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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Conversations With Myself (& Hopefully You): How Do You Define a HEA?


This discussion is partially inspired by Shannon's recent discussion regarding the "Pickiness of Endings" (a must read).  I was thinking about Shannon's discussion and I feel the same -- endings, especially series endings, disappoint me so often.  And then I thought about the fact that some of my very favorite books don't have a "happy" ending.  Sometimes this works because it feels more authentic for the story, for the characters and particularly, as Shannon pointed out, in a dystopian.  This led me to think about what a "happy" ending even means and so today I ask:

How do you define a HEA?

I often think of endings in simplest of Shakespeare's terms -- if it ends with a wedding, it's a comedy; if it ends with a funeral, it's a tragedy.  But maybe that is too simple. As you know, I hate spoilers and so I am going to try to talk about endings without referencing any particular books.  As I intimated above, some of my favorite books don't necessarily have a "happy" ending.  But what even is a happily ever after or a happy ending?  In romance, for me, a non-happy ending is one in which the characters aren't together.  If the characters are together, even if it's not straight-forward, then the ending is happy.  I don't want, especially in YA, a wedding, an engagement or a birth -- that's too easy.  When you read outside of romance, however, endings become blurrier.  For example, if an important character (or even non-important but not necessarily a villain) dies at the end of a book -- does that mean it's not happy?  Not necessarily -- maybe that's the way it was supposed to happen or maybe there's a message in the ending of things, even lives.  I guess my point is that I think we sometimes are too focused on happy endings, especially in romance.  A romance can still be a great romance even if the characters aren't together at the end -- without overt spoilers, Casablanca and Gone With the Wind are both great examples of this.  A romance can still be great romance without a HEA and sometimes that's exactly what I want because real life isn't HEA -- it's messy and complicated; it's imperfect and unapologetic for it.  And a book can still be great even if it has a heart-wrenching ending.  I will say that I think Tarryn Fisher, Donna Tartt, and Emily St. John Mandel are all amazing at endings -- I think this is also why they are some of my favorite authors.  Their endings aren't always neat, tidy or, for lack of a better word, happy.  But they are right -- right for the story, right for the characters, and right for the ultimate message of the book, and sometimes that is more important than the fiction of happily ever after.

As always, this is just my opinion.  How do you define a HEA?  Should we always expect a HEA, especially in a romance?  And is that what you want? Can a HEA be something besides all hearts and rainbows?

LET'S DISCUSS!  WHAT DO YOU THINK?

40 comments:

  1. I actually love reading non-HEAs, no matter how much it gives me all the tears and pain (sadistic reader right her). BUT, I think the stories that I consider having a HEA are the ones that end with characters coping with the things that has happened after everything. Even though characters died and the world got ruined and all that shizz, if the gang (complete or not) eventually succeeded with moving on from their losses and the sad parts about their adventure, I think it's a HEA. :)

    Great post, Eva!

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    1. Love the sadism! I totally agree that coping and trying to move on is a HEA! Great perspective, thank you so much for reading!! ♥

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  2. This is a really good topic! I've read books that could be considered tragedy in Shakespeare terms but are actually happy endings. I don't think I'm spoiling anything with this example: The Notebook. Although it ended in death, it was a happy ending for both main characters in that particular instance. I recently read a book (about a month ago) that was tragic yet seemed the way it should be, so it kind of rides the fence on the hea for me.

    You're spot on about the variance in genres and what deems HEA. In romance, it's expected that togetherness of the characters in the end equates to HEA but again, I bring up The Notebook and its ending while being considered a romance. Maybe, the ending is in the eyes of the beholder and his/her personal views of happy vs compassion vs tragedy. This is a topic that I could go on and on, even this early in the morning. haha

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    1. Thank you so much for reading Kathy! I always appreciate your insights and opinions!

