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Does the romance genre need to be more expansive?

Some readers have argued in the comments at Smart Bitches that the romance genre definition does not include a happy ever after. I had a long and somewhat contentious debate with Robin over the definition of romance. Her argument is that the academic definition of the genre is that romance is a story that focuses on the love relationship of individuals and results in an uplifting ending for the characters involved in the love relationship.

My definition? A book that contains a love story and ends with the promise of happily ever after.

Robin’s argument is that if the more widely accepted definition was not one that included a HEA, that the ending of books would be more satisfying.

My argument is that authors need not limit themselves by the genre definition as expressed by the readers. Meaning, that if an author is crafting her books to be most reader friendly (depending on whom the reader is), then that is her issue and not one reliant on the genre definition. I read JR Ward’s recent book, “Lover Unbound”, as an answer to her fans, at least a certain segment of her fans. To some fans (me) the book read as a sell out. To others, they will appreciate the changes she made. The ending was unsatisfactory to me, but not because of the genre constraints but because the way in which Ward created the conflict and then resolved it was a) not within the canon of the world she had created before and b) reeked of authorial manipulation. (There were many other problems with the book but the ending is germane to the piece).

I’ve never really understood the concept that an author is confined or limited by the genre. I mean, if you don’t want to end your book with an HEA, why not write the book without one if that fits better for the story. It seems on the one hand, authors are gods. They control the characters, the stories, the endings. On the other, they are constrained by the genre? It doesn’t fit for me. You are either a god over your book or you are not.

Just because a book ends with a “tacked on” happy ever after doesn’t mean that the genre is to blame or the need for an HEA is to blame. It just means the author didn’t deliver. Just because an erotic romance contains a bunch of bad sex scenes doesn’t make the entire sub genre of erotic romance invalid. A poorly written book within a genre does not invalidate the genre itself.

Here is why I like the promise of the HEA. 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.

I am curious to how others define the HEA; whether it is restricting authors from writing true to their authorial vision; whether the HEA constraint adversely influences the ending (i.e., books end with HEAs that are forced rather than natural); whether a more expansive genre definition would increase the quality of romances; and finally, if you read romances and want the HEA, why?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

127 Comments

  1. francois
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 04:55:27

    I like an HEA, but it doesn’t have to be that happy. Its more about a having a good resolution – and I hope every story has that, romance or not.

    I often skip epilogues because the story is already resolved with a hopeful ending and I don’t need confirmation of endless happiness thereafter. I can’t suspend my disbelief hard enough to think that endless happiness is likely. Especially given the trials some couples go through in the main part of the book!

    Someone pointed out that “Agnes and the Hitman” didn’t even have the main characters saying “I love you” at any point. I hadn’t noticed! The characters were so convincing, I didn’t need it spelled out. I felt it would probably happen sometime after the book ended. The hope of it is enough. Given where the characters started off, the ending is relatively very happy.

  2. Laura Vivanco
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 05:26:03

    The RWA says that a romance should conclude with

    An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending — Romance novels are based on the idea of an innate emotional justice — the notion that good people in the world are rewarded and evil people are punished. In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

    To me that implies that, according to this definition of “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending”, there is a HEA. It doesn’t have to be literally “ever after”, since unless it’s a paranormal human beings don’t live indefinitely, but it is about the lovers being in a permanent relationship until death parts them a long time in the future. I don’t need it all spelled out for me – the lovers don’t need to marry, have 9 children, 2 dogs and a fairygodmother dropping in to promise that they’ll all live well into their 90s. What’s important to me is to feel that the love they have will last a lifetime.

    If an author doesn’t want to give the lovers at least an ending which very strongly implies there will be that lasting relationship, then maybe they’d be better off thinking of what they write as “romantic fiction”? However, a lot of the time the labelling is the responsibility of marketing departments, and they have been known to label something as “romance” which doesn’t have an HEA, just so that the book can be targetted at the large number of romance readers (many of whom will probably then be very upset/annoyed that there isn’t an HEA).

    Like you, I read romance “Because I feel safe in the certainty of the book's ending”, and because romances are about relationships. There are other genres which promise certainty about the ending (mysteries, for example, promise that the mystery will be resolved) but they’re about mysteries/crimes, not about loving relationships, so I’m not so interested in the subject matter.

  3. Nora Roberts
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 05:28:05

    I want resolution in a story. In Romance, for me, that means the couple are together in the end (alive or undead), and happy. If it’s Romance, their relationship’s at the core of the book, so I want that relationship resolved in a way that satisfies me.

    As a writer, I’m not God. I don’t wanna be God–any more than I want to be obliged to listen to the most always conflicting wants and opinions of the reader when I’m crafting the story. I’m writing commercial fiction–genre fiction. I know the expectations of the reader, because I’m the reader, too. Just as I know there’s no possible way I can make every reader 100% happy with each book.

    The job is to do the best you can, stay true to the characters and the story, remember the basic expectations of your field and respect what you do. If staying true to the characters and the story demands not meeting the basic expectations of the field, that’s fine. You’re just in another field. All you have to do is say: Hey, I’m over here for this one! The reader can follow you over to explore the new ground, or give it a pass.

  4. Sarah McCarty
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 05:35:16

    If it’s romance, it needs the HEA. That necessary HEA is pretty much what defines the genre and what separates suspense from romantic suspense, etc. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that an author has to write a book to the romance criteria, but to be a full romance and not a book with elements of romance, the HEA has to be there.

    This is naturally, only important if one is categorizing books and often a book with romantic elements and no HEA is romantic enough for a reader to be called a romance, but to an author, it would vehemently be NOT a romance.

    I, for one, when I see the word romance on the cover expect the HEA and want it there because of the trust I give the author to deliver that HEA. In essence, I drop my protective shields for a romance read to the point it’s a betrayal if the HEA isn’t there.

  5. Nora Roberts
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 05:46:39

    I want to give an example. Awhile back I caught this movie on TV, billed as a Romance. It’s set before and during WWII. Fascinating, beautifully filmed. Flawed characters, complex relationships. The heroine is a free-spirit, and a bit of a floozy. Set in Europe. Hero goes off the fight (pissing heroine off), heroine stays in German-occupied France. Shit happens. Hero comes back and it appears heroine is consorting with the Nazis–but it’s discovered she’s actually working undercover for the Allies, and getting info. Has to sleep with the Nazis, etc, etc, but she’s realize hero was right to fight. H&H come together. Love, love. Have to separate. Allies come to save Paris. Resistance jumps in, and while doing so captures heroine, who they think is a whoring Nazi-loving skank. Hero is running through war-torn Paris to get to heroine–at last, at last.

    And they execute her.

    I’m all WHAT, WHAT, WTF! They killed her! Hero’s running to get her, she’s redeemed herself completely, they’re madly in love. And now she’s dead. It pissed me off. I’d invested two hours of my time into that story, those people, and they left me not only unsatisfied but pissed.

    Don’t tell me it’s a Romance if you’re going to shoot the heroine in the head at the end. Or, metaphorically, shoot the relationship in the head.

    Investment. The reader invests not just their money, but their time, their emotions. They deserve what they’ve paid for.

  6. Mrs Giggles
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 06:54:15

    If people want to revolutionize the genre by writing romance stories without happy endings, hey, more power to them.

    I won’t read them though. Nothing personal, it’s just me.

  7. Jessica Inclan
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 07:14:13

    You can be a god–manipulating what happens–and if you are an intractable god, you might not get your book published. Then those reading said book might never be able have the ability to say, “You either are a god or you are not,” because, well, there likely wouldn’t be a book to look at, to think, “Why in the hell did she do that?”

    If you’ve never been through the editorial process in a publishing compnay–and I’ve written for two–you might never have had the sentence, “It’s too sad” thrown at you. I have, many times.

    There is more freedom to write the plots and characters and themes you want in fiction other than genre and less ability to get published there.

    So the whole writing thing is a bit of a conundrum.

    Jessica

  8. Jessica Inclan
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 07:16:22

    But that said, I love writing romance, and I love writing HEA’s because they very often don’t happen in life. And it feels good! And it’s fun.

    Jessica

  9. Sarah McCarty
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 07:17:48

    If people want to revolutionize the genre by writing romance stories without happy endings, hey, more power to them.

    But that wouldn’t be revolutionizing it, that would be eradicating it.

    I think I might be missing the point because without the HEA a book would simply fall into another genre classification, ie women’s fiction, mystery, sci fi, suspense, thriller, paranormal, erotica, etc.

  10. Erastes
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 07:17:56

    I couldn’t agree with Ms Roberts less actually, a romance is about love and love that you know will endure beyond death. It’s Arwen standing over Aragorn’s grave till the end of time, it’s Juliet deciding that she will not CAN NOT live without Romeo.

    Just because the word “Romance” has been hijacked by a group of people who have decided what it “means” it shouldn’t constrict anyone from writing what love is all about – which is a billion different things to a million different people.

    Why should anyone decide what romance is?

    As for knowing that it’s all going to end in each others’ arms and everything is going to be All Right, that puts me off straight away. I DON’T want to know what’s going to happen. I HOPE that the couple are going to be together forever, because if the author has done their job right, then they’ve convinced me that it’s true love and it deserves to end well – but I don’t want to know. I want to travel hopefully, I want to truly be terrified for them when bad things happen. I don’t want a bloody safety net – that’s not what reading is about, for me.

    I know that George Martin isn’t a Romance writer but he does in fantasy what more people should be brave enough to do in Romance – no-one is safe in his books. You hardly dare care about any of the characters because you know that no-one is safe.

    And that’s real.

    Yes – I know people will say “But I don’t want realism” but I do.

    There’s room in the Romance genre for everyone and every sort of permutation. Het, Gay, Trans, Happy, Sad. It’s romance – and anything can happen.

    And should.

  11. vanessa jaye
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 07:20:35

    I'm posting before I read everyone else's comment. I read romance because I want to invest emotionally in the journey that the hero and heroine take to get to the resolution of their relationship together and any sort on individual internal conflicts they might have. I want the magic, I want the escapism. I want a definitive uplifting *positive* resolution that HAS TO BE some sort of HEA, whether is marriage, or simply a more open-ended understanding that they are both committed to go forth together to see where this thing takes them. That's about ambivalent as I want from a *romance genre* book.

    Now, if it's not a romance genre book, I'm far more open-minded to any sort of ending regarding a romantic relationship. My favorite read for 2007 is The Shoe Queen, it doesn't have an hea, but it does have a certain satisfaction regarding the heroine's character arc/development.

    If folks started putting out *romance genre* books without some sort of hea, (‘Hey, this has been a slice, gotta go' or ‘wow, I care for you so much, but I still gotta find myself. I'll catch up with you later', or some equivalent of ‘it's not you, it's me')

    Like, Mrs G says, authors who are feeling confined by the romance genre are certainly welcome to writing what they want–probably a lot of interesting unique things will come from that–, just don’t expect me to buy or read their books when what I want is a *romance with a hea*.

    Those non-hea romances are going to get lumped into the wide-word of general fiction in my mind. And if publishers start pushing these books out under the label of ‘Romance”, then I’ll confine my buying to those authors I know will deliver the hea, seeking out only those books in the same way other readers might only be interested in books with heat/lovescenes or only read regencies, etc.

  12. Jessica Inclan
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 07:28:57

    Well, I had something very snappy to say and it didn’t post. But my point was that readers shift the market. If readers want this:

    There's room in the Romance genre for everyone and every sort of permutation. Het, Gay, Trans, Happy, Sad. It's romance – and anything can happen.

    And should.

    Then readers need to make themselves known.

    Here is what one editor I had years ago wrote to me about a novel NOT romance:

    “As for sales, the market for all paperbacks is tough right now, but thekey lies in creating a novel that elicits a strong emotional response in the reader. As since readers of commercial fiction want to feel good, even uplifted when they put a book down, you want to leave them caring about the characters and satisfied with where the book leaves those characters.”

    So I guess that rules out being shot in the head!

    Jessica

  13. Nora Roberts
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 07:36:34

    Erastes, what you’re describing is love story, not genre Romance. It’s not about love transcending death, it’s about meeting reader expectations in commercial fiction, within a genre. For me, the genre is every bit as much about the journey as the destination. But I don’t want my lovers driving off the cliff at the end, no matter how their spirits might love for eternity.

    Romance is a subjective term, certainly. But we’re talking publishing and the constants that define a genre, and that’s much more specific. In publishing, the Romance genre is defined by the core romantic relationship, and the satisfying resolution of that relationship.

    The brilliance of R&J is certainly romantic, but no Shakespearean scholar would term it a Romance. Two teenagers die by their own hands. And that’s a Tragedy.

  14. Ann Aguirre
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 07:58:54

    I’m all right with HFN in place of HEA. If it’s sold as a romance, I want the hero and heroine together at the end, and I want them safe and happy. I don’t need baby epilogues; in fact, I don’t even like those. And I don’t need wedding bells. But I do need to feel that the two of them have figured out they belong together, at least for now, because who knows what the future holds? That’s enough for me.

    In a series, where the romance is more of a subplot, I’m willing to give the author a little more rope. I’ll travel through a lot in order to see two characters I enjoy get together. But even in other fiction, I’d really rather not fall in love with a hero completely and then at the end, have him shot and the head, and some other random person stashed in his place. I think it was Cameron Dean who did something of the sort, and luckily, I heard about it before I started the series. Or I’d have been quite irked.

