Does romance need a HEA?


This month on the blog, we’re talking all things lovey-dovey. Here, Lauren K. McKellar discusses the ending of a romance novel–does it have to follow a formula?

For many people, romance novels are a great source of escapism, providing an emotionally packed story that transports the reader away from the humdrum of everyday life. Perhaps that’s why when a romance novel doesn’t end with a HEA (happily ever after) it inspires such controversy. If a romance novel doesn’t have a HEA, is it truly a romance at all?

Let’s consider the alternative. If a romance novel doesn’t have a HEA, it usually has a HFN (happy for now). This means that while the hero and the heroine aren’t perhaps together, the immediate threat has passed and the characters are happy for now. Their future isn’t clear, though–we don’t know for certain whether they’ll end up together or not, and in some cases, when one character passes away, it’s not even possible.

In recent times, however, many readers are questioning whether a romance novel needs a happy ending to truly be part of this category. Here’s why.

man hold his girlfriend up above the city

Photo: stock.adobe.com

Many people read romance looking for the feeling that comes with a HEA. They’ve found the book in the romance category and while they’re ready to go on an emotional journey, to watch two characters go through hell to be together, they expect them to be holding hands at the end of the story (or making love, depending on the heat level of your novel). They want that sense of emotional fulfilment–they want to close the book and have the “ah” moment that comes when two people get together and everything is set for the perfect future.

In a book with a HFN, you don’t get that. I mean, sure, we could put a warning in the blurb (“at the end, I’m going to kill the hero, so don’t read this one if you’re after a wedding and a baby”), but obviously, most authors don’t want to do that, and I’d argue that most readers don’t want to know that sort of detail before they start a book, either.

That then begs the question: does all romance need a HEA, and if an author doesn’t offer one, are they breaking the reader’s trust?

The Romance Writers of America defines romance novels as having:

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

To me, this implies that a HEA is required to fall into the category.

What do you think? Do you need your romance to have a HEA?

lauren k mckellar_ms
Lauren K. McKellar is the author of several romance reads, and some not so romantic ones. She loves torturing her characters and playing Russian roulette with their lives. You can read more about her books on her website, or come say hi to her on Facebook.

2 Comments

  1. Great topic! I personally think romance needs a HEA, but that is probably because I’ve been taught that writing a non-HEA is breaking a cardinal rule of the romance genre. My understanding is that a romance is a story whose main plot is the romance between two characters. So, if it’s a non-HEA then the main plot is not resolved. Hmm … :/

    So … I suspect, maybe, that these non-HEA books are not straight romances, but rather other genre books (a different main plot) with romantic elements. Because the romance is not the main plot it does not need to be resolved, so HFN is okay. 🙂

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    1. I like what you’re saying! I think where it gets tricky is say when it comes to categories on Amazon. If I rank my book Contemporary Romance (contemporary being the main subject, romance secondary) is that then a breach of category if the book doesn’t have a HEA?

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