      Yes, the Notebook is another great example of an amazing romance but not necessarily a "happy" ending although maybe still a HEA!! Such a great distinction that I should have delved into more but that's why I love that this is a discussion

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  3. Okay, I hit the publish too soon when I wanted to add that sometimes the HEA is also in the eyes of the characters. Are the characters happy in the end? Does that make it a HEA even though the reader might not be happy with the ending? Hmmm...definitely food for thought on this topic.

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  4. Gah what a good discussion! So HEA for me in a romance is the characters being happy - usually together but maybe apart if it fits. In non romance type books I just want to ending to make sense and fit the story. It doesn't have to be happy just make sense. I hate when an ending seems to come out of no where and doesn't fit with the entire story you just invested in. Great post :)

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    1. Thank you Grace! So important -- together doesn't necessarily mean happy; happy might mean not together! And yes, I totally agree that an ending should not be used as a plot device to wrap up a story that wasn't going that way ...

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  5. This is a great topic! When it comes to romance, I definitely prefer a HEA, and that generally means the right people are together at the end. But when it comes to other genres like suspense, I just want the ending to make sense and tie things up. I know not every story, if it's going to be realistic, will have a happy ending, but when I read romance, I'm looking for some escape from reality and expect it to make me happy.

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    1. It's definitely hard to abandon the idea of a HEA in romance -- I prefer it, too because I am also trying to escape from reality -- I guess that's why it's a romance! Totally agree with you re: suspense, too.

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  6. Oh this is interesting! I find with books, a happy ending means people being together or in the case of a mystery, a case solved -- but that doesn't always mean the characters are the very definition of happy you know? The thing is though, I am way harsher on movies than I am on books -- I have no shame in saying I'll go for a movie that promises a happy ending, but one that promises death or my faves arguing *I'm looking at you Cpt America: Civil War* I will avoid. It was so tough watching the new star wars knowing the ending as it was. I burst into tears after lol! My theory is: the news, the world is filled with harshness and cruelty and we live it and are exposed to it every day. Reading and movies are my escapism, so I want, where possible*, for the characters to have the happy endings they wouldn't get in RL. I know it's naive, but sometimes I just want the girl to get her guy, and the superhero BFFs to walk off into the sunset together.

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    1. Yes re: mysteries -- love the satisfaction of the case being solved and, yes, definitely doesn't mean the characters are happy! Great distinction between movies and books -- I think I'm the opposite! Bring on the movie tragedy but please don't kill off my favorite book characters! Thank you so much for reading!!

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  7. While I don't mind HEA's, I prefer non HEA endings. Unless I'm reading a straight up romance. If it's dystopian with some romance then I don't need an HEA, for example. So it just depends I suppose on the specific novel. Also, I define HEA as two people ending up together or it could be like in horror when everything ends up okay and nobody dies or something lol!! So again, it depends I suppose on the specific novel for me.

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    1. YES! re: non HEA endings -- something more complex and thought out! And yes, great point re the HEA in horror! Different HEA for different genres!! Thanks so much for reading and commenting!!

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  8. I don't have to have a HEA all the time but I really do like them in my romances. I read romance for the feels and they just aren't the same without a happy ending of some kind. I had to stop reading Nicholas Sparks books because the endings always killed me.

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    1. Great point - It's one thing to always have a not happy ending to a romance (like NS) versus writing the right ending.

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  9. I don't need HEA but I love it and prefer it. For me, HEA is when the couple ends up together and everything is all right with the world haha

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  10. Hmm, for me in romance novels, a HEA doesn't need to end with a wedding but the couple definitely has to end up together and if there's some cuteness in the form of an epilogue, well that's a nice bonus!
    In non-romances, I get that there can't always be a HEA and I'm okay with that but I definitely prefer if it did have a HEA ;) haha.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading! While I'm not a big fan of epilogues, typically, if done right, they can be so satisfying!!

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  11. Great topic! I generally like an HEA but sometimes it's not right for the story to have characters together, or have everything tied off nicely. If it's more realistic or true to the characters to not have a HEA, I'm fine with it. It really does just depend on the story. I do think depending on the genre an HEA can be different thing in different stories.