  15. Kerry Allen
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 08:00:11

    If the couple breaks up at the end because that’s the “emotionally satisfying” thing to do, it’s not Romance. It’s chick lit. Or lit fic. If that’s creatively stifling, there’s nothing stopping a writer from writing chick lit. Or lit fic. Or urban fantasy or mystery or horror, for that matter. Write whatever you want, but don’t try to pass it off as Romance because that’s where you have an existing reader base… and then get all bent out of shape when they cry foul.

    That being said, the definition of HEA varies, for readers and also for characters. Some readers are satisfied by nothing less than a wedding-and-babies ending. That is stifling. And boring. Sometimes that’s completely inconsistent with the characters involved, and if that scene is tacked on just to please that set of readers, it rings false and is disappointing to readers who expect something more consistent with the characters’ lifestyle.

    In the story I’m shopping around, the heroine is surrounded by Weird, and her idea of bliss is Normalcy, which the hero does his best to give her (often failing spectacularly, but at least he tried). If there wasn’t at least a suggestion by the end that she was going to get a husband, 2.5 kids, a white picket fence, and a minivan out of it, it would mean the heroine throwing away her entire ideal set, instead of making adjustments to it as she did, and nobody wants to read about a woman who loses her entire personality to hold onto a man. (Well, I don’t, anyway. I’d rather see that one shot in the head…)

    On the other hand, say the heroine feels the institution of marriage is meaningless in an age where you can get married at a drive-through window and get divorced twice as quickly. If she loves someone and intends to be with him forever, a piece of paper stating her intention to do so has zero value for her, and forcing a wedding into her HEA, where it clearly doesn’t belong, is the wrong thing to do. She can have enduring love without a 2-minute ceremony.

    That’s my definition of the right ending for a romance novel: enduring love. All I expect is that the writer show me that in a manner believable for those characters, whatever that may be.

  16. Carrie Lofty
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 08:10:58

    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.

    There it is–works for me. Thx Jane. And yes, Nora, I would have been pissed about that WW2 movie too. I didn’t know Christian Slater dies at the end of Untamed Heart and I’m still mad.

  17. Angela
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 08:11:41

    It isn’t the genre that needs to be more expansive, but its writers and readers. This is the mindset I bring to every romance novel I pick up: “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.”

    Unfortunately the majority of writers do not attend to this, and I’ve heard many readers express their anxiety when it seems the book isn’t going to fit within this genre’s typical manner of plotting & characterization, and wind up peeking at the end just to make sure.

    WTH!

    Seriously…authors…please. If the book says romance on the spine, I don’t care if the h/h are taken through hell, if the book spans a few years, if someone accidentally marries someone else, whatever! I know the ending will have the h/h together, so plot away to your hearts content. I want to be swept away with the uncertainties, the passion, the exhilaration, the pain of falling in love. I want to really get to know these characters. I want, when I open a book, to fall into it.

  18. Darlene Marshall
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 08:16:46

    I would agree with your definition, but modify it slightly:

    “A book whose primary focus is a love story and ends with the promise of happily ever after.”

    This, to me, is what separates romance from “women’s fiction”. I’ve read some excellent novels with a HEA and a romance, but the focus of the book is on the heroine’s growth, not the relationship between the H&H.

    Just my opinion, but that’s what I offer when people ask me “How do you define a romance novel?”

  19. Jaci Burton
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 08:21:55

    Nora, I felt the same way about the movie City of Angels. He’s an angel. He loves the human girl. He falls for her, giving up his angel powers. They have one night of idyllic love. Next day she gets hit by a truck and dies. WTF? That’s not romance. That’s not HEA. I flung the video box against the wall and would do the same thing to a book that ended that way.

    I write HEA in my romance. I expect to read HEA in my romance unless I’m reading something that I know upfront isn’t going to have it (i.e. an urban fantasy). It all boils down to reader expectation, what’s on the back cover copy. Granted, often we authors don’t have a choice in how books are labeled or marketed–the publishers do. But we can go a long way in promoting our books and letting readers know what they can expect to receive, and if an HEA is on the way.

    I don’t like to be negatively surprised at the end of a book. I don’t think any reader does.

  20. Anonyauthor
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 08:22:12

    I am the author Sarah quotes in the link you posted. I may have misinterpreted what you meant in your first sentence, but the discussion that Sarah and I had, which she quoted me on, was about whether SERIES novels differed from stand-alone titles in regards to a HEA. NOT whether the HEA should be thrown out of the entire romance genre. (First sentence of that link from Sarah’s site reads: “After the discussion about labels on romance novels, and prior discussions about series books in the romance shelves, one author and I had a rather lively discussion via email about series books and whether the same rules and expectations should apply to them as to romance novels.” The example used was that if a series that ended in a HEA, did romance readers consider that as following the HEA formula, but just in a delayed manner? Obviously this would mean that the hero couldn’t get shot in the head (as many have cited for an example :) and that things will work out in the end. I can think of Katie MacAlister’s Aisling Grey Guardian series as an example of where the author promises a HEA for her characters, but just not with the first book. Also, Colleen Gleason’s Gardella series comes to mind for the same reason.

    So if readers browsing the romance aisle pick up a book that says “XYZ series” on the front of it, does that give them a head’s up that the book might not contain a HEA at the end of it? That it may, in fact, take a few books to come to that resolution?

  21. Ann Bruce
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 08:31:39

    JR Ward's recent book, “Lover Unbound”, as an answer to her fans, at least a certain segment of her fans. To some fans (me) the book read as a sell out. To others, they will appreciate the changes she made. The ending was unsatisfactory to me

    I heard the Casper rumors. Are they true? Please say it ain’t so!

    Anyway, the SBs had this discussion and my answer is still:

    No HEA = No Romance

    I read romance because it guarantees an HEA. If the book doesn’t have an HEA, it shouldn’t be in romance. That being said, my definition of an HEA is not an epilogue showing a white picket fence and 2.3 kids. I just need to be fairly certain that the H/H will be happy geriatrics together.

    I read for entertainment. I’m RARELY entertained when I read about H/H who hate each other by the end of the book or are simply friends or are separated because of one reason or another, including death. Those kinds of endings might be more “literary,” but they do not uplift me and, in fact, make me cranky–especially when I’m blindsided by it. So, if I pick up a book in the romance section, I’m expecting an HEA and if I don’t get it, I feel betrayed.

    If I want to read about loved ones who are separated by circumstances beyond their control, I’d read the newspapers.

  22. Ann Bruce
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 08:34:32

    Someone pointed out that “Agnes and the Hitman” didn't even have the main characters saying “I love you” at any point.

    Thank God! Mayer threw in an “I love you” at a very inopportune moment in Don’t Look Down and it just yanked me right out of the story because it wasn’t in character for the hero.

    In AatH, the H/H said “I love you” through their actions, which is a lot more meaningful than tossing around three little words.

  23. kardis
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 08:37:13

    If I am reading a Romance, I want the characters to wind up together at the end. I want that HEA, but I also have a very broad definition of what counts as an HEA. Like Ann Aguirre was saying, I hate those married with baby epilogues. I’ll accept it if it fits with the character, but if an author shoves a couple into that ending and it doesn’t fit who they were for the rest if the book I am disappointed in that ending.

    Maybe that is part of the reason why people are saying that the HEA limits the genre? Most of the responses I’ve read to this question (the many times it has been asked) have been that the couple are together at the end. That’s all it takes for me, I want them together (and both alive!) and I consider that an HEA. I think there is a lot of freedom for authors within this definition.

    Sorry if this a rambling mess, no caffeine=no coherence.

  24. DS
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 08:47:16

    I don’t like epilogues. I don’t even care for the one in Jane Eyre, it doesn’t really improve the ending. I’ve always liked books with a romantic element. I’m not interested in erotica. I just want a good strong story with interesting characters and a good plot. I like HFN just fine or an uplifting ending, I don’t care about a permanent state of ecstasy and I don’t want authors to try too hard to convince me that is what the characters ill attain. It awakens my cynical side which remembers that the most outwardly perfect marriage I ever saw personally was a complete sham.

    I have realized in the last couple of years that I am reading less and less genre romance and I’m been trying to figure out why, other than the fact that the romance authors I really enjoy are not writing as much or have stopped writing altogether or are phoning in their books and I haven’t found new authors to replace them in romance although I don’t have that problem in other genres and I’ve always enjoyed cross genre fiction.

    I would be really interested in seeing some demographics about who in terms of age, sex, education and income was buying what in fiction these days.

  25. Tracy
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 08:49:46

    Agreeing that a GENRE romance book should have an HEA. Those that said that a romance can be a romance without the HEA, yes you are right, but that is not GENRE romance.

    When I pick up a genre romance book, I expect the couple will be together at the end. Do I need a forced marriage and baby epilogue? Of course not. I want them together, knowing they have a future with each other.

  26. Ciar Cullen
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 08:51:31

    An author is bound by genre definitions if they want to sell to a romance publisher–it’s really that simple. Anything else, and you’re looking at the task of finding a new publisher (with a few exceptions). No easy task. That said, you have to write what floats your boat.

  27. Keishon
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 09:11:20

    As a reader, I depend on labels and with those labels there are expectations. In romance it is generally expected to have a romance with the traditional HEA. The problem is that I wish authors would let the HEA be dictated by the story and not find themselves forced to do the whole wedding and baby stuff when it probably isn’t necessary. For example, in Karen Rose’s latest, r/s novel, Die for Me, she used the traditional HEA because in that case it worked despite the quickie romance. I mean she made me suspend disbelief in that these two people belonged together. The hero came from such a large family and the theme of the book was about family so I expected the ending to be what it was.

    For me it’s about knowing your characters and your story and knowing what type of ending is most beneficial for your characters and story and if you’re writing under the romance label, there better be a happy ending. I don’t mind a journey of torture and pain only it better have some payoff in the end for the reader. I still feel a bit sucker punched from another book where there was no pay-off for the reader, just more torture and pain and we don’t like that. At all.

  28. Christine Merrill
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 09:22:00

    ” a romance is about love and love that you know will endure beyond death. It's Arwen standing over Aragorn's grave till the end of time, it's Juliet deciding that she will not CAN NOT live without Romeo.”

    Putting on my theatre major hat:

    Actually Erastes, you are the one doing the hijacking. Romeo and Juliet, by all literary and historical definitions, is a tragedy. Even Shakespeare called it that, right in the title. Yes, it has a love story. If you consider double suicide to be “romantic”, then we can call it romantic. But it is not a romance by any stretch of that word.

    The current definition of Romance, as it is used to sell books, means that the book has some “happy” in the ending, as it involves the relationship. We can go round a bit about the how much happy is enough, but if we are using the word romance to sell the book, it’s not really fair to bait and switch, and try to tell people that “sad” is the same thing, or just as good. Or, for that matter better than happy because it’s more realistic.

    (Not accusing you of that, BTW, Erastes. You didn’t say that, I’m changing the subject.)

    We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be books with sad endings, or that all love stories have to end happy. Hell, there are even love stories that end much happier if one or both os the characters is dead. Some couples just aren’t meant to be together, in real life or fiction.

    But if publishers are using Romance as a sales term for one type of book, then they shouldn’t slip love stories onto the same shelf, just to up the sales numbers.

    Nor should writers have to tack on a satisfying relationship to get their book to a better marketing slot. I’ve got a book that I can’t sell, because the hero won’t throw over his fiance of 7 years, to run off with some woman he just met, who happens to be the heroine of the story.

    To me, that’s like saying, “You know, if your hero was a total creep, we could sell this as a romance…”

  29. sherry thomas
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 09:31:58

    Speaking as someone who grew up overseas, where I came from didn’t have a separate romance genre. There were authors who wrote love stories, but those novels that focused on primarily romantic relationships could end with the h/h together, or apart. The same author. And her books would be altogether in the bookstore, in the fiction section.

    And man oh man, did I hate those books and stories where I got to the very end and the heroine is dead, or the hero ends up being an abusive jerk, or they are just torn apart by effing fate.

    I don’t know whether it’s a matter of investment, or expectations. I think in my case, the intrinsic injustice in, all the stupidity everyone contributes to, and the powerlessness resulting from an awful ending work together to jack my blood pressure to stratospheric levels. Like reading the news some days.

    When I arrived in this country and saw the rows and rows of clinch covers and realized that naughty covers meant happy endings, woo, boy, that was some discovery.

    I agree with Jane in that the HEA itself is not a limiting factor. There is no creativity without limits. Creativity is all about what we can do given limited tools and many, many constraints.

    If the HEA failed, it’s not an intrinsic fault of the HEA, it’s the journey that failed. The writer didn’t manage to go from Point A to Point B. Instead, she went from point A to point C, and in the end, tried to pass off point C as point B. Readers are not stupid, they know what point B looks like and quacks like and feels like.

    We don’t need a different definition of romance. We need to do better to deliver to the definition we’ve already got.

  30. Gennita Low
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 09:54:42

    Please, I’m already rewriting (in my head) the endings to urban fantasies, women’s fiction, chicklit, and some fantasies. Don’t make me work to rewrite the endings to my romances too. I don’t want them SEPARATED at the end of the book or series. I don’t want one or both of them dead. I don’t want bitterness being the cup of growth and knowledge. I don’t want the bad guys winning. I don’t want a fade-to-black.

    Imagine reading a mystery/adventure and it doesn’t end with any resolution to the main arc. Imagine reading The Fugitive and it ends with the “hero” dead at the end, with no justice done. That story made a promise from the very beginning, and I knew from the very start what it was.

