Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Raising the Bar on Happily Ever After

By Debby Giusti

Romance readers expect—no, they demand—a Happily Ever After in the stories they read. When they pick up a novel, they’re eager to follow the hero and heroine through twists and turns, highs and lows, squabbles and make-ups to get to the end. Although readers love the journey, it’s the destination—the Happily Ever After—that brings the contented sigh as they close the book. It’s also what makes readers buy the author’s next book and the one after that so they can experience that satisfying HEA once again. 

Let’s look at other genres. Mystery stories end when the crime is solved and the guilty are apprehended and brought to justice. Some whodunits include a romantic thread, but the resolution that most satisfies the mystery reader is solving the crime along with the story’s sleuth.

In suspense, thriller and horror genres, readers experience a surge of adrenalin as the protagonist faces overwhelming odds and battles the antagonist. The reader sees himself as the hero. The threats are personal and the resolution emotionally satisfying when the villain is thwarted and the protagonist saves the day.

Men’s Adventure stories are similar, although they usually feature a cataclysmic event that will occur if the hero fails to outsmart the antagonist. Fantasy includes a good vs. evil element set in an alternative world, and dystopian fiction takes place in an after-the-apocalypse style setting when civilization as we know it is overtaken by a stronger, controlling entity. Romance may be included in the stories, but the main emphasis pits the protagonist against his or her opposing nemesis.

In Women’s fiction—and its chick lit offshoot—the reader journeys with the protagonist as she achieves a goal or learns something new about herself. A love interest may be included, although the romance is not the main focus of the story.

Literary fiction has been described as a segment of time in the protagonist’s life that does not necessary involve a goal or cause the lead character to change or grow. The resolution is often open-ended, leaving the reader to form his or her own conclusion to the story.

Romance readers never have to speculate about the ending of the stories they love to read. They know the heroine—with whom they identify—will find her hero, and the two of them will declare their love in the final scenes. Usually the hero proposes marriage, and sometimes the wedding is included as an epilogue. Wedding or not, the reader knows for certain that the hero and heroine will live happily ever after.

We all long for love, which is why romance stories resonate with readers. Finding love and being loved is the eternal quest. As Christians, we understand that the need for love is innate in all of us. God is love and the reason for our existence is to love him and serve him in this life and to be united with him forever in Heaven. The very essence of our being is centered on our love for God and His unconditional love for us. That love spills over into our love of neighbor and especially for that certain someone with whom we want to spend the rest of our life—our soulmate, our significant other, our spouse.

Secular romance most often focuses on physical love that the Greeks called eros. Christian romance elevates love to a higher level, known by the Greeks as agape or the giving of self for the good of the other. Christ died on the cross so we could have eternal life with him. Scripture recounts in John 15:13, “No greater love hath man than to lay down his life for another.” That’s sacrificial love and Christ asks us to follow his example. Including sacrificial love in our stories makes them even more satisfying to the reader.

We see this dying to self frequently in suspense stories when the hero is willing to sacrifice his own life to save the woman he loves, but it can also be found in stories that do not have life or death issues. “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry, comes to mind where both the husband and wife sold what they prized most and used the money earned to buy a Christmas gift for the other. Their lives weren’t threatened, but their actions were sacrificial.

At the conclusion of a satisfying romance, the reader is uplifted. To capture her heart, add sacrificial elements, be they ever so subtle, to raise the bar on your Happily Ever After.

Tell us about the stories with Happily Ever Afters that resonated with you! What made them special? Let me know if you want to be entered in a drawing for a copy of my October Love Inspired Suspense, Amish Christmas Search!

Happy writing! Happy reading!

Wishing you abundant blessings,

Debby Giusti

Amish Christmas Search

Oct 2020

An Amish girl’s disappearance is a mystery…

and the clues lead straight into danger at Christmas.

Convinced her friend didn’t run away as the police

believe, Lizzie Kauffman searches for the truth—but

someone will kill to keep it hidden. Now the Amish

housekeeper and her friend Caleb Zook are on the

run for their lives. And if they want to find their

missing friend, Lizzie and Caleb must figure out

a way to survive the holiday.

 Pre-order HERE!


  1. Hi Debby:

    There are two factors I like to see leading up to the HEA. First, I would like the major conflict keeping the hero and heroine apart to be uniquely solved in a way I have not read before. I've just read a romance in which the conflict was solved in a way that I believe is used over 50% of the time. That to me is a tired and uninspired writer.

