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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

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