    Likewise, in a romance, I can tell the difference between a story about love and a romance. A story about love is about self-empowerment; the ending can mean one character dying or moving on. And yeah, I rewrite that story line EVERY time with a HEA, dammit. I’m never happy with those books or movies.

    Lastly, HEA means Happily Ever After. It’s open-ended how the couple decides to live “happily ever after.” It doesn’t have to mean a traditional wedding, a dozen children and a white picket fence.

    I agree with Jane and understood her need to rant at a certain book with a two page tragic twist ending. Already rewrote that ending in my head, btw. ;-)

  31. Donna
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 10:01:43

    We don't need a different definition of romance. We need to do better to deliver to the definition we already have.

    I am not a writer but a reader… I know when an author is just go through the motions. You can dare to be different in genre romance fiction. Nora Roberts did it in Angel Falls, not once did the hero ever doubt the heroine… that was different. She didn't take the easy way out by creating the H/H conflict through doubt. I love a romance book that surprises me, and I don't mean by the ending.

    I read different genres mystery, horror, sci fi, etc… when I read a romance I want HEA. If I want a story “true to life” I read non-fiction. As it was said earlier, no one is limiting the author, just don't categorize your book as romance if it does not have HEA. You are only going to make the reader mad, at least this reader.

  32. Robin
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 10:09:34

    Robin's argument is that if the more widely accepted definition was not one that included a HEA, that the ending of books would be more satisfying.

    Well, this is almost what I said. For the benefit of those who missed the debate, my main points were these:

    1. While I think many Romance readers expect an HEA in genre Romance, I don’t think it’s generically required (more on what I mean by the HEA in a minute).

    2. While I agree that an author who sets out to write an HEA and fails does not *necessarily* fail because of the formality of that ending, if she can write Romance without an HEA (and more on what I mean by HEA in a minute) and still be within the genre, she might have more options in plotting and characterization. Why not have that option?

    3. If authors were writing closer to the limits of the genre, I DO think the chances of finding enjoyable books and stories increases, for the same reason I think not writing all virgin heroines or all English historicals does.

    4. I’m not then, drawing the line of logic as one of no HEA = better books, but rather of no HEA = limits of the genre = more variety = chance for better books.

    Reading through Jane’s opinion piece and the comments, I’d also say that I would not include Romeo and Juliet as a Romance (although there is some serious debate about whether or not the play is actually a failed Comedy, which would push it back toward Romance), nor a book like Gone With the Wind. I generally want the couple together at the end (but I don’t have any hard and fast rules about ghosts or what not, depending on whether or not it works in the story), but is the EA I find problematic and unnecessarily limiting in the genre. AAR did a series on the HEA not that long ago, and someone made the point that the HEA was really an import from fairy tales, and that’s my view, as well. I’m all for H but I do not think the EA is generically necessary even though many readers expect or want that. And as I pointed out to Jane yesterday, those of you who do expect and want the HEA are in the position to be gracious winners, as your expectations clearly rule at the publishing houses. ;)

  33. Jane
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:04:54

    Anon – I changed the post. I was actually referring the comments and not necessarily the anon author who was debating with Sarah of SB.

  34. Meljean
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:12:34

    I think I’m having a hard time understanding the difference between “happily” and “ever after” then. If happily, in a romance, means that the characters are in love and they’ve defeated most of their problems … and then the book ends, isn’t that “ever after?”

    Their story is done. There’s nothing that says they stay together forever (except the feeling at the end of “happy” and “in love” and “obstacles traversed”) but nothing that says they won’t last, either. So doesn’t the “happy” at the end — assuming that no further books disprove it — also kind of assume the “ever after?”

    (note to my copy-editor: do you see how I included the question mark within the quotation mark? I have learned (even though I still think it’s wrong!))

  35. romblogreader
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:14:30

    I’m not a mystery reader, so I’m making some guesses based on what I know of mysteries, (and I’m using a concept others have used before here) but when a mystery reader picks up a genre mystery novel, they expect a crime, probably murder. They expect some or someones to investigate that mystery and at the end, they expect to find out who the murderer is (probably with them brought to justice? I don’t read them so I know that bit.)

    But if you picked up novel that’s clearly labeled mystery, you’re expecting to be taken on that specific ride. All the other stuff can change around, you can have cozy or scary or sci fi, I suppose, but if, at the end, all the leads turn out to be red herrings and “no one ever found out who the killer was” was the ending… wouldn’t you have mystery readers flinging the book at the wall?

    I mean, it could be mysterious, and have elements of mystery, it could be literary fiction with elements of mystery, etc but without that payoff of someone solving the murder, I’m assuming that it’s not genre mystery. Right?

    I tend not to like reading tragedies, even well written ones, but sometimes, with well written ones, I do. However, when I pick up a romance, I expect that mystery to be solved in the end, I expect these two people who I’ve been rooting for to get together in the end. I expect it to end on an up note. It’s not that I can’t handle downer endings, but sometimes (usually) I really am not looking for one. It’s not that I can’t handle “challenging” it’s that sometimes? I’m not reading to challenge my perceptions of the human condition. I’m reading to be entertained and to be taken on a *satisfying* love journey. And for me, satisfying means they end up together, that they *win*.

    It’s like you’ve got a pastry with a nice, fluffy exterior, and you’ve been nibbling at it, enjoying it, expecting your desert pastry, then you finally bite in and… hot meat filling. It’s not that I hate hot meat fillings (I’m going to refrain from jokes here) but if I bite into what I think is an apricot pastry and find meat, I’m going to spitting it out. Now, if I knew from the start that I was getting an empanada, or was even told, “Try this pastry surprise”, fine. But if I’m expecting some sort of fruit filling and get meat, it’s going to piss me off.

  36. Meljean
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:15:18

    (I should probably add that, to me, HEA just means that at the end of the book I believe they are in love and will stay together. I don’t need the picket fence or anything (actually, I kind of detest the “we have kids so it proves we’ll stay together” epilogue))

    And I’m okay with ghosts at the end, too.

  37. Kalen Hughes
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:23:50

    If the argument being made is that Happy For Now (HFN) is as good as HEA for genre romance, then I’m willing to back Robin up on this, what I’m not willing to go along with is Erastes’s expansive (and genre decimating) definition of UnHea/UnHFN being just fine and dandy for GENRE romance. There’s plenty of room for that in other genres.

    There is more freedom to write the plots and characters and themes you want in fiction other than genre and less ability to get published there.

    So the whole writing thing is a bit of a conundrum.

    Now this I just don’t get. What is the conundrum? That unhappy endings don’t sell and thus are harder to get published? That’s not a conundrum, that’s just the way of the world. Being published, and being read, is not a right. You have to write something people what to read. And if the only way you can sell that book to the masses is by bait-and-switch (labeling a non-romance book ROMANCE) you're going to have a lot of justifiably unhappy customers.

  38. Robin
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:32:44

    I think I'm having a hard time understanding the difference between “happily” and “ever after” then. If happily, in a romance, means that the characters are in love and they've defeated most of their problems … and then the book ends, isn't that “ever after?”

    Good question. My understanding of the HEA is the explicit guarantee of the Ever After, either through marriage, pregnancy, epilogue, or other means.

    The literary form where marriage is often a standard ending — classical Comedy — is a relative of genre Romance, but even there the marriage had more to do with social progressivism and stability, with fecundity and overall cultural renewal, than the everlasting happiness of the couple. When I hear HEA, I think fairy tale ending.

    I was thinking this morning about Christine Monson’s Rangoon and the ending of that book. Could Monson have reasonably included an epilogue that showed the EA part of the HEA without violating much of the difficulties her characters had because of their personalities and beliefs? I don’t know, but I’m sure glad she didn’t.

    What I take away from these discussions every time they come up, though, is that it would be interesting to poll readers about what — to them — constitutes the HEA. Do the characters have to be in corporeal form? Do they have to be of the same mortal status? Do they have to live in the same time or place? Do they have to be married or have children? Does their love have to transcend time, space, and body? Do people consider the ending of Kinsale’s Seize th Fire to be an HEA? How about the end of Candice Proctor’s Whispers of Heaven? How about the end of Crusie’s Bet Me, which she has said follows a fairy tale structure? How much of the HEA debate is really about generic rules and how much of it is about personal value judgments on what constitutes happiness?

    And does anybody have any clue why the RWA definition of Romance doesn’t explicitly include the HEA? It’s interesting because I usually find their definitions more, not less limiting, so that one’s curious (albeit happily so) to me.

  39. Ann Bruce
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:36:47

    HEA was really an import from fairy tales

    Let’s qualify this statement:

    HEA is really an import from modified (or Disneyfied) fairy tales. Original fairy tales were meant to teach kids to be careful (e.g. do not talk to strangers, do not wander alone into the woods, etc.), so the endings were usually tragic and gory.

    Let me tell, I much prefer the Disneyfied versions of Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid to the originals.

  40. Nora Roberts
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:39:13

    If it’s the EA that’s the problem for some, I can get that. Don’t need to see dogs and kiddies and smiling petunias in an epilogue. Myself, I guess I use HEA as shorthand. I want what most here have said. The couple together and happy at the end, with the promise of continuing to be together. But I don’t need it all spelled out and tied with a ribbon.

    However, if I’ve gotten the happy, and down the line there’s a sequel, and in THAT the happy couple die or divorce or find other lovers, I’m probably going to be pissed. You gave me what I wanted, thanks. So why did you take it away? Just leave it alone. LOL.

    Hannibal is a prime example of this for me–in non-Romance areas. Silence Of The Lambs was brilliant, and imo Clarice Starling an amazingly layered characters–strong, smart, vulnerable, dedicated. And triumphant at the end.

    Then she comes back in the sequel, and she’s a spineless idiot. I felt bretrayed and pissed. I’d feel the same with a well-done Romance that tears it apart in a sequel or connecting book.

    I don’t have to see them living HEA, but I don’t want to see them miserable or separated down the road.

  41. Tracey
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:39:46

    Almost everyone here seem to be somewhat panicked by the idea of a romance where the couple doesn’t end up together. “Oh, no, that’s a love story, not a romance!” Or, “that’s tragedy!” Or, “that’s chick lit!” And that if it doesn’t fit the established parameters of the genre, it’s not escapist, and it’s not romance.

    Here’s the thing, though. Fantasy has managed to be escapist and expand its genre over the years. As have mysteries and science fiction. Genres grow. They grow and they change and they adapt. That’s how literature progresses.

    There has also been a lot of talk about how a romance writer has to give the audience what they want. I think that what most people mean is that the writer should give the audience what the audience EXPECTS: a love story in which the obstacles are mainly those imposed from the outside (family, society, past problems with relationships) and which in no way hamper one nice if previously brooding character and another nice if previously insecure and unhappy character from having a “happily ever after” ending.

    And you know, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of story. But I think it’s a mistake to say that that is the only kind of story that a romance can possibly be. It’s both limited and limiting to say a genre MUST have only a certain kind of ending. Or a certain kind of character. Or a certain kind of relationship. The writer is under no obligation to tell the kind of story that the reader expects. Sometimes the writer’s job is to tell the kind of story that the reader isn’t expecting. Or didn’t think she’d want to hear. Or never even imagined existed.

    The genre of romance needs to grow up and take risks. It needs to get rid of the rules that guarantee that no matter what happens to the characters throughout the book, they are safe and untouchable and will, inevitably, end up together. It needs to dispel the illusion that a romance must necessarily be a happy one in order to count. It needs to stop thinking that reading other romance writers counts as historical research, instead of the real thing.

    It needs to accept that romance is no different from any other branch of writing, and that it must grow or perish.

    For if you’re going to say that a book isn’t REALLY a whatever-genre because it doesn’t do whatever has always been done before–well, that’s when death sets in.

  42. Nora Roberts
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:50:12

    ~what the audience EXPECTS: a love story in which the obstacles are mainly those imposed from the outside (family, society, past problems with relationships) and which in no way hamper one nice if previously brooding character and another nice if previously insecure and unhappy character from having a “happily ever after” ending.~

    I don’t agree with this at all, and don’t think the above description defines the genre or reader expectations.

    And, I have to say, when someone starts telling me Romance needs to do this, needs to stop that or it’s doomed, it doesn’t play for me. Romance as genre has evolved and changed and continues to do so, winding out to snag in elements of other genres to form new and exciting subsets. But all of those are still built on the basic constants, a love story between two characters that has a happy, satisfying ending.

    Not wanting that or not liking that, as a reader or a writer is fine. There’s plenty of books out there that aren’t built on that framework–and plenty of them that include relationships.

    And let me add, because I’ve been around a really long time. I’ve heard this kind of thing throughout my career. Yet the genre remains true to its constants and expectations, and remains viable.

  43. Keishon
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:56:09

    I read mystery and other genres outside romance and accept the fact that the ending in those books could be a bad one or a good one. In general, most people do prefer a good ending, regardless the genre. Also, like someone else mentioned, there are some really good books out there with tragic endings or bittersweet endings. As much as I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife, I didn’t like the ending but damn if it wasn’t an awesome read. The ending was more bittersweet and maybe even hopeful? Then there’s Paullina Simons (awesome writer) who admits to enjoying writing about characters who suffer throughout their journey in life who don’t necessarily make it in the end or make choices that are wholly unpopular (Tilly). Books like this I read once a year. After reading something so completely sad, I turn to romance. Discussions like this always makes my head hurt because different people define HEA this way and that (me included so I didn’t read everybody’s definitions) but for me it’s simple: characters are alive and together thus I’m happy. Period. I know that speaks for any book, not just romance but romance does have a set definition that I think shouldn’t be changed. You have so many hybrid genres, I don’t see how a HEA can blunt the author’s true vision for his or her story.

