When I began to write romantic fiction, I was told there were only two options for story endings: Happily Ever After (HEA) or Happy For Now (HFN). I was told that a romance novel was not marketable without one of those two endings. What I struggled with then, and continue to struggle with today, is the fact that not every couple in love gets a happy ending.
While “chick flicks” tend to focus on heart warming, heart melting endings, that perfect moment when two people run into each other's arms, a passionate kiss foretelling a future of bliss, for many that’s not reality. Let’s face it. Love is hard. It can be a struggle to not only clarify your feelings for another but also to act on them. The search for love is not always sweet, and sometimes, it ends tragically.
Let’s go back to that “chick flick” a minute. What if after that panti-wetting kiss, the couple reluctantly pulled apart and walked off in different directions, never to return to one another’s arms? Or what if they spent a week locked in a lust-filled paradise only to discover that they had allowed their emotions to overrule their heads, and in fact, what they felt was only lust, with no possibility of love? Or what if, after declaring their love for one another, a long-lost love reappears, forcing one of the partners to make a choice, and he or she does not choose the new partner? Or what if one partner decides he is simply not ready for a commitment and needs more time?
Do those endings make the story any less romantic? I would argue that romance is more about the journey than the end result. Passion and seduction titillate, they invite us to follow along as two people—or more—explore and test their attraction, ultimately determining whether there is a foundation upon which to build. Personally, I do not need to be sated with happy tears. I just want people to be given a chance to find their happy, whether that happy translates into a passionate affair, a memorable reunion, or two ships connecting in the night, for only a brief moment.
As Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” And the fact of losing that love does not make it any less romantic.
I do not begin my stories knowing the ending. I allow my characters to lead me to a natural conclusion. Sometimes, the ending wraps up with the discovery of love, the possibility of love, the affirmation of love, the rediscovery of love, or even the loss of love. What is important to me is that my characters have the opportunity to explore the wonders of love, no matter where it winds up.
It’s the journey, not the ending.