    @Janine: I think the difference is cued for readers by the ending of the book. Although I don’t think they *need* to mean this (and in the case of the Hunter book I mentioned, I prefer to read it as HFN, even though there’s a wedding at the end of the book), I think marriage and/or kids = HEA in genre terms. Or the ‘here’s where the couple is in X number of years’ endings/epilogues (like in Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me, for example, where she wraps up Cal and Min’s future life in a nice, neat, happy little blurb at the end of the book). SEP always comes to mind when I think about HEA’s, for example.

    By contrast, I think HFN endings are often cued by no mention of marriage, kids, and a glimpse of life years into the future. Or by the sense of ‘we’ll see where things go from here.’ Kathleen O’Reilly’s Shaken and Stirred is one of the first books I read where I remember thinking that the ending was very much an HFN, because there were still commitment issues that needed to be worked out, especially on the part of the heroine.

    @Tina: Maybe there is no real easy way to define these two things because in end it comes down to how each person received the romance s/he read.

    This is why I asked the question at the end of my post about whether the HEA has to be spelled out in the text or whether it can be inferred by the reader. I think it all comes down to how we read and what we’re reading for, but I also think there are some authors who put in what they see as definitive HEA endings. For example, all those freaking baby epilogues that SEP writes. Or the way, at the end of Natural Born Charmer where she describes the mural that pictures Blue and Dean’s life together in the future. Kids, family, lots of bucolically happy scenes. I actually tend to ignore her endings and epilogues because I don’t want that neat, little (more often than not magically pregnant) bow tied around the characters.

  40. Janine
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 19:15:17

    @Liz Mc2:

    My issues are NEVER all going to be resolved, and my commitment to my husband is not a one and done event, but an ongoing work of love. I still have a good, happy marriage. I prefer my romance fiction to reflect that reality–I just want to believe these people will be glad to be going through life together, and be better off for it. If HEA = perfect life, I’m excluded.

    I feel the same way. And honestly, the idea of leading a perfect, conflict-free life seems exhausting if not outright inhumane to me. I hate the idea of characters I’ve come to care about being subjected to such a standard for happiness.

    But hasn’t the term HEA been in use since before saccharine endings became trendy? I’ve always assumed so (though I could be wrong) since the use of the term seemed well established when I first discovered the online romance community in the late 1990s, and bow-wrapped endings were a relatively new trend at that time. So I don’t necessarily look at HEA=perfect life. If that’s how it’s defined, then I prefer the HFN.

  41. Kaetrin
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 20:18:00

    @Liz Mc2: I agree with your definition Liz with one exception: my HFN would be “that I believe they ARE on the road there, but they haven’t said it yet.”

    I need to be convinced in the text that the couple has a future together. I read a really short story in an anthology which had a hopeful/HFN ending – by the end, the two guys had decided to continue to travel together – that was it. I was okay with it because I would never have believed “I love you” at that point but at the same time, their connection on the page was strong enough that I could imagine that after some time of travelling together they would make a series of decisions to keep staying together.

    The story Jill Sorenson described upthread sounds like a good example of my HFN – it’s hopeful but there hasn’t been a “I love you and we’re going to be together forever” kind of exchange of commitment. HEA has both of those for me (I don’t necessarily require an out loud “I love you” – as long as it is clear that is how both parties feel – eg Devil’s Bride – I’m good with that).

    Also, I don’t want to find out that the couple lived happily together and then died in each other’s arms at age 95. No! In my imagination they are all immortal (which may go some way to explaining why I wasn’t interested in reading the latest Bridget Jones book). I shall just stay in my happy place where the couple is happy and together. *La La La*

  42. Robin/Janet
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 20:20:28

    @Janine and @Liz Mc2: I’m willing to strip it down to this: HEA = will be together forever v HFN = may not be together forever. Even in that divide, I sometimes prefer the HFN, in part because one of my favorite types of story is second chance at love. If the people were originally together, I hate to think that any years they were apart sucked, and if they weren’t I like it when previous relationships are portrayed as happy and healthy (especially when someone is widowed). One of the things that often frustrates me in the genre is those portrayals of the horrible ex, used as a contrast device for the current partner. Good people may not be good together, and I dislike the way divorce is seen as failure, when sometimes it’s just a function of a relationship no longer serving its participants in its current form. But even for other types of stories, I don’t necessarily need to think the couple is together forever for it to be a solid genre Romance story for me.