  44. Jane
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:56:14

    How is it, Tracey, that its a romance if the couple isn’t together at the end? That’s what defines the romance genre to me. If the story is about two dysfunctional people that fall in love and then wake up and realize that they are better off apart and at the end of the book say “I love you” and “Goodbye” and everyone is happy, is that a GENRE romance?

    If you eliminate the HEA or HFN ending (which I don’t see as functionally different as the HEA lives on in the minds of the reader), what is the definition of the GENRE romance? Doesn’t that actually kill the genre instead of making it stronger?

    I don’t get how the elimination of the HEA/HFN ending makes the genre stronger.

  45. Angela
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:58:53

    You know, this topic always ends up dealing with semantics and hyperbole. I think the question is worded incorrectly. While I agree with Tracey to some extent, the romance genre as created in the 1970s is this: heroine meets hero and after a whole bunch of conflict (or BS) fall in love and end up together. Whether that happens in 1137, 1804, 1995, 2007, or 2100, between humans or between the undead/other species, that is a romance genre novel. If the purpose of the novel is to give a character a romantic relationship and then s/he dies in order to show the main character’s growth, it isn’t a romance genre novel. It’s a romance in the fuller sense of the word, but it does not fit in the genre.

  46. bam
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 11:59:25

    I have not read Lover Unbound.

    HOW DOES IT END?!?!?

  47. Robin
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:00:38

    However, if I've gotten the happy, and down the line there's a sequel, and in THAT the happy couple die or divorce or find other lovers, I'm probably going to be pissed. You gave me what I wanted, thanks. So why did you take it away? Just leave it alone. LOL.

    This point goes to the issue of expectations, I think. The question for me, at least, is whether the genre has room for non-HEA endings (I say yes), which is a bit different from what readers want or expect. I think Jane’s position is that reader expectation defines the genre, and mine is that while it may define what’s published, it doesn’t necessary define the genre as a genre. As things stand, the HEA seems to be how the genre is delivered to readers, even though I don’t think it’s generically required. And readers who want the HEA will be disappointed if they don’t get it, so I can see why authors and publishers might not want to mess with what’s selling. But I don’t think that non-HEA endings require *genre expansion* — I think they require expansion in reader expectations, at least in terms of how the majority of readers seem to view the genre now. It will be interesting to see where things are in another generation.

  48. Meljean
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:06:52

    My understanding of the HEA is the explicit guarantee of the Ever After, either through marriage, pregnancy, epilogue, or other means.

    Ah! Okay — if EA means that it’s spelled out, then I don’t need that. If the book was written well and the love story convincing, I’m going to believe it anyway.

    Let me tell, I much prefer the Disneyfied versions of Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid to the originals.

    Me, too. And as much as I love the original versions for how twisted they are, I don’t think of them as romances.

    For if you're going to say that a book isn't REALLY a whatever-genre because it doesn't do whatever has always been done before-well, that's when death sets in.

    If no writers in a genre take risks, I agree that the genre can stagnate. But I just don’t see the romance genre dying if the HEA isn’t done away with — I see the opposite, actually: you do away with the HEA (or just H) and you’ve got a bunch of unhappy readers who aren’t going to be buying books, and a genre that doesn’t exist.

    It needs to get rid of the rules that guarantee that no matter what happens to the characters throughout the book, they are safe and untouchable and will, inevitably, end up together. It needs to dispel the illusion that a romance must necessarily be a happy one in order to count. It needs to stop thinking that reading other romance writers counts as historical research, instead of the real thing.

    I agree with the last point (and is one of the reasons, I’m sure, that many readers are tired of the same-old Regency historicals) but it really doesn’t follow the other two points. And although I don’t think characters should be untouchable (I know I put mine through a hell of a lot) I don’t see why, within a *genre*, there can’t be the guarantee that they’ll end up together. Should romance “grow up” and be literary fiction, where there is no guarantee at all? But then it wouldn’t be genre, would it?

    I know I sound obtuse here … but I just don’t understand why the romance genre *has* to throw away the very conventions that define it to survive — when it seems from all the comments here, that those conventions are what keep readers (and writers) happy, and coming back for more.

  49. Christine Merrill
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:07:51

    “It needs to accept that romance is no different from any other branch of writing,”

    Why?

    You can write a lot of stories, perhaps an infinite number of variations, on the idea that two people will find each other, and be happy together. There is nothing particularly immature about the concept that it’s possible to find and keep a mate.

    Right now, these types of stories are gathered together in one area of the bookstore. Really, that’s all the romance label is doing. Gathering stories of similar type together in one place, to make them easier to find.

    Never mind the dog and kids and picket fence defintion. Personally, I’m not really big on that, even if I put it at the end of some of my stories. I can be quite content, as a reader, with the barest hint that the main couple is meant for each other, and will make it work, even if it’s not spelled out.

    I just don’t see the point of removing the element of optimism in the ending, to prove that we are growing as a genre.

    There’s no law that says an author, including someone who normally writes romances, has to write/sell a story without closing the relationship plot in a way that either shows explicitly, or merely implies, that the couple involved will stay together.

    But why can’t this book be shelved in general fiction, where endings are happy, sad or ambiguous? You also find stories in that section that could be considered mystery, science fiction, and fantasy. But for some reason or other, they don’t quite fit the marketing definition, and so: “General Fiction.”

    But if romance needs to be ‘no different from any other branch’ then there’s really no reason to have a separate section of shelving for it.

  50. Robin
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:08:18

    I think there’s a big difference between the HEA and the HFN ending, because the HFN ending opens up multiple possibilities in the future, and the HEA closes other options off for the couple. The HFN puts the couple’s future in the hands of the reader and the HEA is delivered by the author in specific terms, IMO.

  51. LesleyW
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:10:20

    Bam – it kind of depends on who you ask. I think they said it quite well at All About Romance (paraphrasing) – expect some internet hoohah over this one.

    I haven’t read it yet, but following some of the reviews I’ve read the spoilers and I’m glad I did.

  52. Ann Bruce
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:15:10

    I have not read Lover Unbound.

    HOW DOES IT END?!?!?

    Casper.

  53. Meljean
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:15:52

    I think Jane's position is that reader expectation defines the genre, and mine is that while it may define what's published, it doesn't necessary define the genre as a genre.

    If not what’s published and expected, then what does define it? (just curious about how you define the genre as a genre, then, and where the definition comes from (if not reader/market expectation)? I’ve probably seen you mention it before, but am having a dummy moment)

  54. Janine
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:18:06

    I’ve always been uncomfortable with the term HEA. Not because I don’t want a happy ending (I do), but because I’m never sure if readers even all agree on what the term HEA means. Does it mean the hero and heroine are together and happy at the end of the story? Or does it mean more than that — that they are happy, married, with children, money and a white picket fence? Does it mean they have to say the words “I love you” in the course of the story, or is it enough that their actions show it?

    Does it mean that all the good secondary characters have to end up happy as well, and all the villains have to be dispatched? Does it mean that the hero and heroine never go through any hardships or face any serious conflicts in the course of the story itself, before the ending (living Happily Ever Before, as well as After)? Or does it simply mean that the hero and heroine are together and happy at the end, nothing less and nothing more?

    I personally am in favor of happy endings, not HEA endings. I don’t want what Erastes proposes, either, but I also think sometimes that there is such a thing as too happy.

    When every single good secondary character finds bliss, wealth, health, and children galore, as do the main characters from prequels and sequels, when every villain meets an unhappy fate, when the hero and heroine say “I love you” at unlikely moments, when the characters in a contemporary agree to marry after just three days of knowing each other, when their happiness is never even in jeopardy before the book arrives at the end, that’s when I feel the constraints of the genre. That’s when the book becomes so syrupy sweet that it’s hard to choke down. If that’s what a HEA is, I don’t want it.

    But I do want a happy ending.

  55. RfP
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:20:04

    The current definition of Romance, as it is used to sell books, means that the book has some “happy” in the ending, as it involves the relationship….

    That is not the definition of romance that most of the world would use, though it is the definition for Genre Romance as typified by the category novel. It’s the narrowing of the definition that bothers me in all these discussions. I agree with Erastes to some extent: it’s fine to have a separate definition of Genre Romance. But that doesn’t erase the larger/more general definition of romance. Genre Romance is a large subset of romance.

    When you watch a film about WW II that’s called a romance, why would you expect that it conform to Genre Romance conventions? The broader definition of romance includes love stories of all kinds, all kinds of Renaissance stories, swashbuckling historical fiction (with no love relationships)… even early sci fi was called “scientific romance”. Those works, and those definitions, haven’t gone away. It’s not reasonable to expect the world to narrow their definition because one genre has adopted the term with a special usage.

    if publishers are using Romance as a sales term for one type of book, then they shouldn't slip love stories onto the same shelf, just to up the sales numbers.

    I don’t think shelving “non HEA” romance with Genre Romance is entirely about grabbing romance sales. I think it happens because a lot of general readers (as opposed to us Genre Romance junkies) think of romance as encompassing love story, romantic suspense, Genre Romance, literary romance, and many other forms.

    If the HEA failed, it's not an intrinsic fault of the HEA, it's the journey that failed. The writer didn't manage to go from Point A to Point B.

    True, the author didn’t pull it off. But I think it’s possible that the expectation of the HEA (at least, a particular form of HEA) can contribute to the problem. Not all types of HEA work for all books. Negotiating the “right” kind of resolution is a function of both the author’s vision and the author’s perception of what’s acceptable within genre conventions. That doesn’t mean it’s all the genre’s “fault” when an ending fails, but negotiating conventions is part of what’s involved in writing genre fiction.

    How much of the HEA debate is really about generic rules and how much of it is about personal value judgments on what constitutes happiness?

    Robin, yep. I think often the way the HEA is represented (the epilogue full of marriage and kids, the bad guy being punished, the resolution in which someone’s beliefs change dramatically) is far more about social commentary and mores than about the relationship of the two central characters

  56. Meljean
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:20:13

    If not what's published and expected, then what does define it?

    Crap, never mind. Not necessarily the HEA. *headdesk* Like I said, dummy moment.

  57. Jane
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:20:21

    I guess I don’t see a difference between the HFN and the HEA. Connie Brockway’s All Through the Night ends with the two characters sweeping off into the night. It’s the readers’ imagination that provides the ending, however the reader wants it to end.

    The HEA to me, says, we’re happy and we’re together and we’ll be together forever. The latter might simply be implied. I see the genre defined maybe more by the negative. I.e., a genre romance is NOT when the couple ends apart or one dies. There may be people who enjoy a certain fecundity in their romances but I don’t think that marriage and babies are what define the HEA.

    I love Teller of Tales by Laurel Ames because of the lack of fecundity and was way disappointed in Almost of Gentleman because of the miraculous conception.

    If Eve and Roarke were still dating and not married but merely living together or maybe even not living together, those would still qualify as romances in my mind. Although, Jennifer Crusie has often talked about the importance of marriage in a community setting.

    I guess you can parse the HFN away from the HEA, but it isn’t necessary. I’m not qualified to give an opinion about what you, Robin, refer to as the genre defined generically as I didn’t get a degree in literature.

    But I’m pretty sure that the majority of romances readers read romances for the certainty of the ending. I don’t see that changing in future generations. What are the most popular teen books? Ones that feature boy + girl and happy ending. Meg Cabot, Stephenie Meyer (although she screwed with that one to the dismay of her teen readers), Sarah Dessen, Megan McCafferty’s first two books in her Jessica Darling books, Melissa Marr more recently, Tithe by Holly Black, and so on and so forth. I’ve read those types of endings in books for as long as I can remember: Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (although now as I have aged, I am kind of creeped out about that story). Even Ayn Rand’s stories Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged ended with a couple together.

    The couple together concept isn’t a boring, limiting construct unless the author lets it be.

  58. Keishon
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:28:38

    I’m good with an implied happy ending. It doesn’t always have to be spelled out for me.

  59. Jane
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:29:25

    Let me give one more example. Kathleen O’Reilly’s Beyond Breathless ends with the couple in love, but there is no marriage not even a marriage proposal. The marriage proposal and ultimate marriage doesn’t even take place until the second and third books in the series. I don’t think anyone who read BB would classify that as Not a romance.

  60. JenS
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:30:48

    There are plenty of romance authors that take chances and expand the boundaries of the genre. The one common denominator is the HEA. I know of series that explore a set of characters, each couple getting at chance at their HEA, while the support cast runs through various torments of the un-requited or not-worthy. In one book a particular character can be the villian, yet in the next we see that character from another viewpoint and he/she is explained, redeemed, restored. I have seen innumerable permutations of problems posed and overcome in 40 years of reading.
    If I buy a fantasy/sci-fi, I don’t necessarily expect everyone I care about to come out alive or together. Sometimes it’s just space ships passing in the night. I read a lot of cold-war suspense novels decades ago that had almost everyone dying by the end of the novel. It was tear-jerking and still yes, a satisfying read.
    When I as a consumer, purchase a book shelved as romance, I am expecting to get a story that is primarily about the trials and tribulations of a H/H (whatever the gender) as they negotiate through obstacles of whatever type towards a mutually satisfactory fate together. If I go to the travel section, I don’t want a mystery. I don’t go the cookbook section to find out how to fix my car. We read for different reasons, and pubishers are in the business of figuring out what we want to read and giving it to us.
    Writers write, it seems to me, because they have stories in their head they MUST tell. Too many have described this same need to discount it. However, to be a published author, you must be able to tell a story someone else wants to hear. Look at it this way. How many young people want to be a dancer when they grow up? They love to dance, it makes them happy. They learn and train. Yet if they want to make a living with dancing, they need to specialize and not everyone makes it. If I go to the ballet, I’m not expecting to see tap dancing.
    So write whatever you want. Have the characters turn into big balloons at the end and float away. But you might not find a reader to buy your book.

