Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Do Your Lovers Live The HEA

I'm blatantly borrowing John Rosenman's excellent blog post title, "Do Your Lovers Live The HEA?"

You all know, if you've read my novels, that my answer is yes, but it's not so easy as all that.

Heather Massey at The Galaxy Express, on July 6 reviewed John Rosenman's novel Beyond Those Distant Stars http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net/2010/07/reflections-on-john-b-rosenmans-beyond.html

He gave the discussion another spin in his blog post

And then Heather pointed me to his post and I commented, he answered, others commented, Heather is brewing another comment, and I commented back on John's comments -- you gotta read this thing.

Here's his thesis reduced to a sound-byte:

-------Quote John Rosenman--------
My point is that romances need to be less restrictive and more open to possibilities in order to explore more fully the often painful and difficult realities of life. Romances can be complex. They can be literature.
-------End Quote---------

We, at Alien Romance, of course agree that Romance genre not only "can be" but actually is "Literature" upon occasion. Many occasions, in fact. Many more occasions when combined into SFR or PNR.

In the comments on John Rosenman's post, Heather pointed out that I had explained how "the ending" is defined not by the content of the event (resolution of the conflict) but by where in the character's story-arc you stop writing.

Heather quoted me in her comment:
Jacqueline Lichtenberg said it best, noting that “There’s HEA potential in every other genre, even or especially Horror.” ( http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/03/beauty-and-beast-constructing-hea.html )

In this post ( http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/07/failure-of-imagination-part-ii-society.html ), Ms. Lichtenberg notes that

“Why does Romance genre absolutely require it? And SF also has an ending-point formula — called “upbeat.”

These are actually identical requirements. It’s all about where you start telling the story, and where (in time) you end it. Life is a sine-wave. It has high points and low points and neutral points but never stops waving. Storytellers just CUT a section out of that sine-wave to structure a plot.

The publisher’s end-point requirement determines the starting point.”
-----End Quote---

There are a couple more points I want to bring to the surface here because we've been discussing the Editing process for the previous 7 posts which relate to this "ending" issue, and why we have defined endings. This series was posted on:

Aug 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, Sept 7 & 14, 2010

The HEA is an editorial requirement when the editor is filling a publishing line with consistent, identical product under the Romance Genre label.  

The HEA is not an editorial requirement for lines that do not advertise the "Romance" genre label, but they may have other requirements.  

Why is the HEA ever a requirement?

John points out that the fun, enjoyment, and fascination inherent in reading a story that pivots on a Relationship is the uncertainty of how that relationship will be at "The End."

To generate that uncertainty, some novels must end differently than the HEA.

Otherwise, you have something like a TV Series episode where you know the main characters won't get killed. So the threat to their lives is not piercingly immanent to the viewer.

John points out that the HEA itself is not unbelievable, but in reality it doesn't always happen. It does happen sometimes, so it's plausible in fiction but should not be inevitable because if it's inevitable, there's no suspense, and thus no ultimate payoff.  His underlying thesis seems to be that inevitability itself is unrealistic enough to destroy reader enjoyment, and an inevitable HEA is worse than other sorts of inevitabilities. 

And I think that's the core of the issue. Inevitability. Realism.

We are attracted to fiction that discusses "life the universe and everything" in terms of a philosophy (theme) that we either have internalized or wish we had internalized.

Fiction reading either reinforces our assumptions about the world, or holds forth an ideal that we want to assume and shows us how it is possible the ideal could really be true.

Good fiction does both while at the same time calling both assumptions and ideals into question. That's called "depth" and you usually find it in "Literature."

You seldom find it in films because of the nature of the visual medium. But the classics, the films that last for generations and still speak intriguingly of our dearly held ideas, do reveal "depth" on re-viewing. That kind of screenwriting is very difficult. I think it happens very much by "accident."

See my blog post on what you can do in a novel that you can't do in a film:


I have been contending that the essence of the Romance Genre - the essence that we extract and combine with the essence of the SF Genre or Fantasy Genre (or both) - actually is the essence of "Literature" in its highest form.


where I discussed how

Romance Genre embodies two core principles:

a) Love Conquers All
b) The Soul Is Real

The HEA is a "requirement" because HEA is what results once Love has Conquered All. If all is conquered by love, there's nothing left that can sunder the couple, not even death.  

If the HEA is not the "ending" of the novel, the theme that distinguishes Romance from all other art forms is not present in the novel and it is therefore not a genre romance novel.

