Monday, July 7, 2014

Not Every Book Needs A Happily Ever After (Or, Why Love Stories Come To An End)

Disclaimer (as many of my current blog posts seem to be starting out with): I am possibly the biggest sap in existence. I LOVE Happy Ever Afters, as my one of my CPs, Sarah, can tell you. (She plots, I gchat: AND THEY KISS AND THEN LIVE HEA RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT YOU BETTER OR I WILL KEEEELLLL YOU. She ignores me.) I am a shameless shipper of IRL people, students (so they're four? PFFT who cares? And yeah. All teachers ship their students. Those who say they don't are liarpants), fictional characters, everyone. And even though I have been to more weddings in the past two years than any human being should have to go to, I STILL love when people get married (I don't love the annoying people I'm forced to interact with while I'm at weddings, but this does not detract me from love). The fact that my parents run errands together after being married for *coughcoughcough* years? GAAAAAHH I CAN'T EVEN WITH THEIR CUTENESS. (They think I'm nuts.) Same with my grandparents. I puke sunshine and rainbows when people start dating/get engaged/get married/have a committed relationship/are just cute. Etc. 

That being said.

I am not delusional. As much as it would be nice to live in LaLa land, where everyone is swept off their feet by their soul mate and rides happily ever after into the sunrise/sunset on the back of a dashing white horse, that is not actually how life works.

Ever, I would wager to guess.

You see, when you have two people in a relationship, things are going to happen. Things that aren't necessarily happiness and sunshine and smoochy kisses and being swept off one's feet. I mean, any time you put two people together, some kind of conflict is going to occur. Because contrary to some popular thinking, there is actually no such thing as the perfect man or woman. Heck, there's not even such a thing a perfect person for YOU. Perfection is a myth that was probably invented to make sure we all hated ourselves enough. 

And yet, we insist that all of the love stories we read end with a Happy Ever After. Preferably with grand, sweeping proclamations of love, and if we're REALLY lucky? Proposal in the last chapter and a wedding/baby/pregnancy epilogue. 

Even if it doesn't make sense. Even if the story has to take almost completely impossible twists to do so. Even if the characters basically have to do things that are completely outside the realm of their norm. 

I really hate to be the harbinger of doom and all, but sometimes? Happy Ever After isn't forever. Sometimes it's just for a little while.

Sometimes, Happy Ever After is fifty years, and then someone gets sick. Sometimes it's thirty years until they've realized that even though they love each other, being together isn't the best thing for them anymore. Sometimes it's twenty years and they wonder why they ever thought they loved each other. Sometimes it's fifteen years, and he met someone else. Sometimes it's ten years and she got killed in a car crash. Sometimes it's five years and he realizes that this was all way too soon for him, and he can't do this anymore.
Sometimes it's three years and he doesn't come home from deployment. Sometimes it's two years and he's not the guy she thought he was. 

Sometimes there's someone else already. Sometimes, you don't end up with the person you love. Sometimes, you don't ever have that Happy Ever After fairy tales are made of.

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books, and was actually one of the first books that really lead me to understand a key lesson in writing: Stay true to your characters, stay true to your story, and have things go about the way they would, not they way we may want them to.

Now, if you've never read The Great Gatsby and you want to, kindly avoid the next bit, please. Spoilers ahead and all. 

You may hate the ending of the book, but to me, I couldn't see another way for the book to end while staying true to the story and to the characters. Sure, it would have been nice if Daisy and Gatsby got together and HEA'd, but seriously. That would never have happened. Character-wise, having Gatsby and Daisy having a HEA would involve ignoring the entire story thus far. It would involve character changes that would be completely unrealistic, and chances are, the book would not have done as well as it did.

I recently read a book that infuriated me. The writing was good- the author has a way of making you keep reading, even when you want to throat punch the main characters. Which I did. 

It was a romance novel, and the thing about romance novels is that we expect Happy Ever After. The problem was, this story should not have had a HEA. It shouldn't. The characters, the situations- heck, the whole plot! 

And yet, there was a HEA.