  61. Keishon
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:35:26

    I personally am in favor of happy endings, not HEA endings. I don't want what Erastes proposes, either, but I also think sometimes that there is such a thing as too happy.

    Agree. This type of topic will never have readers in agreement because what I find happy enough ending might not be enough for the next reader. This will continue to be a debatable issue. I don’t care for sappy endings either, Janine. Sometimes, some authors go absolutely overboard. Less is more sometimes.

  62. Janine
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:39:26

    Let me give one more example. Kathleen O'Reilly's Beyond Breathless ends with the couple in love, but there is no marriage not even a marriage proposal. The marriage proposal and ultimate marriage doesn't even take place until the second and third books in the series. I don't think anyone who read BB would classify that as Not a romance.

    You just moved that book to my must read list, Jane. I’m so tired of couples who marry IMO too quickly and impetuously in contemporaries.

  63. Keishon
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:41:04

    Kathleen O'Reilly's Beyond Breathless ends with the couple in love, but there is no marriage not even a marriage proposal. The marriage proposal and ultimate marriage doesn't even take place until the second and third books in the series. I don't think anyone who read BB would classify that as Not a romance.

    Been meaning to read this since you first reviewed it. See, now that works for me. Later.

  64. Jane
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:45:23

    The funny thing about BB is that I didn’t even realize that they had not been married until in the second book made mention of the hero of BB being nervous about asking Jamie, the heroine, to marry him.

    I had already married them off in my mind and they were enjoying their HEA!

  65. Jessica Inclan
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:46:51

    Kalen–what I meant about conundrum was that in this argument there is the idea that writers should write what they write, no matter the constraints. Artistic freedom and all that. On the other hand, writers should write what the public wants because this is a business. There’s the writers who write what they want and pull their stories into the norm, adding the HEA. That seems to be a conundrum if you’d like to make a living or half a living doing this.

    Jessica

  66. Janine
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:47:40

    I guess I don't see a difference between the HFN and the HEA. Connie Brockway's All Through the Night ends with the two characters sweeping off into the night. It's the readers' imagination that provides the ending, however the reader wants it to end.

    I would call the ending of All Through the Night a happy ending, but not a HEA ending. The ending of My Dearest Enemy though, where there’s an epilogue in which the hero and heroine are shown to have a huge family, is what I think of as a HEA ending.

    Jane, I think the problem is clearly one of semantics. To some readers, HEA means just an ending where the couple is together (like the one in All Through the Night). To others it means an ending where happiness is spelled out in specific terms (an exchange of “I love you” + marriage ring + children + financial stability + health, etc.).

    And that’s why I really dislike using the term HEA. No one agrees on what it means. Why not just say “happy ending” and have done with it? Everyone knows what a happy ending is — it’s an ending in which nothing tragic happens, main characters aren’t killed off, etc.

  67. Jill Myles
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 12:48:55

    This is kind of a hot button for me lately, because my book is going to be marketed as an ‘erotic romance’. To me, it’s not a romance because it follows one heroine, multiple heroes, and not a specific HEA. Yes, a HFN, but like all series, you know they’re going to go through their ups and downs. I want to explore the relationships before tying everything down in one neat package. So, to me, not a romance.

    However, I know people are going to read it and go WTFBBQ? because it says romance on the spine. Oh well.

    To me, romance is HEA. They don’t have to get married and squirt out 2.5 kids in the epilogue, but I want to know that they’re going to be together. BE TOGETHER. Not, Oh We Love Each Other But We’re Apart (cough Disney Pocahontas cough Pirates Of The Caribbean 3 cough). That is not romance. That is *#%$&. That’s almost as big of a betrayal as the ‘noble’ ending of someone dying, like City of Angels that Jaci Burton mentioned (and is reviled).

    I think of romance as that old saying – it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. I know how it’s going to end (and baby, it had BETTER end that way) but I want to experience the journey. That’s all.

  68. Robin
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 13:03:19

    If Eve and Roarke were still dating and not married but merely living together or maybe even not living together, those would still qualify as romances in my mind.

    I’m still a little bit mad at Roarke for manipulating Eve into making a formal commitment so fast, although I definitely think their marriage provided for both more intense emotional conflict between them and greater emotional intimacy. Which is all beyond whether or not the series is Romance and completely about my own reaction to it as a reader. But I totally thought Roarke got what was coming to him at the end of Innocence in Death.

    Meljean, my knee jerk answer is something like ‘from the steaming cauldron of literary studies,’ draws from what is published, contemporary definitions, historical interpretations, and the trajectory of literary history and development. I think Teach Me Tonight did a good piece on the question of definition, actually. It’s an interesting topic, too, because you quickly go into that question of whether Pride and Prejudice is genre Romance despite its publication date, which goes back to where you pull your definition from and how you create your timeline.

    Jane, I think it’s that exact shift from author to reader that makes the critical difference for me between the HFN and the HEA, functionally, structurally, and ideologically. The existence of ambiguity at the end of the book allows me to feel that the couple are HFN without having to know or even think they’re HEA together. When you give the reader the chance to write that HEA ending, you also give them the chance to write a different ending beyond the book, which then IMO changes the framework within which an author is putting a book or series together. I can’t, for example, imagine a different ending to Kinsale’s Seize the Fire, even though my first time through I really wanted an epilogue for Olympia and Sheridan. When I re-read the book, I realized that such a thing would ruin exactly what I found so powerful about their story — the way each of them survives and overcomes so much. Do I think they’ll be together HEA? I don’t know. But if I get the chance to imagine that, or to imagine them simply happy, together or not, 20 years down the line, that, to me, is different than being told the couple lives HEA. It changes my contract with the book, IMO, and it opens the door for many more possibilities within the genre.

  69. sula
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 13:25:46

    Wow, interesting discussion! That comment page got awfully long all of the sudden. :)

    For myself, I’ll just say that at the minimum I expect that my h/h (whatever gender(s) they may be) are together at the end of the book if it is classified as “romance”. What constitutes “together” can be as creative as the author’s imagination allows. Ward’s newest BDB book is a case in point. I know others will have issues with the ending. I really didn’t because the h/h are together, after all. (now, we can argue about what form they have to BE in, but I’m just sayin’…they are together and madly in love).

    Everything else is up for grabs. I don’t have to have white picket fences, marriage, 2.5 kids, etc. In some stories, that works and I like to read about it. In others, it feels forced. I just want the couple to be happy. Does this make me not as sophisticated of a reader as I ought to be? Meh. I dunno nor do I really care. If I pick up a mystery, I expect it to be solved by the end of the book. If I pick up a romance, I expect the protaganists to be together by the end of the book. In my mind, I write in the EA part even if it’s not spelled out.

  70. Tracey
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 13:35:11

    How is it, Tracey, that its a romance if the couple isn't together at the end? That's what defines the romance genre to me. If the story is about two dysfunctional people that fall in love and then wake up and realize that they are better off apart and at the end of the book say “I love you” and “Goodbye” and everyone is happy, is that a GENRE romance?

    Jane–To me, what defines a romance is that the main plot is a love story. Period. I don’t have to know that the two protagonists are going to live happily ever after, or even happily for now.

    They CAN, mind you. I’m not in favor of eliminating “happily ever after” from the genre. Read–or write–happily ever afters if you want to; I don’t care. I AM saying that every romance does not have to end with a guarantee of a future together. Indeed, I can think of a lot of existing romances where the couple doesn’t end up together:

    Casablanca. Rick sends Ilse off with her husband, and leaves to go fight in the Resistance. The movie is pure romance–and yet the two who are in love end up saying “Goodbye.”

    Wuthering Heights. Pure Gothic romance. Heathcliff and Cathy love each other passionately…but they marry the wrong people, Cathy dies, and Heathcliff ends up ruining his life and trying to ruin those around them. The book ends on a hopeful note where Hareton Earnshaw and Cathy’s daughter, Catherine Linton, are concerned. But for Heathcliff and Cathy, there’s no happily ever after ending.

    Sense and Sensibility. Okay, yes, Marianne ends up marrying Colonel Brandon, which could be considered a happily ever after, but her relationship with Willoughby–which occupies much of the book and the films–does not pan out.

    Anna Karenina. Anna has a long passionate love affair with Count Vronsky, then throws herself under a train as he goes off to war.

    Romeo & Juliet. Pure tragic romance. The two love each other deeply, and both commit suicide.

    At Swim, Two Boys. Two Irish boys fall passionately in love at the time of the Easter Rising. One dies.

    “But,” I can hear someone saying in the back, “these aren’t GENRE romances!”

    Well, no, they aren’t anything that would be sold by Harlequin, or most other romance publishers. Based on submission guidelines, I’d say that romance publishers tend to favor cookie-cutter love stories, in which the happily ever after is guaranteed.

    But are they romances? I’d have to say “Hell yes!” They’re books and plays and films in which the main plot is the love story between two people. Most people would call that a romance.

    If you eliminate the HEA or HFN ending (which I don't see as functionally different as the HEA lives on in the minds of the reader), what is the definition of the GENRE romance? Doesn't that actually kill the genre instead of making it stronger?

    A) I’m not arguing for the elimination of the HEA or HFN ending. Every ending having to be sad would be just as silly as every ending having to be happy. I’m arguing for variety, not one ending fits all.
    B) Love stories have been around as long as there have been people. How could the genre’s admission that there are many different kinds of love stories and many possible endings to a love story possibly destroy it?

    To me, the whole argument is rather like quarreling about ice cream. Some people love chocolate ice cream, and that’s the only kind of ice cream they want to eat. And that’s fine. But then you get people who don’t like the taste of chocolate. They want something else. Vanilla. Butter Pecan. Chunky Monkey.

    Chocolate being a favorite flavor, the other flavors might be rarer. But it would be very silly, not to say presumptuous to tell someone who’s a fan of strawberry ice cream that that isn’t REAL ice cream–REAL ice cream is chocolate! And what will happen to the genre of ice cream if we start expanding and accepting these non-chocolate flavors?

    The category of ice cream gets bigger, that’s what. More people buy ice cream. And some people buy just chocolate, and some buy just strawberry, and then one day, someone buys both, and likes both. And then someone discovers another flavor that could be delicious ice cream. And another. And another. And as the category grows, so do all the possible combinations and permutations.

    Having a variety of choices is a gain, not a loss. Thirty-one flavors are better than one.

  71. Patrice Michelle
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 13:50:20

    I read everything from urban fantasy to mystery to genre romance. The difference is I put on a different ‘expectation’ hat when I read an urban fantasy that has romantic elements vs a straight romance. So I understand where readers are coming from when they don’t get their HEA. Why spend hours of their precious reading time to see the hero or heroine die or pulled apart at the end?

    A while back there was all this bruhaha over RWA’s definition of romance. Is it one man, one woman, two men, two men and a woman….ah, it was crazy! LOL! The whole point is…that the elements that make up a romance are shifting and changing with the times, but the one constant that remains is the HEA ending. It’s the one thing genre romance readers depend on. And I really get that. I do.

    I had a girlfriend send me her book and I (assuming it was a romance) giggled and laughed so hard at everything the heroine and hero went through. When I got to the end…I said, “Where’s the HEA? I KNOW they get one, right?” I told the author I loved her book, but that if she had just told me that it wasn’t a genre romance with a trad. HEA ending, I’d have read with a different expectation instead of feeling slightly let down when I finished the book. See, it all came down to my built up expectation. It’s like seeing a glass of refreshing ice tea on the table and taking it great big gulp, only to discover that it’s really apple juice! I like apple juice just as much, but I was expecting tea. :)

  72. Nora Roberts
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 14:13:39

    Tracey, your comments come across, to me anyway, as someone who doesn’t much like and certainly doesn’t respect the genre. Your earlier description of what you proposed was the standard plotline, the term cookie-cutter.

    And the books you named, while I’ve enjoyed most of them, aren’t Romance novels–just as you said someone would point out. They’re love stories, and there is a difference, in genre definition and in publishing terms.

    The happy ending at the core of the genre doesn’t, to me and the majority of readers, equal all the books are the same. That there’s no variety within the genre. On the contrary, there’s vast variety.

    I did a keynote at RWA about this very thing–and won’t go into the whole deal here. But to cut to the chase–Gaffney’s Wickerly trilogy, Emma Holly’s All U Can Eat, JR Ward’s Brothers series, Singe’s paranormal series, Lani Rich’s romantic comedies. How are they all the same, cookies cut out of the same dough?

  73. Christine Merrill
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 14:22:27

    To me, the whole argument is rather like quarreling about ice cream.

    But we don’t define ice cream by the flavor. We define it by the fact that it contains cream. If it doesn’t have cream in it, it cannot be sold as ‘ice cream.’

    So to a person who defines romance by the ending, your arguement is like saying, “This is just as good if we make it with tofu.”