Love Conquers All might be a sub-theme, but it would be there to be disproved so that a larger theme "life is nothing but misery" -or- "happiness comes in bright sparks that fade quickly" -- can be fully presented.

Here's one of many of my discussions of the uses of theme in novel structure:


Those readers looking for reinforcement of their belief that Love Conquers All and/or The Soul Is Real, and those looking to indulge in a few hours of hope that these things are true, will be bitterly disappointed by an ending that is not an HEA -- and they will want their money back.

You can work with either core premise of Romance in a non-romance. You can construct a non-Romance genre novel to culminate in an HEA and that will not make the novel a Romance.

As I said in the comments discussion to:


Romance Genre is distinguished by specific choices for the elements that a novelist can fill in with a number of different choices when writing other genres.

Those choices for a Romance are:

A)In a Romance the Relationships IS the plot, and all else is commentary on that relationship.

B)The conflict is the Relationship, what creates the attraction and what blocks the attraction.

C)The story is all about how each person is changed by the need for the Relationship.

D)The beginning is where the couple first become conscious of each other.

E)The ending is where the Relationship roadblocks are removed and it's full speed ahead into a Happily Ever After life for the couple.

Any given reader may, at whim, prefer to sink into a novel where they know what the rhythm and theme will be - a Mystery, Western, Action, Intrigue, Suspense, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure, any genre. At other times, they may want "general fiction" -- which also has a very strict, set formula.

See my post on the reasons why we have such a thing as genre fiction.


The Romance genre, and all its hyrbids -- SFR, PNR, Action Romance, whatever criss-crossed mixture -- if the "R" comes last in the nickname, it means the plot-structure follows the 5 elements I listed above.

Sometimes we read fiction for a realistic view of our real world. We want contemporary maybe urban settings like where we live with people who are up against the same problems we are (TV sets as babysitters, cell phones always on, carpooling nightmares), and sometimes we want to get away to impossible places with other problems.

If you go for the kind of Romance where not only does love conquer all, but also The Soul Is Real (where lovers find their Soul Mate and there's something spiritual, transcendent, bigger than "reality" that enters their lives because of that mating) then you are in the set of Themes where the HEA is not only inevitable but also realistic.

If you combine both Love Conquers All and The Soul Is Real, you walk into a world where there is no other possible ending than the HEA.

The story isn't over until the Soul Mates have ignited Love so bright that it illuminates and dissipates all darkness - and the world is revealed to be truthfully what it seems to be under the blurring veil of "falling in love."

The illusion of perfection is torn aside to reveal the truth that perfection already exists - and continuous, solid, strong, pervasive happiness is the stable foundation of life, not a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

It's not that the couple will face no further challenges, but that those challenges will only strengthen their love and their ability to make life better for all those around them.

This is the thematic statement about the true nature of reality that the Romance Genre focuses on.

The story can only end where the couple (and the reader) understand the inevitability and realistic condition of life, the HEA.

If the writer quits writing before that point, the reader feels as if she has read a story-fragment, three chapters without the outline! It's incomplete because happiness is the goal and it has not been achieved.

Achieving that goal of steady-state happiness though, isn't easy. It isn't realistic enough even for a Fantasy if the goal is achieved easily.

If the Soul Is Real - then all sorts of PNR genre stories are possible where soul mates try and fail and die and are reborn and try and fail and die and are reborn and grow painfully until they finally succeed. That can take lifetimes and a whole series of novels strewn across all of human history and possibly to the stars and beyond.

When the Immortal Soul is involved, the story possibilities for Romance Genre then truly do verge on the immense vistas that John sketched in his blog post.

From John's description of the kinds of stories he likes to write, I deduced that what he (and many others who feel as he does about the HEA) is writing is the "backstory" of a Romance, the "try and fail" lifetimes before the Soul Mates can achieve the HEA.  He seems to be writing the growing pains of Souls.

For some readers "The Soul Is Real" is a fantasy premise. For others it's a pragmatic fact of everyday life. In either case, the novels produced by combining that premise with Love Conquers All have the potential of reaching the kinds of audiences that Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet has been proven to reach.

In my comments on the TOYSTORY 3 post linked above, I raised one question we should address at some point.

---quote of myself----
Westerns reached a level of respect during the years they dominated TV. Why shouldn't SFR (science-fiction-romance blended) reach the same level of popularity?