    As for the MOC convention (which I forgot to address earlier), that can be one of my favorite devices because the reversal, if done well, forces a focus on strong relationship development. Of course, it can also facilitate lazy storytelling, as the genre often seems to regard marriage for the protagonists as sacred.

  43. Kaetrin
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 20:25:00

    @Robin/Janet: I don’t think I like your HFN definition Robin! LOL. Maybe you mean the same thing but with different words though. I tend to think of HFN in terms that we haven’t seen it happen on the page but that’s where they’re heading – to a HEA.

  44. Robin/Janet
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 20:35:44

    @Kaetrin: Nope; I don’t always have to think of the couple together forever. It varies from book to book, but as someone who loves second chance books so much, I hate the idea of all those previous relationships being crappy. In fact, I wonder if there have been any Romances (maybe a series?) where a couple has been paired up in one book, and then, due to either divorce or death, at least one, maybe both, get paired up with other people in a later book. I know that idea is probably blasphemy to you, Kaetrin, but I’d love to know if anything like that exists in the genre.

  45. Tina
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 21:01:56

    @Robin/Janet:
    “In fact, I wonder if there have been any Romances (maybe a series?) where a couple has been paired up in one book, and then, due to either divorce or death, at least one, maybe both, get paired up with other people in a later book.”

    There is a two-book series written by Sandra Brown. The first book H/H get together, fall in love, HEA etc. The second book features their daughter as the heroine and at the end of the second book the father (hero from the first book) is murdered. Devastated me so much that to this day I can’t go back and re-read the first book.

  46. Kaetrin
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 21:19:29

    @Robin/Janet: It does! The first 2 books of The Roselynde Chronicles by Roberta Gellis.

    Roselynde is the story of Alinor’s romance with Simon Lemagne. The book ends with complete HEA.
    Alinor is the second book and in it, between the first and second books, Simon has died. Alinor is about her romance with Ian De Vipont, who was Simon’s squire

    Both of those books worked for me. I love them.

    But my point is that Simon’s demise wasn’t foreshadowed in Roselynde. It ended with a “traditional” HEA. It’s not until (and unless) a reader picks up the second book that they realise it wasn’t a HEA because Simon has died. Simon is never demonised – he was beloved by both of them but Alinor’s relationship with Simon is different to her relationship with Ian (they are around the same age for one thing; Simon was quite a bit older than Alinor).

    I don’t really see your point about HFN meaning that previous relationships have been crappy. That’s not a leap I make. To be honest, I don’t quite understand what you mean by it. Can you expand?

  47. Susan
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 21:39:48

    For historicals, I absolutely need an HEA.

    But @Ros: made an interesting point that’s often in the back of my mind when I read about some locations/time periods. When I was young, I really liked romances set in Imperial Russia (there seemed to be quite a number of those back in the day), but the revolution was like the Sword of Damocles hanging over everything. Even romances set in late Victorian England have that taint for me–I often think that the lovely baby boy the H/H just had will die at the Somme, and they’ll lose all their money due to death duties, the Depression, or whatever. It’s kind of a given pitfall with a lot of historicals if you let yourself dwell on it. But, like Miss Scarlett, I just tell myself I’ll think about that tomorrow and concentrate on the rainbows for now.

    I don’t need an definite HEA in contemporaries, but I do need to believe the HFN isn’t just a prolonged hookup. I also don’t think either marriage or offspring are requirements for an HEA (historical or contemporary). A substantive commitment works for me.

  48. Robin/Janet
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 21:44:22

    @Kaetrin: I don’t really see your point about HFN meaning that previous relationships have been crappy. That’s not a leap I make. To be honest, I don’t quite understand what you mean by it. Can you expand?

    It’s not about the HFN or HEA so much as it is what I see as a potential double-standard around the genre’s presentation of relationship happiness.

    For example, a common device in the genre is the bad relationship/ex that one or both protagonists needs to get over to embrace the relationship portrayed as the central romance. And I think there can be a sense that the relationship that is the subject of the romance is the best, most perfect, biggest, etc. love of all. Such that even without intending to, I think there can be a demonization of earlier/other relationships, or at least the perception that they are somehow less than the relationship in a current book (Kristen Ashley’s At Peace would be an exception, but Tack’s ex-wife in Motorcycle Man an example of what I’m talking about there).

    So I guess for me, I don’t necessarily want to think that a couple needs to be together forever, because I’d like to think that something could happen to that relationship and that either or both partners (assuming a traditional two-person relationship here, for the sake of simplicity) could move on happily with another romance-worthy relationship. Does that make sense? I know that it’s all about my own inferences for the couple – I’m just trying to say that I don’t necessarily see the romance relationship as the end-all-be-all. Except for Eve and Roarke, of course, in whom I’ve become invested enough to think they need to have an explicitly defined HEA (and no children, as someone above noted).