    But then it wouldn’t be ice cream.

    “Cold and creamy.”

    But not made with cream.

    “You’ll eat more tofutti if we put it in the ice cream freezer.”

    No we won’t.

    It’s like James Frey trying to expand the definiton of ‘memoir.’

    The fact that people are using “Genre romance with HEA or HFN” as the definition of romance is preventing all types of love stories from being written and sold.

    But you aren’t going to build a larger reader base for romance by trying to convince people that they really want books with unhappy endings. If they want a book like that, they aren’t that hard to find.

    The reason that ‘happy end’ romances are shelved together is that it is not the popular literary choice. Readers wanted to be assured of the happy end, and the genre rose from there. As fewer and fewer readers see ‘getting married and having 2.5 kids’ as the definition of their happy reality, they allow more latitude in the HEA ending.

    But reader preferences won’t change to prefer a tragic ending by changing the way the book is labeled.

  74. Christine Merrill
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 14:25:48

    The fact that people are using “Genre romance with HEA or HFN” as the definition of romance is preventing all types of love stories from being written and sold.

    Uhhhh, that should be “NOT preventing all types of love stories…”

    Little words make a big difference.

  75. Kalen Hughes
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 14:55:11

    How could the genre's admission that there are many different kinds of love stories and many possible endings to a love story possibly destroy it?

    It’s not about admitting that there are different kinds of love stories. I readily admit that. It’s about breaking the contract the genre has with the readers (buy a romance, get a happy ending). This contract has made genre romance the number one selling type of fiction, so I heartily doubt that the genre needs any expanding, redefining, or reevaluation.

    Other kinds of love stories ALREADY have a home in other areas of publishing (women's fiction, chick lit, general fiction, literary fiction). The only benefit I see to “expanding” the definition of what's required for a novel to be labeled and shelved with genre romance to include bittersweet and unhappy endings is a small uptick in sales for those writers who mislabel their books followed by a huge downtick in sales for everyone.

    Our readers are not stupid, and they won't stand to be burned repeatedly just because some authors feel they are ENTITLED to higher sales and that the best way to get them is to TRICK romance readers into buying their books. If we were to abandon the HEA guarantee, readers would quickly become leery of buying any book not by a tried and true author, and that would kill the genre.

    It put it in a nut shell, if you want an unhappy ending, you can find plenty of them in book stores (hello Nicolas Sparks), you just can't find them in the genre romance section. You're creating a problem where no problem exists.

  76. Nora Roberts
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 15:00:04

    I don’t want to highjack the thread–but an aside to Robin re the In Death series.

    At the time I, neither I nor the publisher knew if the series would fly. I had a three book contract for them, so I planned a three-book arc to take the relationship, and the characters from the meet, the development of the relationship and into marriage. If I’d known I could do a zillion more, would I have delayed the proposal, etc? Maybe–hard to say–I might’ve played it out for another book or two. But one of my key hopes, if I was able to continue to write them, was to explore marriage rather than courtship.

    So, anyway, for better or worse, that’s one of the reasons why Roarke pushed so fast.

  77. Wendy
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 15:08:01

    OMG – verbatim what Kalen said.

  78. Patrice Michelle
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 15:36:42

    Nora said:

    The happy ending at the core of the genre doesn't, to me and the majority of readers, equal all the books are the same. That there's no variety within the genre. On the contrary, there's vast variety.

    I agree. To me, this is what makes this genre so fun and challenging to write in. When readers KNOW that the hero and heroine will be together by the end, then it’s up the author to make sure she (or he) really puts the H/H in situations that makes the reader wonder how in the world she’s going to ‘make it work out’ in the end.

    Some might like to think the romance genre is formulaic, but really, the only constant is that HEA. All the rest is the author’s imagination run amok.

  79. Donna
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 15:44:31

    Nora,

    When I read the first few In Death books I didn’t know it was you writing them. They were shelved in the mystery isle and I was so afraid that the two would not get together. Once I found out JD Robb was Nora Roberts I breathed a sigh of relief. Had I found these books across the isle (in the romance section) I wouldn’t have worried.

    We readers become invested in the characters that are created by authors, we love them, we don’t want to see harm come to them. We want their lives to end up together. Isn’t that a compliment to the power of the genre? the author? Why would anyone want to break that trust?

    I know when it is in the romance section I will have a HEA or HFN book. I love that! If I don’t want it I go down a section or two and find plenty of other books shelved in the general fiction or literature section. By the way, I dislike the fact they call it literature… like the books shelved in other sections are not literature.

    If it’s not broken don’t fix it.

  80. Sandra Schwab
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 15:44:43

    I'd say that romance publishers tend to favor cookie-cutter love stories, in which the happily ever after is guaranteed.

    Tracey, it’s pretty obvious that you neither like nor read romance (as in subgenre of popular fiction). And the old cookie-cutter argument? Oh please! By the same token, any classic five-act tragedy is cookie-cutter because, hey, by the end of the play the author kills everybody off.

  81. Angela James
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 16:07:03

    When Jane mentioned this discussion she’d had with Robin to me a few days ago, I actually cited Roarke and Eve as my example. If I didn’t know that Eve and Roarke would have their HEA or their HFN or whatever you want to call it, there is no way on God’s green earth that I would have invested all that time reading almost thirty books. And re-reading. But I feel “safe” making that emotional and time commitment because I know that Nora Roberts won’t decide to suddenly change the genre definition of romance and that I can count on Eve and Roarke to live an emotionally satisfying future. Oh hell, I know they’ll have a HEA.

    From a publisher point of view, this is a conversation that we’ve had on the editor loops several times. All of the editors are romance readers and all agree that if a book is labeled a romance, we would expect some sort of promise of happiness between the main protagonists. We have changed the labels of books where this doesn’t happen. Even knowing that sales will be less for books that don’t say “romance” on them. Why do we do this? Because we are first readers and know that any publisher/author that betrayed us once in this manner would not so easily get a second chance and we don’t intend to give readers any reason to feel they can’t trust our genre labels. And with ebooks? Not so easy with the peek-to-the-end-before-you-buy thing. And you know, people often point to ebooks as the area for trying something new and being different but this is not the area in which Samhain has any particular desire to blaze trails because I don’t think they’d be happy ones (for either us or readers).

    Also, I must say very frankly, the people who think that it’s okay to change the definition of romance genre are simply not the ones speaking with their pocketbooks.

    side note to Meljean and total deviation from the topic:

    note to my copy-editor: do you see how I included the question mark within the quotation mark? I have learned (even though I still think it's wrong!))

    Me too. That’s why Samhain style uses it outside and it totally makes sense once you know the rules behind it ;)

  82. DS
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 16:10:43

    Janine wrote

    snip

    When every single good secondary character finds bliss, wealth, health, and children galore, as do the main characters from prequels and sequels, when every villain meets an unhappy fate, when the hero and heroine say “I love you” at unlikely moments, when the characters in a contemporary agree to marry after just three days of knowing each other, when their happiness is never even in jeopardy before the book arrives at the end, that's when I feel the constraints of the genre. That's when the book becomes so syrupy sweet that it's hard to choke down. If that's what a HEA is, I don't want it.

    But I do want a happy ending.

    Oh, gawd, even worse. The villians are all reformed and then they “get” a HEA.

    Head-Desk

  83. Jane
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 16:19:50

    Parsing the definition of HEA/HFN aside, how does genre limitations restrict a writer? I just don’t really understand that concept. Or, taking it even farther, assume that the romance genre is just HEA as expressly articulated by the author in some form of formal social commitment (baby optional), how does that still limit the author? I mean, doesn’t the author have the right to write whatever she wants? I’m kind of befuddled by this still.

  84. Jane
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 16:21:05

    Maybe a different way to ask it is – if the romance genre is not robust now, what would the definition of robust be? If it is a dying genre, then is it because of hybridization or lack thereof?

  85. Patrice Michelle
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 16:25:26

    The only limitation I’m aware of is..don’t kill the hero or the heroine. You might put them through the ringer, but death is well…pretty final.

    The only time I’ve seen this work for readers is through reincarnation stories re: Remembrance by Jude Deveraux (I cried through this book but it still sticks in my memory to this day)

  86. Tracy
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 16:27:51

    Tracey~cookie cutter? Have you read genre romance lately? The guarnatee is the HEA or HFN at the end. That is the only thing that is the “same.” The reason I but “same” in quotes is that even that is not the same. An HEA can be the couple saying they want to continue on in this romance, finally admitting they love each other, a proposal, a marriage, babies and everything in between. I am not opposed to the “marriage and babies” HEA as long as it fits with the characters and the story and is not forced.

    The conflicts and struggles from beginning to end are vast and varied. Some are so conflicting you wonder how this couple will ever work it out and some take you gently along their journey to love.

    Cookie Cutters? I don’t think so.

  87. Michelle
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 16:30:25

    I want the hero and heroine together and happy in the end. I don’t want to worry about them not ending up together, or having one of them being killed off. In fantasy I think there is no expectation of a guranteed ending so there is no feeling of betrayal if a major character dies.

  88. Janine
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 16:35:58

    Parsing the definition of HEA/HFN aside, how does genre limitations restrict a writer? I just don't really understand that concept. Or, taking it even farther, assume that the romance genre is just HEA as expressly articulated by the author in some form of formal social commitment (baby optional), how does that still limit the author? I mean, doesn't the author have the right to write whatever she wants? I'm kind of befuddled by this still.

    It doesn’t limit a writer who just wants to write for personal pleasure but it does limit the writer or author who wants to be published. Because if publishers won’t publish it unless it has marriage and kids and white picket fence etc., then the author can’t write it and still be published. Which means it also limits the reader who prefers the HFN and who then can’t find many books with HFN endings.

  89. Meljean
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 16:39:08

    I don’t feel limited, but then I’m not wired to write anything but a happy ending, and so that’s where I’m headed anyway.

    If my publisher required me to put in the baby or the marriage, then I’d feel limited and freak out, I think the end would ring false, and I’d start looking for somewhere else to place the stories (just as I would look for somewhere else to put a story without a happy ending, no matter how romantic it is).

    But if robust means that a romance genre book can end with “okay, we love each other, but we’re going to break up or die next year” then, um, I think I’ll stay with lean and skinny (although “okay, we love each other, and the future is uncertain but I think we can make a go of this” works just fine for me).

  90. Nora Roberts
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 17:58:25

    ~Because if publishers won't publish it unless it has marriage and kids and white picket fence etc., then the author can't write it and still be published. ~

    But I don’t think this is true. Within Romance there are plenty of books that don’t end with weddings or babies or that pretty house with the white picket fence. Books that end with the promise of a future, where the couple are together, and have made an emotional commitment to each other.

    I’ve never felt constricted by the genre expectations–and since I’ve been writing for 27 years, that’s saying something. I write what I prefer to read most of the time, and that’s a story with a happy, satisfying ending. If it’s a Romance, then the main characters are together. If it’s Mystery, good overcomes evil. I like that. I want to write that. I want to read that. I don’t especially like books where the heroine throws herself under a train at the end, because I think: You dumbass, now you’re dead and what did that prove?

  91. Christine Merrill
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 18:00:43

    Parsing the definition of HEA/HFN aside, how does genre limitations restrict a writer?

    Every time we don’t end with marriage and babies, the editors send a hit squad to cut off our pinkies. Some of us are typing with bloody stumps.

    Really, I both read and write, and I’m not getting a sense of restriction in how the stories have to end. ‘Happy’ covers a lot of ground.

    I read contemps by Jenny Crusie and Lani Diane Rich. The couples end up together (probably), but they aren’t pregnant and headed down the aisle.

    I write Regency historicals. So far, my characters all end up married or engaged, and some of the women are pregnant.

    I’ve got a story with a satisfying end, but without the couple pairing off. I think it will sell eventually. But it’s not a romance, and I’ve got no problem with that. I don’t intend to re-write it to be one. I hope it is never marketed as one. It is what it is. But I am not going to complain that it doesn’t fit the mold, or try to change the mold.

    And I am not going to tell my editor that that my next historical will ‘…transcend the genre. The hero dies. The heroine becomes a nun…’ The poor woman would die of shock, but not before rejecting the manuscript, in the politest possible way. She lets me write whatever I want, within reason, but she’s not looking for a tragedy.

    And I wouldn’t even have any fun doing it. I wouldn’t want to read this book. Why would I write it? I’m with Maljean. For the most part, I like happy endings. So if we seem restricted, it might be because we are writing what we like to read.

  92. Robin
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 18:03:47

    Parsing the definition of HEA/HFN aside, how does genre limitations restrict a writer?

    My response would be that genre restricts a writer because that’s what genre *is* — a series of formalistic boundaries that create a sort of formalistic coherence. What I take issue with is the IMO (insert favorite word) conflation of ideological and formalistic limitations. So in the same way that for me the HEA is an *interpretation* of the formal requirement in Romance for the uplifting, emotional satisfying (aka happy and just) ending, so is the assertion of one woman one man an interpretation of the formal requirement of the love relationship. Each of these creates a limit, but the ideological limitation (e.g. Romance can only be m/f) is usually narrower, and while it ultimately affects the form of any particular book, it’s not definitively required of the genre on a purely formalistic level. So in one case the limitation is part of writing in a specific genre, and in the other it’s a reflection of particular values or beliefs or ideals.