How would that change the world? Would that change be for the better? Is it the writer's responsibility or role to effectuate such change, or do we wait with folded hands for others to decide?
----end quote of myself----

Why is the inevitable HEA such an imperative element in defining "Romance Genre?"

Why do so many people feel the HEA is not realistic? Why do they feel that pain, parting, sorrow, frustration and loneliness are the hallmarks of a realistic fantasy that draw readers in to a built world?

And then turn the question around and look at it this way:

Why does John think the Romance Genre should relax it's stricture about the HEA being necessary?

Consider other possible ways to solve the (very real and important) problem his post points out.

He looks at Romance Genre and says it should change its formula and that would solve the problem of dull boring books with a predictable ending.

But maybe there's another (better????) solution.

Maybe people should change?

Maybe people should change their ideas about what reality really is?

Well, if that's the solution, then what ideas should be changed from what to what? And how?

Oh, this is one huge topic, the HEA!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2008/09/what-you-can-do-in-novel-that-you-cant.html - link doesn't work.

  2. Miriam:

    Thank you for pointing out the broken link. I've fixed it.

    Here's what's going on with that link problem.

    Blogger somehow, mysteriously to me, adds a %20 onto the end of links I make. I haven't figured out when or how it does that.

    I turn my back, come back and what I typed has been changed without my permission. I have checked and triple checked all the links in my posts for this problem, and wham! there it is in the post once it's up.

    Some browsers ignore the html tag %20 which simply means space.

    Others choke on it and don't know where to find the website.

    So if you get frustrated again by a dead link, try pasting it into your browser without the %20 on the end.

    Meanwhile, I do thank you ever so much for finding this problem. I just wish it weren't there to be found. I do try.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  3. It seems like a simple matter to me.

    If you want to write in the Romance genre, it's got to have an HEA.

    If you don't believe an HEA is appropriate for your story, then don't pitch it as Romance.

    There's plenty of other genres out there in which *love stories* are vital. In fact, my favorite 'romance' isn't a Romance at all. The movie, TITANIC, ends with the hero's death, so it doesn't qualify.

    I find the HEA too restrictive in my writing *at this time too.* I love it. But, the Traditional HEA just doesn't work right now as I am writing Young Adult and series. Teenagers getting married and make babies is generally frowned upon, you know. Plus, once you have the HEA, that couple's story is pretty much over. You can stay in the same fictional 'universe' but you have to tell another couple's story. I'm not really into that yet.

    Guess you could say I'm more into a Harry Potter HEA right now. He married Genny Weasley, had three children, and lived happily ever after, you know, after he finally defeated Voldimort.

  4. Anonymous10:12 PM EDT

    I was somewhat disappointed that most of the comments (Seventeen in fact) to John Roseman’s blog “Do Your Lovers Live HEA?” have been deleted.

    Jacqueline wrote, “Why does John think the Romance Genre should relax its stricture about the HEA being necessary?”

    I think that John Roseman would like to be able to put the label “Romance” on his book and tap into a very large audience, because bottom line, he needs to sell books. There is nothing wrong with this desire in itself, but he just cannot see that the HEA ending really isn’t in the hands of the editors or authors, but in the readership that purchases books. What he sees as a restriction for himself (and it is), is actually liberating to the audience who needs a book to end with HEA. In other words he has forgotten he has customers to please.

    I did ask him that question in the blog comments and I don’t think he really answered the question, other than the statements about HEA limiting writers.

    Jacqueline wrote, “Maybe people should change?
    Maybe people should change their ideas about what reality really is?”

    From my point of view these are actually the same question, because I think what John Roseman calls “reality” isn’t reality at all but instead it is fashion. Fashions change, and a better question might be not if something should change, but when do you think it will. Also I don’t think popularity and fashion is the same thing.

    Years ago I was given a book by my Grandmother, I was about 14 and I fell in love with that book. Later I found out it was my Grandmother’s all-time favorite book. It was “The Harvester” by Gene Stratton-Porter and was named the bestselling novel of 1912 It is pure romance complete with the required HEA ending. So while romance may fall in and out of fashion, it has always had a certain amount of popularity.

    People change their ideas about what reality really is all the time. Sometimes that’s hard to see when you are comparing this year to last, but think about the difference of “reality” in 1910 and 2010.

    I can totally understand the author that would like to tap into a large audience, but it seems to me Mr. Roseman had forgotten one very important rule for the professional writer, “Know your audience.” Part of that has to be to know what parts of the envelope you can push and what parts you cannot.