    @Tina: Brown has written one of my least favorite Romances (Hawk O’Toole’s Hostage), and the trauma of that read scared me away. I’m wondering if I should revisit her, though. Does the mother get another romance, or is that it for her? I’d want to see another romance for her, even if she already had a book with another hero.

  49. Kaetrin
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 21:52:35

    @Robin/Janet: I don’t mind reading about second chance at love stories where the previous relationship was happy and fulfilling – I quite like them actually.

    But on the page, the relationship that is the focus of the story, I want that to be HEA/HFN (ie on the way to a HEA) until and unless it is addressed in a future book (which would, in turn, have a HEA/HFN). If I think that the couple isn’t committed or on the way to a commitment, I’m not going to buy the romance at all and it will not be a successful book for me. I guess I don’t understand why someone would be with someone when they saw no future to their relationship and if I saw that on the page, I’d be very disappointed in the story.

    But I don’t see my personal definitions as meaning that a h/h could not have had a successful relationship in the past or, if something went wrong (but not in THIS book) a successful relationship in the future.

  50. JL
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 21:57:53

    For me, an HEA is kind of like overdoing it on a giant hot fudge sundae after you’ve already had five KitKats for dinner. I want it so badly, but I know it’s not good for me. HEAs leave me more unsatisfied. A HFN is much for filling and rewarding because (when done well) I trust that the couple will put the work and effort that goes into maintaining a life-long partnership. I am a huge fan of Pamela Clare, and I suffered along with the characters when (possible SPOILER) one of the earlier heroes was put in jeopardy in a later book because I so want to believe in the HEA. On the other hand, I loathe her happy baby-filled epilogues. Conversely, Cara McKenna writes some of the best erotica/erotic romance out there, and I love her HFAs. In fact, I think she writes the most genuine HFAs where the books tend to end with a general contentment of the moment, rather than with the relationship. I often think back to Wiling Victim and wonder how the characters are doing.

  51. Robin/Janet
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 22:28:19

    @Kaetrin: I think it comes down to reader expectation. Does the reader need to see the couple committed at the end of the book, with the expectation that they will stay together? That, for me, is core HEA. Does the reader expect that the couple will eventually commit and stay together? That, for me, is HFN with inferred HEA on the part of the reader. Is the reader okay not seeing the couple staying together, even if they’re together and happy at the end of the book? That, for me, is core HFN. I suspect each of us lands on different points between the two extremes, and it may even break down further based on the reader + book interaction.

  52. Kris Bock
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 22:45:41

    I also read romance because I like happy endings. Yet I often prefer a HFN (where I believe the couple is well-suited and going to work on their relationship) to an unrealistic HEA (for example, where a couple who has known each other a few weeks is talking marriage and babies). I like romantic suspense, and that’s often where the story takes place over a few days or weeks, under unusual and high stress circumstances. Hopefully by the end I believe the couple will be well-suited even under normal circumstances, but I’d hate to see them making lifelong commitments without testing it.

    I would argue that in some cases, with romantic suspense, the suspense plot is dominant over the romance plot. Yet I may choose romantic suspense over a mystery or thriller, because I know it will have a prominent female character (assuming it’s a hetero romance) and a happy ending, along with a strong action plot.

  53. Kaetrin
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 23:31:56

    @Robin/Janet: I know it’s just my personal opinion, but your version of “core HFN” with the reader “not seeing the couple staying together” wouldn’t fit within romance for me. If the couple aren’t going to stay together, then what’s the point? For me, HFN is a stop on the way to HEA and if it’s not, then it’s not romance. But that’s just me.

  54. Willaful
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 23:41:06

    @Jules: I so agree! Elizabeth Hoyt is one who does this very well, I think. I love seeing how her characters stay themselves when they reappear. Lisa Kleypas is also pretty good at it.

  55. Willaful
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 23:46:56

    @Kaetrin: This is exactly why I can’t bear to read a certain book in one of my favorite series. Someone who I think of as a romance hero dies and heroes and heroines are simply not allowed to die! I join you in la-la-laing.