  93. Robin
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 18:14:16

    At the time I, neither I nor the publisher knew if the series would fly. I had a three book contract for them, so I planned a three-book arc to take the relationship, and the characters from the meet, the development of the relationship and into marriage. If I'd known I could do a zillion more, would I have delayed the proposal, etc? Maybe-hard to say-I might've played it out for another book or two. But one of my key hopes, if I was able to continue to write them, was to explore marriage rather than courtship.

    Wow, thanks for explaining that; a lot fell into place when I read it.

    Personally, I like the marriage aspect of the series because it keeps both of those hotheads, I mean, characters from storming out on each other all the time. And retrospectively speaking, Roarke can be pushy and controlling, so on one level the whole thing works. And since Glory is probably my favorite book in the series, it clearly worked for me as a reader. But yeah, it also IMO introduced a level of insensitivity to his character that he had to spend a number of books working off, lol. It just kept me from completely warming up to him until well into the series, which I don’t see as positive or negative, just as part of my reading experience. But I DO use that example to rebut readers who think that Roarke isn’t getting what he deserves from Eve, i.e. that she’s not giving enough. He didn’t just ask for it, but demanded it (IMO even emotionally blackmailed Eve for it), I point out.

  94. Christine Merrill
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 19:22:37

    What I take issue with is the IMO (insert favorite word) conflation of ideological and formalistic limitations.

    The formulsitic limitations are only there to make it easier to group and sell books, which helps readers find them, and buy them, and then we get money and can write more books. It’s a marketing tool.

    And it’s probably one of the reasons that romance sells better then lit fic.

    But the m/f thing, or even the idea that it be two people, is still wide open for debate. For the most part, we are writing the stories we want to write, whatever that may be, and aren’t sticking our noses into other people’s work.

    Of course, if I’d have written Brokeback Mountain, it would have had a happy ending. Why do we have to give a story artistic value by punishing people for being in love?

  95. Gennita Low
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 19:51:48

    Umm, what is wrong with “limits” as it is defined? I love my romances in the romance genre; I love my love stories in the women’s fiction/general fiction genre. As a reader, I enjoy both kinds of stories.

    Re: Tracey, the examples you brought up (Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet, Casablanca, etc.) are NOT romances. They are love stories. A few of them are my favorite books of all time, but I’ve never considered them romance books.

    If they were published today, I would shelve them in the women’s fiction/general fiction section. You can keep arguing those books are romances, fine, that’s your perogative, but there’s neither here nor there. Most romance readers would not expect them or any books written today with similar endings be shelved under romance.

    Why would one element–the HEA–make a romance “cookie cutter”? It defines the genre, just as a whodunit is defined by its novel elements. IMO, there is no other genre richer than the romance genre, with its subsets and crossover appeal. Romance readers do not need to be “taught” that there are more broader endings than the traditional HEA; they get those from the many offerings out there about which they talk up a storm on Romance boards–in urban fantasies, scifi romances, etc. The readers already know what they want from each genre. No need to show them that there are different kinds of stories out there. Just MHO, of course.

  96. Jennifer McKenzie
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 19:52:13

    I got to comment #71 and realized I was getting a little pissed off.
    Anyone who knows me will tell you that if I hear a book being recommended (or a movie) I ask “Does it have a happy ending?” I demand it. It’s my pet peeve.
    So, yes I was FURIOUS with “City Of Angels”. I loved the movie and I get that the angel has character growth and such but it was BILLED AND ADVERTISED as a love story.
    Another one that made me mad? “Message In A Bottle”. Now, I didn’t know who Nicolas Sparks was at the time (or I would have known better) but I thought the concept was so sweet. My mistake.
    If I pick up a romance–historical, suspense, fantasy, sci fi–I want my HEA or HFN. If the author gives me a dead hero, a cheating heroine or character “growth” without character happiness, I will throw that book against the wall and into a bag for the used bookstore.
    And until I read this topic, I didn’t think I had strong feelings about it. LOL.
    It’s why I stick with romance as an author. I like my HEA.

  97. Kathy
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 21:11:19

    First let me say that I am very pleased with the responses from some of my favorite romance authors. I have been reading romance novels for over 35 years (does anyone remember Barbara Cartland??) and I buy a romance for…you got it! The Romance. That means that I expect a romance novel to be about the two protagonists ending up happy together.

    Regarding the question presented..”Does the romance genre need to expand?” I have a question in response….expand how? The genre has been expanding quite nicely already and still keeps the basic concept of having two people being happy together at the end. When romance books were just beginning they were mostly historical romances. Now the romance genre has “expanded” to include romantic suspense, contemporary romance, paranormal romance, futuristic romance, fantasy romance plus several other sub-categories but all still including the title “romance”.

    My hsuband (and I enjoy them too) reads James Patterson, John Grisham, Tim Dorsey, Harlan Coben, Kathy Reichs and Tim Dorsey to name a few. Some of these authors include a love story or love interest in their plots, but believe me when I say the hubby isn’t reading them for a love story. He enjoys the suspense, mystery and thrill of the overall story.

    When I read a romance book that is marketed as a suspense/romance for example, I’m reading it to get involved in the suspense, the protagonisit’s relationship along the way and to get a happy, satisfying ending for the two with a resolution to the suspense. If I want to read a book that is mainly about the suspense and the character’s don’t have an HEA, I’ll read one of my husband’s books. And there are times that is exactly what I want to read…a suspense novel.

    If people want to read books that don’t always end up with an HEA then there are thousands of novels that are located in the bookstores down the general fiction aisle, or the mystery/suspense aisle, or the adventure/thriller aisle or the sci-fi/fantasy/horror aisle. When I go to my local Border’s, B&N or BAM and walk to the Romance aisle, I’m expecting to get a great read that has a happy ending.

  98. Ann Aguirre
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 22:15:16

    Stories such as Wuthering Heights are tragic romances, not to be confused with modern romance novels. There’s a huge variety to be had within this genre, not to mention all the cross-over with fantasy romance and sci-fi romance, and with Shomi, post-apocalyptic romance.

    Debating whether a romance novel, as defined by modern genre standards, ought to have a happy ending is like arguing whether a slice of bread needs to be browned, however lightly, in order to be toast.

  99. Janine
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 22:22:04

    But I don't think this is true. Within Romance there are plenty of books that don't end with weddings or babies or that pretty house with the white picket fence. Books that end with the promise of a future, where the couple are together, and have made an emotional commitment to each other.

    I don’t know of many books within Romance that don’t end with at least a marriage proposal. I think it’s quite possible to have a deep emotional commitment *without* marriage, but I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve read in the genre that have that commitment without an engagement. I have to go outside romance to chick lit or to something like Megan Hart’s erotic novels to find most of those HFN books. Maybe I’m reading the wrong, books, I don’t know.

    Does it bother me as a reader? In historicals, not so much. But in contemporaries? You betcha. It bothers me that I don’t see contemporary attitudes toward love and marriage among young people today (such as deciding to live together for a couple of years before getting married) reflected in books that are set in contemporary times.

  100. Janine
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 22:51:32

    Oh, and to Christine who mentioned Jennifer Crusie and Lani Diane Rich? I loved Welcome to Temptation (one of my favorite contemporary romances ever) but I was a bit disappointed by the ending of Anyone But You (an otherwise good book).

    It’s been ages since I read the book so I could be misremembering but what I remember is that the heroine was freshly divorced and did not want children, yet she and the hero got engaged or maybe even married within a few weeks, or at most a few months of meeting. I remember thinking “What’s the rush? You just got out of a bad marriage. Your biological clock isn’t ticking. Why on earth would you get married so quickly instead of moving in together and then getting married after you’ve known each other say, a year?”

    I haven’t read Lani Diane Rich’s books but I’m 99% sure that they are labeled as chick lit, and not romance. And I believe Crusie has said her collaborations with Bob Mayer aren’t romances either.

    So you are making my point for me. The HFN I am looking for is tough to find in the romance genre itself.

  101. Robin
    Sep 18, 2007 @ 23:10:35

    The HFN I am looking for is tough to find in the romance genre itself.

    Agreed.

    Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet, Casablanca, etc.) are NOT romances.

    re. Wuthering Heights, what makes it not a Romance (ignoring its publication date)? Heathcliff and Cathy are together, forever, happily wandering the moors. Their love transcends everything and endures beyond the body. Plus, younger Catherine and Hareton fall in love and seem to break the family curse by being happily in love and still in corporeal form.

  102. RfP
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 01:27:56

    I am not going to tell my editor that that my next historical will ‘…transcend the genre. The hero dies. The heroine becomes a nun…'

    I don’t think “transcending genre” has to mean rejecting specific genre rules. I recently read Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold, and I would say that her characterization of Sebastian transcends genre. What I mean is:

    Gaffney risks turning readers against him by showing that he’s truly not a “nice” or unselfish person. He has some very unattractive qualities, including habitual indifference toward others and boy-poking-frog-with-stick cruelty.

    Taking a character who’s not admirable and making him sympathetic is a great piece of characterization in any genre, and something that I don’t see often in romance. It does happen, but it’s also common to show a tyrant type but not really get inside his head, or to portray it as a positive quality/turn-on, or to make excuses for him so it’s not really a flaw.

    (I know some readers don’t like Sebastian. Un-admirable narrators don’t always succeed in literary fiction either.)

    In case anyone mistakes me–I’m by no means saying that TH&TH is non-romance because it’s well-written! There’s lots of well-written romance, including TH&TH. But one aspect of the book transcends genre boundaries, because it challenges readers’ expectations. Some romances can garner cross-over readership from other genres, and I think that characterization makes TH&TH one.

    I read somewhere that Bob Mayer calls romance the closest relative of literary fiction, because it’s all about character. While there are a number of quibbles one could make with that statement, it struck a chord with me. It’s the exploration of character in TH&TH that I find genre-expanding–not any specific plot point like whether the ending is happy.

  103. Angela
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 03:25:56

    I don't know of many books within Romance that don't end with at least a marriage proposal. I think it's quite possible to have a deep emotional commitment *without* marriage, but I can count on one hand the number of books I've read in the genre that have that commitment without an engagement.
    Sharon Cullars’ Again ended with the h/h starting their courtship over again and I loved it because I have never seen that before. Oddly enough I didn’t doubt that the ending was HEA because it said “romance” on the spine.

    It bothers me that I don't see contemporary attitudes toward love and marriage among young people today (such as deciding to live together for a couple of years before getting married) reflected in books that are set in contemporary times.
    It doesn’t bother me because a) the general goal in a romance novel is marriage. Heroes shy from it and heroines obsess over it (especially if they’re over 30) & b) the average romance writer and reader appears to be a married woman with parents who married, etc. Most of the people I know, in my generation, who are living with their significant others and are having children with them didn’t come from “traditional” backgrounds–not only marriage-wise, but from a socio-economic level. Being a 20-something today (the average age of a romance h/h) is a completely different thing than being 20-something in the 90s or even the 80s, and to be honest, since I don’t feel contemporary romances are targeted to todays 20-somethings, I don’t mind the “time warp”.

  104. Angela
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 03:28:01

    I don't know of many books within Romance that don't end with at least a marriage proposal. I think it's quite possible to have a deep emotional commitment *without* marriage, but I can count on one hand the number of books I've read in the genre that have that commitment without an engagement.

    Sharon Cullars' Again ended with the h/h starting their courtship over again and I loved it because I have never seen that before. Oddly enough I didn't doubt that the ending was HEA because it said “romance” on the spine.

    It bothers me that I don't see contemporary attitudes toward love and marriage among young people today (such as deciding to live together for a couple of years before getting married) reflected in books that are set in contemporary times.
    —-
    It doesn't bother me because a) the general goal in a romance novel is marriage. Heroes shy from it and heroines obsess over it (especially if they're over 30) & b) the average romance writer and reader appears to be a married woman with parents who married, etc. Most of the people I know, in my generation, who are living with their significant others and are having children with them didn't come from “traditional” backgrounds-not only marriage-wise, but from a socio-economic level. Being a 20-something today (the average age of a romance h/h) is a completely different thing than being 20-something in the 90s or even the 80s, and to be honest, since I don't feel contemporary romances are targeted to todays 20-somethings, I don't mind the “time warp”.

  105. francois
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 06:00:28

    Tracey said “Having a variety of choices is a gain, not a loss. Thirty-one flavors are better than one.”

    Actually no. Thats just a ploy of advertisers. People *think* more choice must be better than less. But what really makes us happy is our favourite flavour. Trying other varieties just makes you appreciate your favourite flavour more after the break. My favourite flavour is romance, including some sort of HEA.

    (For more on the variety-doesn’t-make-you-happy thing, read “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert.)

  106. ilona
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 07:42:59

    :raises hand: As someone who actually read Anna Karenina in the original, it’s not so much a love story as a commentary by Tolstoy on restrictions that are placed by society on the rights, emotions, and freedoms of the individual. It is a very political book written with a very specific purpose, and like most of his work, it’s designed to showcase the smothering effect of Russian aristocratic society.

    As to should romance have a happy ending or should not… Well, I think you have to write what you must and try to categorize it later. There are times when I found myself picking up the book and knowing that a tragic end is coming but reading it anyway, because of the beauty of the work. And then there are times when I simply want an HEA.

    That said, I don’t mind waiting for my HEA for a few books in a series, as long as I’m given an indication that it is coming somewhere at the end of the rainbow.

  107. RfP
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 08:34:09

    It bothers me that I don't see contemporary attitudes toward love and marriage among young people today (such as deciding to live together for a couple of years before getting married) reflected in books that are set in contemporary times.

