Monday, December 8, 2008
SIX STRATEGIES FOR WRITING THE HEA ENDING
What I love about romance novels is the guarantee of a happy ending. That’s why I read and write them. But haven’t you read romances that held your attention, kept you turning the pages and then at the end, when you expected the big pay-off, they let you down? The resolution came too easily, didn’t feel real, made you want to toss the book across the room. Characters need to earn their happy ending—i.e. it shouldn’t come easily. It’s their reward for the suffering they went through. If you’re not making your characters suffer, start there. If you’re writing humor, you’ll use a lighter tone, but characters still need to walk through the fire and come out victorious.
The specifics of reaching that happy ending depend on what the book is about and what the characters have gone through in their pasts. Epilogues give readers a peek at what’s next for the happy couple, but they’re not the HEA ending. These strategies might or might not be relevant for your particular story, but they’re general enough to jumpstart ideas. I’m using Seeker books as examples. I’m sure visitors here at Seekerville have read all of our books—hint, hint—and will want to grab well-thumbed copies to see how each author accomplished the goal of giving readers satisfying endings they’ll remember.
SIX STRATEGIES TO ENSURE YOUR ENDING SATISFIES READERS
1. After endless conflict, the hero and heroine should not suddenly fall into each others arms. If there’s not strong attraction between the hero and heroine, there should be. Without it the HEA doesn’t work. But even with strong sexual tension, the HEA won’t feel realistic if the characters don’t deal with what’s kept them apart. All the issues between them must be resolved. Guess that’s why it’s called the resolution. Make sure your characters refuse to settle for less than they deserve. After Charles saves Adelaide’s life in Courting Miss Adelaide, he’s so frightened he could’ve lost her that he proposes marriage, but he still hasn’t dealt with his demons. Adelaide’s a strong woman and won’t settle, even if remaining single means she could lose Emma.
2. Show the hero and heroine have grown and changed. The characters should be changing all through the story, but by the resolution, the characters must have grown enough to make the HEA ending realistic. Show that change using characters’ actions, conversations, sacrifices and/or symbols. In Missy’s Her Unlikely Family, during the HEA ending, Mike reveals to Josie that he’s resigned from positions he held in Atlanta and sold his house, all actions he took to prove his heart’s in Gatlinburg with her. In Single Sashimi, Camy uses symbols—stilettos/flats and pants/skirts—to show change in hard-nosed Venus who is now ready to give and receive love.
3. Show the hero and heroine revealing their secrets, tearing down the barriers that kept them apart. The hero and heroine can have her/his own epiphany late or earlier, but to make the HEA meaningful, each must bring their secrets and barriers into the open during the resolution. In Debby’s MIA: Missing in Atlanta, Jude calls his father in an attempt to mend the mistakes he’s made. Having faced their demons head on, Jude and Sarah are now able to love unconditionally.
4. In inspirational romances, characters struggling with faith issues will need to make peace with God. This may involve a conversation with God, through the influence of other characters, or the character demonstrates restoration with God with a symbolic act. In Julie’s A Passion Most Pure, Faith has loved Collin all her life, but his lack of faith keeps them apart. Collin finds God while serving overseas during the war, imperative for these two to reach their HEA ending.
5. The HEA ending works best when the story comes full circle. In Courting the Doctor’s Daughter, I open the book with Mary opposing Luke’s remedy and I end the book with Mary’s remedy for their lives. First and last lines of a novel are important, but it’s even better if those lines tie together in some way.
6. The resolution feels bigger than life and feels inevitable. In the resolution the reader should these two people were meant to be together. Though you might want to give your characters some private interaction, it feels huge to give the hero and heroine their happy ending in front of an audience. That may not be typical in real life, but it’s very satisfying to readers. In A Soldier’s Promise, Cheryl pulls out all the stops. Joel proposes to Amber in front of a porch full of family and friends, going down on one knee and giving her the note that seals the deal, along with a pledge to adopt Bradley and the keys to the Expedition. In Mary’s Calico Canyon, the resolution is chock full of characters and wrapped in the bow of good defeating evil. Then privately Daniel and Grace discuss how God brought them together through the twists and turns of their lives.
If you have more strategies for giving characters their HEA, please share. If you’re feeling brave, look at the resolutions of your stories and show us how you gave your readers a satisfying ending.