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  12. Great question! I'm not the type that needs a HEA wrapped up in a pretty bow. Tarryn is one of m favorite authors too, a huge part because of her endings. As long as the ending is true to the characters and the story, then I'm satisfied.

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    1. YES! TF can kill you with an ending but they usually feel so right!!

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  13. Aw thank you my dear!! You are the best ♥ So. I agree with you basically. In romance they should be together, but like you said, not in a cliche way. But in other stuff... I feel like SOME aspect has to be hopeful at least for it to be a good ending. Like, in this one book that killed of a main character, there was some hopefulness, so I was ragey, but not *as* ragey? But then in this OTHER book that did the same thing, it was just like "everyone dies. The end." and I am over here like NOPE.

    I like a realistic ending I guess. BUt hopefully that can include SOME happiness or hope. Like, with Mockingjay (you had to know that was coming, right?). I won't say any more in case you haven't read it (and if not, please remedy this bwhaha) but yeah. Perfect.

    LOVE this post!

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    1. I definitely thought about Mockingjay in writing this post as an example of a PERFECT ending. TRK has a great ending too which I was so worried about as it's my favorite series but Maggie Stiefvater nailed it! Awwwwwww, so happy !! ♥

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  14. This is a really interesting topic. I think my desire for a HEA depends on the type of book I'm reading and, honestly, my mood at the time. If it's romance, I want a HEA. End of story. It doesn't have to be all wrapped up in a pretty (and often unrealistic) bow, but I want to know that the couple I loved is working towards a life together... whatever that life looks like for them. It's ok for them to be a work in progress, so to speak. (Especially if it's YA or NA.)

    When it comes to non-romance reads, which I don't honestly do too often, I guess I just want to feel good about the end. Like, everything wound up the way it should and the characters I cared about are safe. You give me an ending like a certain book that starts with an A, written by someone with initials VR, and I'm going to rage. I'm an emotional reader, so those feelings and my connections with the characters are always at the forefront of my mind when I think about whether or not I enjoyed a book. Books like these can end without a HEA as long as there's some amount of happiness or hope or sense that things, while maybe not great right now, are on their way to better. (Like TFIOS.) But then there are books like The Bright Side or Me Before You that I know I'll likely never read because I've heard enough about what happens in the end to make me never want to read them because of the emotions. I'm sure they have a perfectly hopeful ending, but I can't deal with that much pain unless I'm in a certain masochistic mood at the time.

    I could ramble about this forever, but I won't. Excellent post. It's definitely been food for thought for me this morning!

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    1. Thanks so much for reading Kim! I like how you put that -- working toward a life together, that is definitely a great ending! I'm with you re: Me Before You -- don't want to read it because I know it will be heart wrenching.

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  15. I have a hard time with this topic because, while my logical brain tells me that I shouldn't NEED a happy ending all the time, my emotions are typically what rule me when reading. If I read a book that ends with a sense of hope and positivity, I'm usually okay - even if it's not exactly an HEA (or at least the one I was looking for). But I have a much harder time with romances - if the couple I've been rooting for the whole time doesn't end up together, even if they're both happy, I end up feeling a little ... hollow at the end of the book. (That's the best word I can come up with to describe it.) And while I can appreciate what the author was going for in those cases, I can't always say that I like it.

    Strangely, if a book tears me apart emotionally at the end (character death or something like that - as long as it feels justified), I LOVE it! How's that for ironic?

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. I totally get what you mean though -- sometimes with the right ending (even if it is awful and kills you), it can feel so right and the book can be so good! Not that this is a tactic that should be used, it should depend on the story but I think there are ways to do it well. And yes, I can totally understand being invested in a couple and then feeling totally empty at the end when they aren't together

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  16. One of my friends and I were talking about this recently. She said that in order to be considered a romance, a book had to have a happily ever after. I disagreed. Because what do you call a book that has a love story at its center but the couple doesn't end up together? A romantic tragedy? I guess. I think if you're defining a romance traditionally and generically then yes, romance needs to have an HEA.