    Second, I would like the hero and heroine to be so well matched that they really are the ideal mates for each other. I find too many romances have standard romance conflicts and while they overcome them and get married there really is no genuine foundation that makes me think the love with last a lifetime. I just read "Cold Creek Mountain", which had a very unlikely hero and heroine at the start and yet by the time the story was over it became apparent that the hero and heroine had established a deep-seated love that made them actually ideal mates for each other and that they were destined to have a forever love. I just loved that romance and can still feel the HEA when I think on it.

    That's what I like to see in an HEA. I know this is hard to do or else everyone would be doing it.

    Please put me in the drawing so I can see how the Amish lost Christmas.


    1. Too funny about Christmas Lost, Vince. :)

      Thanks for suggesting a new book to read: Cold Creek Mountain. And thanks too for sharing what you look for in a satisfying HEA! Good for writers to note!

      Writing fresh stories is always a challenge, especially when writers have published a number of books. Finding unique plots--and endings--gets harder and harder. :)

    2. Hi Debby:

      It's not so much the sameness of plots. There are not that many different plots in any event. What I like to see is inspired creativity in overcoming typical conflicts in a romance.

      In a mystery, a lot of the fun is figuring out who did it before the end. If you avoid the red herrings and catch the well disguised clues and solve the mystery before the story gives it away, you WIN! You beat the author!

      In a romance, the 'mystery' problem is trying to solve how the hero and heroine will overcome their conflict(s). This is why multiple streams of conflict is so channeling and so much fun to solve before the story reveals it. Ruth had a story which had eleven streams of conflict keeping the hero and heroine apart. I listed these in a review once! That's like telling a beginner to climb Mt. Everest. Then there's Julie's "Emma" story which she said God inspired her how to solve the conflict. Really. Julie said she had to pray for a way to solve the conflict!

      That's what I really enjoy. A conflict which seems intractable. Stump the reader. Then have a solution so belieable that the reader wants to kick himself for not figuring it out sooner. A BIG WIN for the author and a sure sale for the next book.

      Advice: always be looking for unique ways to solve conflicts. Real couples have real conflicts and your fiction solution may actually work for them!

      BTW: prayer work. Just ask Julie. :)

  2. Hi Debby, I guess I wouldn't identify as a romance reader, because I don't in any way demand a Happily Ever After from a book. However, when I think of a (romantic) Happily Ever After that resonated with me, I think of one particular book—my favorite summer read of 2016. I don't want to share the title, just in case there is any sort of spoiler in my comment, but I will explain why it resonated. In this book, a woman goes through some very unusual circumstances and finds herself in a love triangle. Because of the situation the woman is in, I was intrigued from beginning to end, but what made the ending so very satisfying was that the author kept me guessing as to what would happen. That unpredictability made the journey a stressful one, but it was just the right amount of stress, and it led to the absolute perfect ending. That's what made it memorable, and why I still call it one of my favorites.

    1. Rachel, thanks for sharing! It sounds as if you might enjoy romantic suspense that has that element of surprise in it. Do you read romantic suspense?

      Did you know that some editors don't want love triangle stories? Sometimes what the writers want to include in their stories aren't accepted for publication.

      It sounds as if your favorite story had many elements that kept you turning the page. Isn't it wonderful to find that very special book!

      Thanks for being with us in Seekerville!

    2. Debby, I don't think I've read anything that would be classified as romantic suspense. Any recommendations? :-)

  3. Debby, this is Buh-rilliant, you've done it again. Sacrifice can be as scary as when He throws himself in front of a moving train to save Her, or as still-small-voice as Him wanting what's best for Her and Her wanting what's best for Him.
    I may have hit on something like that in my second book, where Pace's lifetime enemies are coming to Hall's Mill, he knows it and he sends Oona on East ahead of him because he wants her out of the way, even though he knows he may never see her again. Of course she figures it out and comes back, which is HER sacrifice. Except it isn't, because she knows they are meant to be together.
    My husband and I lead a Deeper Life group at our church, and it's interesting how often the marriage relationship comes up as a model for the Christian's walk with Christ. It gives me chills.
    Between projects now, last "Western Dreams" with beta readers and Christmas novella all set except for the galleys. My plate's full with other stuff but would rather be writing. Praying about next book or series.
    May be back later.
    Your Kaybee
    Working it out in New Hampshire

    1. You've nailed that sacrificial love with Pace and Oona's relationship! Way to go, Kaybee! Beautiful.

      You're a busy lady and very prolific. Congrats! Wishing you continued success!!!

      Bless you and your hubby for leading the Deeper Life group at church. I had almost added a bit to this blog about Christ being the bridegroom, which we know from Scripture. In Biblical times, the bridegroom would "find" his bride, then go home to build a room onto his father's house. Once the room was ready, the bridegroom would return to his bride and take her to their new home where they would live together. That info makes John 14:2 more meaningful when Christ says he's going to his father's house to prepare a room for us. We are the bride and he is the bridegroom, which is so powerful. Often we talk about the Church being the bride, which it is, but we are as well. And all of that shows the importance of marriage, the sanctity of marriage when Christ is the center of that union.