  56. Robin/Janet
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 00:15:34

    @Kaetrin: I just want to clarify that I’m still talking about books where the protagonists end the book together. For me it’s about what the reader expects (or not) in the future, beyond the bounds of the book. There are many books I read where I’m not particularly invested in the couple staying together indefinitely. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but the thought of them not having an indefinite commitment doesn’t kill the romance for me. By contrast, what you conceptualize as HFN I see as much closer to HEA, because I think your expectation is that they’re going to be together forever, “immortal,” even, as you say.

  57. Kaetrin
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 00:22:44

    @Robin/Janet: mmmm, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that with a HFN ending, I don’t actively imagine them splitting up/separating. If I do, the romance hasn’t worked for me.

  58. Tina
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 07:38:46

    @Robin/Janet:

    “Does the mother get another romance, or is that it for her? I’d want to see another romance for her, even if she already had a book with another hero. ”

    No. I think I would have had a much different response if, say, the father/hero had died off screen, i.e. prior to the second book and the mother/heroine had accepted his death and was maybe starting a new romance. But in this case the pair were living their HEA during the second book. They were still youngish, vital and frisky. He was still handsome and virile. Hence the second book confirmed the HEA from the first book. So when he is murdered, it somehow, I dunno, negates their HEA and discredits the ending first book.

    Which I admit is a bit of a contradiction since like i said I probably could have accepted his death better if it had happened prior to opening of the second book. I think the shock of the murder right on the page after spending the whole book with them in happy married bliss (complete with grown kids) probably contributed to my feelings. Mind you this was in the mid 80s and my reading at the time was all romance, mostly historical. I hadn’t yet branched out into other genres and romance hadn’t quite begun stretching it’s own envelope yet.

  59. Janine
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 12:03:35

    @Robin/Janet: It’s interesting. I don’t love the unhappy previous marriage in books, but I find I keep writing them! I think it’s because my own first marriage and its dissolution were so painful that even years later I’m still processing that. I wonder if that’s why those are so popular–because so many of us have romantic baggage and it can have an impact on a new relationship that follows.

    I wonder if there have been any Romances (maybe a series?) where a couple has been paired up in one book, and then, due to either divorce or death, at least one, maybe both, get paired up with other people in a later book.

    There were at least a few of those in the 1970s and possibly the early 1980s. I haven’t read it, but I remember that Jennifer Wilde’s (aka Tom Huff) Marietta trilogy had this twist — it was the reason I decided not to read it (I was a young teen then, something like that wouldn’t deter me now), and I’m pretty sure there were others as well.

  60. Liviania
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 14:36:09

    This is definitely making me think about how I see the HFN/HEA divide. To me, an HEA ending means that the couple is together at the end of the story and I believe that their relationship will be successful, for a believable metric of successful. (ie, for a YA story, successful might be believing that the characters have a fairly amicable breakup their first year of college or something.)

    An HFN is when I think the couple is set to have a spectacular, bitter break-up approximately five minutes after the book ends. This is often my trouble with Big Misunderstanding plots – the couple miscommunicates for hundreds of pages, makes up on the last five, and I’m suddenly expected they now know how to talk to each other like grown ups.

  61. romsfuulynn
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 16:53:16

    SPOILERS FOR ROBERTA GELLIS ROSELYNDE series

    @Robin/Janet:

    One second romance that doesn’t diminish the first romance for me, is the first two Roselynde books by Roberta Gellis. There is a substantial age difference in the first romance. They have a long and happy marriage, but the second book is about the issues of loving again without diminishing the first love.

  62. cleo
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 18:20:23

    This is so interesting. I had no idea there was such a range. I’m with Tina that all romances are HFN at some level. But I do make a distinction between romances that end with a serious commitment to spend the rest of their lives together (with or without marriage) – that’s my definition of an hea – and romances where they’re together but not at such a high level of commitment. I prefer hfn endings for YA and NA and also for out 4 you m/m or f/f. Actually I think I prefer hfn in general, unless the h/h have known each other a long time.

    I hate “everything is perfect” epilogues – they take away from my faith in their hea. Biggest pet peeve are epilogues with
    babies AND hot sex.

    @livinia – I tend to see YA /NA books that end with them together (but with the reasonable assumption that they may split amiably) as HFN not an HEA.

  63. HEA? An Interlude - Laura K. Curtis
    Feb 26, 2014 @ 21:59:32

    […] over the last several days on Twitter, and a long and interesting post with a great discussion on Dear Author, on the topic of what kind of ending readers require in a romance–HEA (happily ever after) or […]

  64. SAO
    Feb 27, 2014 @ 09:33:44

    I find that forced HEA (first comes kissing, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage) turn me off. I’m happy leaving the couple together in a relationship that has the potential to grow into an HEA, but I hate having two people who spent a few intense days together decide to marry at the end, just to meet the author’s needs, not their own.

