Welcome back to Tessa Shapcott! Today Tessa’s going to tell us how to get the great HEA ….one of my favorite parts of a romance novel. Read onward!
Happy endings and romance—they go together like strawberries and cream. I should add that, in the twenty-first century, it’s as okay to have a happy-for-now ending (HFN) as it is a happy-ever-after (HEA), just as Mr Maybe can be the hero as much as Mr Right; love and happiness are the point. But, of course, whatever the degree of happy, sadness or ambiguity just aren’t part of the end deal.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can feel disappointed—that endings in romances aren’t as happily executed as they could be, which can spoil an otherwise great reading experience. Have you noticed like me there are writers who don’t always devote enough time delivering a satisfying resolution, even ending abruptly? Or there are those who go to the other extreme and indulge in a too-lengthy post-mortem of why it took a while for true love to be realized, which kills the impact of the happy stone-dead?
Happy endings are actually really tricky to execute.
I know only too well as a writer what it’s like to be nearing the end of your novel and feeling utterly weary, either because you’re struggling to make a deadline, or tying up complexities and loose ends in the relationship and the plot that make your head ache. To spend a little more time gilding the sunset feels like too much.
I also understand how easy it is to assume that the HEAor HFN is kind of a given—the reader just knows it’s all going to end well, so why go through all that malarkey of declaring love and affirming that it’s together forever (or for the foreseeable future), etcetera?
And, in the grand tradition of fairy tales and storytelling, it’s very tempting, too, to slip into a parental voice and soothe your reader through to the last page by telling her that the lead characters will live happily ever after, rather than letting them talk about and show their shared future for themselves.
But the last impression is a lasting impression, and you can wreck the reader’s perception of a good book by not getting the ending right. Devoting time and thought to how you bring your story to a close and leave your reader on a high and feeling full is vital to the writing process.
So here are my tips for making sure that you find your own happy ending when you finish a romance novel.
- End before you begin: it’s better to embark on a new story with some kind of framework for its development and completion, which includes knowing just how the ending will be. Some writers are instinctive, it’s true, but you can have a plan and make adjustments to it as you go along if the creative muse strikes you. Write yourself a synopsis and know where and how you will end up, just as much as you know your characters and plot.
- There are many kinds of happy: think about the kind of happy ending your characters will have, what their completion looks like. How they and their relationship are during the story will dictate how they come together—will they have pure unalloyed joy, or a happy, combined future born of a few compromises that have reared their heads during the course of the plot?
- Pace yourself: make sure that you have tied up all the ends, and examined and answered most questions posed by the unfolding relationship. But don’t wait until that last chapter to have the hero and heroine talk everything through and resolve their difficulties; keep solving as you go along.
- Climax before you conclude: do save a good and unexpected twist in the emotional development or plot for near the end, making sure you leave yourself enough time and space to dwell in its aftermath, just as one would do in real life. But keep it distinct from the final scenes of completion—the happy ending needs its own special space.
- Spread a little happiness: don’t forget to show the hero and heroine just being together every now and then in the course of your story; it doesn’t have to be all angst and drama. It really supports a happy ending if the reader sees some evidence that the hero and heroine can live happily ever after before the final pages. In the same vein, don’t be afraid to write a paragraph or two at the end where we see them just enjoying contentment.
- Curb your inner hippopotamus: but, by the same token, though it may be alluring, try not to wallow too much! You don’t have to be too cloying, cute or sentimental and go on and on to show lasting happiness.
- All’s well that ends well: think about a great last line. If it can be dialogue, or an action by one of the main characters, that’s the most effective. Resist the temptation to tell the reader that they both lived happily ever after. While your romance might have fairy tale elements, it’s not a children’s bedtime story!
Finally, a quick word on handling endings in stories that are part of a series, with continuing characters or an ongoing storyline or suspense element: avoid sacrificing or short-changing the ending of the featured couple for the sake of what’s coming next and, again, keep the two clearly delineated. Of course, epilogues or teasers are extremely useful here.
And that, dear reader, is how all good things must come to an end!
Best ending of a romance novel ever? Do tell…
Bio: Tessa Shapcott is a freelance publishing consultant editor and can be contacted at email@example.com. Tessa also writes as Joanne Walsh, and her latest romantic novella, Christmas in Venice, will be released in the Holiday series by Tule Publishing on 30th October on Amazon.
- Don’t Leave Me Hanging – Knockout Happy Endings with Traci Bell
- Challenging Couples in Love
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- Loucinda McGary presents: The Basic Ingredients – The 4 elements you need in addition to the HEA to write good romance.
- Second Chance at Love—Get it Right the First Time by Tessa Shapcott