      It's a rainy day in Georgia. A dreary, wet day. I hope you're having sunshine and blue skies in the Northeast!

  4. Debby, what a great post! You're right, when the hero/heroine make a sacrifice of some sort, the story goes deeper for me. I loved this. As I begin plotting a new story, I'm going to need to really take this to heart and plan this for that perfect (I hope) HEA.

    1. So glad the blog was meaningful. I'm brainstorming a new story too. Let's pray for one another so our stories and our Happily Ever Afters resonate with editors and readers alike! Hugs! :)

  5. What a brilliant and inspiring post, Debby! I already have your book and will read/review soon. Blessings~~

    1. Thank you, Jackie, on all counts! Blessings to you, dear friend!

  6. That HEA is so necessary for me as a reader, no matter the genre.

    In the classical world, stories were either comedies or tragedies. The comedy was the story that took the hero to the depths and back up again to a resolution. Tragedies are the stories that have the hero starting in a bad place, he finds success along the way, but he ends up either where he started or worse.

    I long for the comedy - the HEA. That gives me hope and anticipation of our future Happily Ever After with Christ. :-)

    1. So true, Jan. I don't enjoy reading tragedies, which is perhaps why I don't often read literary work. I want the stories I read to end on an upbeat note at the minimum. Good should triumph over evil, and if it's a romance, I want that happily ever after. Years ago, I read a story that had a bad guy/criminal type as the protagonist. I kept waiting for him to be redeemed, but it never happened. He died tragically, and the author even alluded to him going to Hell. YIKES! I was disappointed in the story and in the author. I've never forgotten that story and how frustrated I was with the tragic ending.

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  8. I'm reading Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell right now, and this post reminds me of how he talks about the "knockout." Usually readers won't be satisfied unless the obstacles are completely knocked out at the end.
    The main thing that I remember when I finish a story is the characters. If I don't care about them, then their happily after doesn't matter to me. One that I still think about years after reading it is Redeeming Love.

    1. Redeeming Love is an amazing book. I still remember that ending, and I loved the characters.

      I need to review JSB's Plot and Structure and look up the knockout you mentioned. He's a great writing coach!

      I agree with you, Sarah, the characters make or break a book. Do we relate to them, do we want to take that journey with them through the story, do we cheer for them and cry for them and rejoice with them at the end? If we do, then the story is a winner in my opinion!

  9. Hi, Debby! Thanks for the posts about HEAs and the importance of a story with an HEA. Sometimes it's not the book itself that's memorable but the circumstances. When my daughter who has VHL had to have an MRI and I was allowed in the room with her, I chose to bring a romance novel into the area (paper books don't have metal so the nurse allowed it!). Why? The happy ending was what I needed at that time. That always stayed with me because so many people need something happy and joyful at a time that's hard. And there have been so many characters that have resonated with me over the years of reading romance. Thanks, Debby! Hope you have a great day.

  10. Thanks for sharing, Tanya! Yes, those HEAs are needed at times. I'm sure lots of readers have been uplifted during this pandemic through the stories they've read...especially wonderful romance stories that end with a HEA!

  11. Great post, Debby. I love happy ending stories. That is probably why I love Hallmark movies. We always know the two will get together in the end but it is fun to figure out how it will happen. Good reminder to include sacrificial love in our stories. Please put me in the drawing for your book!

    1. I'm eager for new Hallmark movies! :)

      You're in the drawing, Sandy!

  12. HEA are nice but not always reality, so I enjoy alternative endings. I would love to read your a Christmas book. Congratulations 🎈

    1. You're in the drawing, Lucy!

      You're right, not all books end with a HEA! I do want an up beat at the end of a story and for good to triumph over evil.

    2. Yeah, Lucy. I've also heard the term "satisfying ending." And also have heard of stories endings that are "happy for now."

  13. I don't think of one story in particular that resonates with me, but I can think of authors I can count on for those feel good endings. Thanks for posting Debby!

    1. A great point, Lee-Ann. Some authors always provide that "Aww" Ending that remains long after I close the book.

  14. Debby, I just realized I never commented yesterday! I came, read the post, then went off to post about it to FB and Twitter. Then forgot to return. :)

    Great post! I love when there's a grand gesture at the end to prove the character has changed and wants to win over the hero/heroine and prove their love and commitment. It always makes books memorable!

    1. A "grand gesture" is a lovely concept, Missy, that takes the ending to another level! Thanks for sharing!


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