    Janine, it bothers me too, and it’s part of why I say the form of the happy ending (marriage, kids, etc) often seems more about social norming than about finding the right resolution for that couple.

    It doesn't bother me because… the general goal in a romance novel is marriage. Heroes shy from it and heroines obsess over it (especially if they're over 30)

    The obsession with marriage turns me off in a big way. It seems like such a yearning for the 1950s (or an idealized ’50s), and often it’s an excuse for her to be selfish or do stupid things that just happen to keep the plot moving. Hmm, did I just say a marriage-obsessed heroine = a TSTL heroine? It ain’t necessarily so, but sometimes they’re written similarly.

    It’s also a dynamic that I don’t understand. In my and my friends’ experience, it’s been men who want to settle down too fast, while we women have been the ones saying “Yikes, slow down, what’s the rush, maybe in a few years.”

  108. Robin
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 11:47:36

    Janine, it bothers me too, and it's part of why I say the form of the happy ending (marriage, kids, etc) often seems more about social norming than about finding the right resolution for that couple.

    I think it is, and at some level is supposed to be, in part because of the historical relationship of the Romance novel to Comedy, to the domestic novel, to sentimental fiction, etc. It’s the marriage as social stabilizer thing, although I think there’s some tension between that notion and the idea of True Love, which seems more to belong to the current model of Romance, such that marriage has become one of those Romance codes for HEA, when, at least for me, marriage doesn’t automatically read HEA for me, but more social cohesion. I don’t want to start a long debate about how whether marriage equals HEA, but that’s part of why I think that genre Romance has a certain transitional quality around the endings that has yet to be resolved.

  109. Janine
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 13:01:26

    It doesn't bother me because a) the general goal in a romance novel is marriage. Heroes shy from it and heroines obsess over it (especially if they're over 30)

    I think the general goal in a romance novel is lasting love and happy togetherness. For me marriage doesn’t necessarily equal those things; it can easily end in divorce or just in two people who are trapped in unhappy situation for the sake of the children.

    I also, like RfP, am bothered by the marriage-obsessed heroines. I don’t think marriage for the sake of being married is always such a good idea, and while in historical times women may not have had better avenues for supporting themselves, in contemporary times, these attitudes don’t ring true to me.

    Most of my female friends are not obsessed with marriage. Some of my friends are single, some are in relationships but not married or not yet married, some are married and childless by choice, some are married with kids. In those cases where they are married, it is just as often the husband who pushed for marriage as the wife (or who pushed for children, when the wife wasn’t sure she wanted them).

    & b) the average romance writer and reader appears to be a married woman with parents who married, etc.

    Well of course most readers have married parents. Everyone has parents, and people who have kids usually do marry. But I’m more skeptical of your statement that most romance readers are married themselves. Do you have stats to back that up? Even if true, I bet that many of those readers have at one time or another lived together with a lover (sometimes the very husband they are now married to). How many heroines (or even heroes) do you see in romances who lived together with a lover at some time in the past, or who decide to live together at the end of the book, before marrying?

    Most of the people I know, in my generation, who are living with their significant others and are having children with them didn't come from “traditional” backgrounds-not only marriage-wise, but from a socio-economic level.

    Maybe I wasn’t as clear as I could have been. I’m not advocating kids out of wedlock as the HFN I want! I think it is better to marry if you are going to have children. But what about those people who live together for a year or two and then get married? What about those people who don’t want children and who decide to live together without marriage? What about those who marry but are infertile and decide to adopt? What about those who marry but remain childless by choice?

    Are marriage and children the only things that make a romantic relationship happy? Don’t the people I described deserve love too? Can’t their lives also be romantic? Aren’t there stories that can be told about them, too?

    I honestly believe that many, many people today move in together before getting engaged. And I also think that it’s possible that if romance doesn’t reflect contemporary values more often, it’s not going to attract the next generation of readers. There are many ways of being romantic. I’m not suggesting that the traditional HEA be eliminated, just that we see more diversity in our happy endings.

    Being a 20-something today (the average age of a romance h/h) is a completely different thing than being 20-something in the 90s or even the 80s, and to be honest, since I don't feel contemporary romances are targeted to todays 20-somethings, I don't mind the “time warp”.

    But can you say the same for your fellow 20-somethings?

    I remember when I first read Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s Again, how pleased I was that the heroine was living with her lover (not the hero). It was so refreshing to see that in a romance. That’s the kind of thing I want more of.

  110. Laura Vivanco
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 13:24:34

    I'm more skeptical of your statement that most romance readers are married themselves. Do you have stats to back that up?

    According to the RWA’s 2005 statistics:

    50% of romance readers are married
    37 % of romance readers are single
    8% of romance readers are widowed
    4% of romance readers are divorced
    1% of romance readers are separated

  111. Janine
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 13:32:32

    Thanks Laura. Well then, 50 % isn’t most, it’s half and half.

  112. Alyssa
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 15:25:09

    You know, the mystery genre would include fewer cookie-cutter stories if the mystery didn’t have to be solved.

    And maybe autobiographies would be more interesting if they didn’t stick to describing the events in a person’s life. Surely a made-up story or two would allow for more interesting autobiographies.

    Jane–To me, what defines a romance is that the main plot is a love story. Period. . . .

    But are they romances? I'd have to say “Hell yes!”

    And that’s where we differ. I’d say the stories you mention have romantic elements, but I wouldn’t call them romances.

  113. Janine
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 16:07:19

    Alyssa, do you really think it’s less romantic if the couple decides to live together for a year and then get engaged, rather than getting engaged after knowing each other for all of three weeks? To me, it’s more romantic if they wait, because it shows that they take the commitment of marriage seriously.

  114. Alyssa
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 16:51:40

    Janine, my comments are responding to Tracey’s statements. I should have made that more clear.

    I think the happy-ending should be whatever fits the story. It’s fine if the hero and heroine wait to get married. I’m actually a big fan of the happily-for-now ending because in some situations “I love you; let’s get married tomorrow” doesn’t suit the circumstances. Moving in is fine. Engaged is fine. Married is fine. As long as the ending is happy, I’m not picky.

  115. Meriam
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 19:10:07

    RfP, was that your first Gaffney? What did you think? (Will you be reviewing it?)

    This is a fascinating discussion, particularly to an outsider who had no notion that HEA is literally a prerequisite for a romance. I balk at the notion of prescription – BUT it is undeniable that when I pick up a romance, I am expecting an HEA and the injection of ‘feelgood’ associated with it. When that HEA is cheap, however, or unconvincing or saccharine I’m left peeved and dissatisfied (increasingly often, nowadays). Maybe the genre needs a kick.

    One of my favourite romances – Black Lace, Judith Ivory – had characters to finely drawn, so complicated and flawed and intransigent I reached a point towards the end of the novel where I wondered if there would be a HEA afterall. And the thing is, I wouldn’t have minded either way. In fact, there was something almost unnatural about the actual HEA… Like I said, it’s one of my favourite romances, but almost despite the HEA.

  116. Meriam
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 19:12:53

    Er… Black Silk, by Judith Ivory. How could I get that wrong?!

  117. Janine
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 20:51:05

    Apologies, Alyssa! I shouldn’t have assumed that your comments were a response to mine.

  118. Angela
    Sep 20, 2007 @ 01:09:43

    But can you say the same for your fellow 20-somethings?

    Do you mean if they read romances? I attended school on both coasts and none of the people I know IRL and online read romance novels at all. They see them as for people of their mothers generation. Granted I’m basing my opinions on my own circle of friends and acquaintances, but when I do dally around the romance aisle in bookstores for a period of time, I rarely see people my age browsing and purchasing romance novels. When I look at author websites, I rarely see writers who share my background, and the ones that do are usually writing paranormals/urban fantasy.

    Like I said, I don’t mind the marriage-obsessiveness of romance novels because I didn’t come from a family where I saw marriage and I grew up in an atmosphere where marriage was not even thought about as something to desire. So even when I dislike certain tropes or find myself unable to understand why certain things exist in the genre and don’t feel that a man or woman is defined by their status as a husband or wife, I like the fact that the basic precept of this genre is striving towards a committed, loving relationship.

  119. RfP
    Sep 20, 2007 @ 09:14:09

    was that your first Gaffney? What did you think? (Will you be reviewing it?)

    Yes, TH&TH was my first Gaffney. I enjoyed it. I haven’t decided whether I’ll review it. Others have written interesting reviews of it already, but if I decide I have something to say, I will. Obviously I was impressed by the characters. I’m still thinking over the huge change in the middle of the book, from taunting and long-suffering to flowers and puppies and perfumes and crazy climactic court scene.

    I wasn’t as keen on To Love and to Cherish, so I haven’t read the 3rd Wyckerley book. But if I review TH&TH I’m sure I’ll read Forever and Ever.

  120. RfP
    Sep 20, 2007 @ 09:17:38

    I attended school on both coasts and none of the people I know IRL and online read romance novels at all.

    I bet some did but wouldn’t admit to it. That’s what I’ve found among my friends. After knowing one friend for 10 years, she tentatively mentioned a best-selling romantic suspense, then finally got brave and admitted to being a longtime romance junkie. After she “came out”, so did others.

  121. Janine
    Sep 20, 2007 @ 10:52:07

    I attended school on both coasts and none of the people I know IRL and online read romance novels at all. They see them as for people of their mothers generation.

    That’s what I mean. I think that perception that romances are for an older generation may come from the fact that so many books have a very strict definition of romantic happiness, love and commitment.

    I like the fact that the basic precept of this genre is striving towards a committed, loving relationship.

    Oh, I do too, very much so! I wouldn’t be reading so many romances if I didn’t. I just don’t think that going from the resolution of the book’s conflict to marriage immediately is the only way to arrive at a committed and loving relationship.

  122. Away from Romancelandia… « miladyinsanity
    Sep 20, 2007 @ 18:42:45

    [...] from Romancelandia… Posted September 20, 2007 …and there’s another HEA discussion that I missed. [...]

  123. Angela
    Sep 22, 2007 @ 05:13:41

    That's what I mean. I think that perception that romances are for an older generation may come from the fact that so many books have a very strict definition of romantic happiness, love and commitment.

    Are you sure? I’ve read a few of the popular YA lines and grew up on Dawson’s Creek and my peers and I throve on the drama and hijinks of romance and (possibly back-stabbing) friendships. Now that we’ve moved on to Grey’s Anatomy, it’s basically the melodrama of teen soaps all over again. It isn’t the HEA, it’s the images of Fabio and pirates and heaving bosoms and sexually-deprived, ignorant housewives (as a few FFF fans listed) that have stuck with us all over the past fifteen to twenty years. Just Tuesday or so on The View Sherri Shepard shared that when she wants to relax, she grabs the “trashiest romance novel” she can find. Even when Kelly Ripa had her book club it wasn’t taken seriously by what it seems was neither herself (everything was very frothy and pink!) or anyone else because she was recommending romance novels.

    Trust me…it ain’t the happily-ever-after that keeps the younger readers away.

  124. RfP
    Sep 24, 2007 @ 13:37:43

    It isn't the HEA, it's the images of Fabio and pirates and heaving bosoms and sexually-deprived, ignorant housewives (as a few FFF fans listed) that have stuck with us all over the past fifteen to twenty years.

    That, I can agree with. A lot of those covers are just plain hokey. It’s as if romance publishers want to give the impression nothing has changed since the ’70s. But a book that looks stuck in the bad old days doesn’t inspire confidence that its themes or writing will be up to date.

    I think the whole question of expanding the genre gets confounded by these issues of perception. Romance is pretty expansive already, but we see over and over that people don’t think they read romance because they don’t read Harlequins or books with clinch covers.

    “Don’t judge a book by its cover” just isn’t realistic. That’s what the cover’s for. I read romance; I know that great books can have terrible covers… but still, the cover influences me. Why would someone who isn’t already a romance fan pick up a book whose cover shrieks “Dated”? I’m often turned off sci fi by covers that give me that kind of reaction.

  125. Dionne Galace » Blog Archive » Bam & Shuzluva on Lover Unbound
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 10:18:54

    [...] Let’s get the plot, character, storyline stuff out of the way before we get to the OMGWTFBBQthat’snotanHEA thing that everyone was freaking out about Shuzluva: okay Shuzluva: you start, BUT GIVE ME A CHANCE TO [...]

  126. Kris
    Feb 04, 2008 @ 16:09:54

    Let me tell, I much prefer the Disneyfied versions of Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid to the originals.

    You and me both. I haven’t seen Sleeping Beauty’s original story, but I watched the original of The Little Mermaid and was completely horrified.

  127. Ben Wagner
    Feb 09, 2011 @ 14:25:23

    Freidrich Schlegel first used the term romantic to designate a school of literature opposed to classicism, around the early 1800′s. Romantism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontanous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental. Among its attitudes were a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature; a general exaltation of emotion over reason and the exceptional fiqure; a new view of the artist as a supremely individual creator; an emphasis on the imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truth; a consuming interest in folk culture, national and ethnic cultural origins’ and the medieval era; and a predilection for the exotic, the remote, the mysterious, the weird, the occult, the monstrous, the diseased, and even the satanic. How far away has the idea of romanticiam drifted, it seems from its origins. As for the arguement of prose in concern to HEA, and what is required for this genre-the credo from the French romantic Victor Hugo proclaimes it best when he states that “the artist has the freedom of both choice and treatment of a subject”.

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