A re-enactment of me reading the second half of the book:

"ARE YOU SERIOUS? And she's going to make it end HEA, isn't she. She will. Dammit....Don't do it, don't do it, please don't do it, you're ruining the whole story YOU HAD SOMETHING GOOD GOING WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS NO NO NO NO NO...I can't even read this anymore. Why? Why can't you just end it with them not together? Why not? Why are you ignoring everything you wrote until now? STOP WITH THE DECLARATION OF LOVE THIS IS NOT RIGHT WHY WHY WHY. I am ignoring the end of this book and rewriting it in my mind where they don't end up together and it sucks but long term it was what was best for both of them. Hell, not everyone meets their one true love at that age and it's okay why did you do that?? UGH. Book, you SUCK."

It's a good thing I had a paperback of this book, because when I was done, I literally threw it across the room.

ARRRRRGGGHHHHHHH.

I'm so conflicted, y'all. Because on one hand, I understand the appeal of Happy Ever After. Really. I do. I would not read half as many romance novels as I have if I didn't. I would not be the sap that gets teary eyed at weddings if I wasn't. Heck, I wouldn't be the one who just wants everyone to kiss and make up and skip off into the sunset together if I was all curmudgeonly and 'love does not exist!'
(I am a curmudgeon. But not about love.)

And while there is a part of me that will be perpetually living with my head in the clouds, the rest of me is not. 

One of the most important ingredients of a good book is staying true to your characters. Character growth and development is key to any story- heck, it's basically the foundation of your story. And ignoring all of it at the end of your story is like flipping off not only your characters, but your readers, as well.

There is nothing that infuriates me more than a book completely ignoring itself to end the way that people expect it to end. Now, in romance, there is the expectation that there will be a Happy Ever After at the end of the story. Which is all well and good- if that's what needs to be there to fit the genre definition, no problema. Please. Declare love and kiss and sexytimes and if you want a proposal and a baby, go right ahead. I am the last one who is going to stop you. I will probably be squeeing while I read.

But if the characters you have are not going to have a HEA the way romance wants them to? Please don't change the end of your story to fit a genre your book should not fit into.

And now we come to the question that has been vexing me since I threw the book across the room: Why would authors do something like this? Why would editors let this sort of thing go? 

Is it a money thing? I really don't want it to be a money thing, but that is what it feels like to me. Romance is one of the highest selling genres, with its books selling thousands and thousands of copies. Heck, 50 Shades of Gray, which I guess is considered erotic romance, has sold around eleventy bazillion copies, give or take. And I don't think there are many people who haven't heard of Nora Roberts, who is the queen of romance. And Sylvia Day, who's latest book deal was ZOMG SO MUCH MONEYS. And they don't give out book deals like that to books that are not going to sell enough copies to paper your entire neighborhood.

But here's the thing, lovelies. 

As a writer, as a creator, you have the responsibility of being true to your art. Even if that means your art won't be what other people want it to be. 

"But this is what the readers want!" You may protest. "This is what they're all asking for!" 
A secret for you: People don't always know what they want. People may THINK they want something- they may whine and cry and wish and hope and dream, but when that thing actually shows up? They're disappointed. It didn't happen exactly the way they wanted it to. 

This isn't me hating on escapism reading- I do too much of it myself to hate on it without looking like a hypocritical jerk. But this is me asking authors to stay true to their stories.

I understand your characters hijacking your stories- there hasn't been a single story I've ever written that all my characters cooperated the way I wanted them to. I marvel at the people who can plot a story and actually write it the way they originally planned. It is completely beyond the realm of possibility for me. 

So I get that you might start a story and in your head, your characters will live Happily Ever After and skip into the sunset with lots of kissing and sexytimes and whatever else you want them to do. And I also get how your characters may end up in places where things like that aren't possible. That things like that no longer fit the story, or fit the characters. 


But please. Please. Please be true to your characters and your story. It will make your book a better book, and will make you a better author. It will make your true readers love you for writing your book, even if they're crying and using up tissue boxes.

And chances are, your books won't be thrown across the room, which, as we all know, can only be a good thing.

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