    And when the blissful couples wave hello in further books, I have no interest in them. They generally have lost all character and are there merely to be blissfully and boringly happy.

  65. Julie
    Feb 27, 2014 @ 18:45:31

    The first HFNs I read were by Cara McKenna. Her books are erotica so I think an HFN works well. *Spoilers* In Curio, I don’t know if Didier’s agoraphobia will prevent from leaving his apartment tomorrow. Or if the heroine will tire of dating a shut in. I’m rooting for them. In Unbound, her latest, the hero is a raging alcoholic (hmmm, also a shut in…), the heroine has just lost like 100 lbs. Will he start drinking again? Will she put all the weight back on? Will the kink keep them together? I don’t know, but I enjoyed the ride. Her characters are flawed adults who have their struggles, and really hot sex. The baggage that they bring to the relationships makes the unpacking of those relationships so interesting. It’s real. And there is, blessedly, no epilogue.
    If I want an HEA I will usually opt for a historical. At some point, they have to get married and I feel better knowing those 2 kids will live HEA.

  66. Thalia
    Feb 27, 2014 @ 23:50:09

    Maria Bustillos’ article in the AWL helped me clarify my feelings about HEA in Romance.

    jay Dixon (who spells her name with a lower-case “j”) observes in her book The Romantic Fiction of Mills & Boon 1909-1995 “that the romance heroine draws her man into the domestic sphere, the realm of women, of home, in order to resolve their differences and establish sex with love as the central principle in their lives. Actually, both lovers must alter their earlier prejudices to create a working alliance where sexualized love can flourish…..The underlying philosophy of the novels of Mills & Boon is that love is omnipotent—it is the point of life. It is the solution to all problems, and it is peculiarly feminine. Men have to be taught how to love; women are born with the innate ability to love.”

    HEA is an exclusive committed union based on sexualized love, which becomes central to the Hero & Heroine’s emotional, social, economic, and family life.

    HFN is the recognition of sexualized love between the protagonists, and the sense that they will experience emotional and social aspects of life together. (I changed Hero and Heroine to “protagonists” to recognize MM, FF, MMF et cetera)

    @Julie:

    N-thing Cara McKenna as “Happy for Now.” I recently read “After Hours” and “Willing Victim” and I was astonished at the clarity of HFN!

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    Feb 28, 2014 @ 00:20:40

    […] was a thought provoking look at HEA versus happy for now (HFN).  You can read the full commentary here.  In the article, the author […]

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  69. Jez Morrow
    Feb 28, 2014 @ 12:42:09

    I’m sorry. I need the all-consuming, wholly committed love forever true. Put me down for HEA. Walk in Beauty. Jez.

  70. SonomaLass
    Feb 28, 2014 @ 13:33:39

    @Liz Mc2: “I think for me HEA means that the couple has made a commitment they intend to be permanent; HFN means that I believe they may be on the road there, but they haven’t said it yet.”

    This definition works for me. And I prefer whichever seems believable in the circumstances of the particular characters. I don’t like the forced/rushed HEA; I’ve been known to hate the ending of an otherwise lovely book because I thought the characters were rushing into commitment without being ready. My favorite HEAs are second-chances, marriages of convenience, or relationships where the main characters know each other well before committing at the end. (Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of best friend’s big brother romance?) Otherwise I prefer the HFN ending; things are good, with potential to stay that way, but it’s too soon to commit. I wish more YA ended that way. And this includes the Harry Potter epilogue!

  71. Janine
    Feb 28, 2014 @ 15:45:43

    @SonomaLass: We must be reading different YAs. I’ve enjoyed some with HFN endings and one of my favorites from recent years even ended with an amicable but poignant breakup.

  72. Kaetrin
    Feb 28, 2014 @ 18:05:56

    @Janine: That wouldn’t quality as a romance at all for me.

  73. Lisa Charlotte
    Mar 02, 2014 @ 10:05:54

    I never expect that once we get to the HEA that the H/h go on to live perfect, drama-free lives. To me the HEA makes me think that any upcoming troubles will be gotten through due to their commitment. To me a HFN/HEA are one and the same. If they aren’t then I think the romance has failed for me. For me a romance is the pairing up of a couple. No matter at what stage the book ends, they are paired up.

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    […] Is ‘happy for now’ happy enough for you? Robin Reader on Dear Author about the different types of happy ending. […]

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