    In romance, I just want a compelling love story that is totally believable that I feel in my bones. I want great characters. I don't need an HEA but I know a lot of readers want the comfort of rainbows when they pick up a book labeled as a romance. I can understand that. Outside of romance, I just need a flicker of hope—Station Eleven is a good example of that. Even the TF book that you speak of has a thread of hope. Great post, Eva!

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    1. Such a great distinction Megan! I think some of the best "romances" are those that have a sort of epic ending where the characters just can't be together. Not always, but it can happen and that doesn't mean the romance is any less. Station Eleven did have an awesome ending and you are so right to point to hope -- I agree, hope is vital!!!

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  17. I love the way you describe this! I don't need a HEA, I just need the ending to feel right for the story and I do think it can be a wonderful romance without the characters ending up together for whatever reason. I mean, does it not lasting forever take away from the beauty of the romance while it lasted? I dunno. But yeah, I will rage if the ending feels wrong or if it feels like it was purposely meant to be shocking, but if it feels like the right ending for the story then I don't really care if it is a traditional HEA.

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    1. YES I so know what you mean re: purposely shocking -- I just read a book with such an ending and it sucked!! It felt so out of place and kind of ruined the whole book. Thanks for reading Teresa!

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  18. So I instantly thought of Me Before You with this post. (Probably because I recently read it). I absolutely love what Teresa said. I need the ending to fit the story. I know that upsets some people and it will even upset me when the characters aren't together, but then once I've gotten over being emotional, I try to look at it more realistically. Emery Lord's When We Collided is a great example of this. The way it ended was really fitting to the book and I honestly don't think it would have worked any other way. Same for Me Before You, as heartbreaking as it was.

    I don't like YA's ending with marriage, birth, etc. either. It feels silly. I can see two characters maybe going off to college together, but there's still a world of possibilities there.

    That all being said, I do prefer HEAs, especially in my romances. But I do get that it may not always end that way and I prefer realism any day.

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    1. Glad to know re: When We Collided! Yes, totally agree with you re: YA endings! I hate the neat epilogue

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  19. You know I can be picky about HEA--its probably why I stay and love romance so much. Because if I read a book where one of the main characters dies at the end---I can't stand it hehe I guess its the whole I still believe in happy endings for everyone, life can be tough and difficult but I totally believe that everyone can find their HEA. I like to believe that people in real life also have happy endings just as much as those fictional characters. And life can be stressful, so I like a good happy ending for a story. Its probably why I like Shakespeares comedies like Much Ado About Nothing way more than say Romeo and Juliet. :) I'm a hopeless romantic---what can I say??!! Great post.

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    1. I totally get it and that's why I read a ton of romance too! I do want to read that HEA!!

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  20. If I like a HEA really depends on the book, but I can't do tragedies as a general rule. In that way, I think that I expect some semblance of a HEA. Even if a book is sad, it needs to have a little bit of hope in the end. I think that has to do with the attitude of the characters as much as what actually happens in the plot, because the characters ultimately decide to go on or not go on. If that makes any sense? Yes, some situations are complete tear-jerkers, but the characters need to have changed from the journey and be looking toward the future. Great discussion post! :)

    - Eli @ The Silver Words

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  21. Wonderful discussion, Eva! At first I wanted to write something like “when it comes to romances I’m the same way: HEA= the characters are together (it can be open ending, but with hope)”. After some considerations I realized that for me it all depends on my expectations. I usually pick up a book with certain expectations: a fluffy and lighthearted book, a sad book about a grieving character, a book set during the war, a comedy… And while I would be ok with a sad open ending in a book about suicide, I expect HEA from a romcom.

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  22. I don't think HEA means marriage and babies, I think it can mean a lot of different things depending on the person or people. I don't think I have a conventional HEA, but it's my HEA :)

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