Happy Ever After Is A Choice Not A Given
If you are writing a romance, an HEA (Happily Ever After) is a given. A must. If you can’t bring yourself to write an HEA, you must at least write an HFN, or Happy For Now. Without either of these, your book will not be considered a romance.
The Basic Premise Of Romance
Both romance books and movies are, generally, boy meets girl, misunderstanding ensue, they get married. The music swells, fathers breathe a sigh of relief, mothers weep, woodland creatures burst into song, the bride and groom ride off to his castle.
And What’s Wrong With That?
In Life – Getting married and living happily ever after is not a given.
In Your Writing – If you want to go beyond the predictable in your writing, this HEA trope may be one you could rethink. What if the wedding was the start of the book? What if it occurs in the middle? If your plot and characters are strong enough you CAN write beyond the wedding. What if the HEA isn’t a wedding?
The most important lesson your characters need to learn is this…
Happy Ever After Is A Choice
A happy marriage takes work. Unless you write that into your novel you’ll have two well-adjusted, emotionally mature people working intelligently through life’s daily problems. Trouble is – it isn’t drama. It doesn’t put bums on seats, or books on bedside tables. It’s for this reason that most happy marriages in fiction are sub-plots. Take the Gardiners, Elizabeth Bennet’s aunt and uncle in Pride And Prejudice. They bring commonsense, calmness, clarity, and assistance to the Bennets, as well as the plot.
If you pay attention to the sub-plots in movies such as Brave, Julie And Julia, and Father Of The Bride, you can gain some great tools for enriching your writing, create stronger character arcs, as well as meaningful moments between characters without going all smulchy.
Three Tools Your Characters Need To Ensure A Happy Ever After
Tool Number 1: Knowing what makes your partner happy
Film: Julie And Julia.
It was based on two books: Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell, and My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme.
Main Plot: There are two in this story.
Julia Child finds her life’s passion, goal, and becomes the world’s first TV celebrity chef.
Julie Powell embarks upon a plan to make every Julia Child recipe in her famous cookbook, ‘The Art Of French Cooking’ and turn the journey into a successful blog.
Sub plot: The contrast of the relationships that both Julia and Julie have with their respective partners. Julia’s is great. Julie’s not so much. In fact, Julie and her husband relationship is what provides the film’s drama.
How this plays out:
Julia Child is trying to think of something to do while she and her husband are in living in Paris. Her husband knows Julia loves to eat and so would enjoy cooking. He doesn’t tell her that though, he listens to her thinking out loud, and then asks her what she really likes to do. He knows the answer but gives her the space to realise it for herself. When she says she loves to eat, he agrees, and then again, lets her find her own way to learning how to cook, supporting her emotionally as she overcomes obstacles to make her dream happen. His support is not a one-time event. Another film that does the same thing is Florence Foster Jenkins.
While Julia has enormous talent, Florence has none. Yet in both, the husbands know what brings their wives pleasure and both encourage them in that pursuit. Florence’s husband goes to extraordinary lengths to help her. Her pursuit of her dream is all that matters for him.
Writing Tip: Provide your characters with opportunities to learn what makes their partners happy and find ways to support them, You should also make them suffer the consequences when they don’t care, and don’t support their partners.
Tool Number 2: Holding each other accountable
Film: Father of The Bride (1991)
Father Of The Bride – Annie Banks is engaged to Bryan MacKenzie, a man she’s only known three months. And she wants a big, expensive wedding. Her father, George Banks, is not happy about it.
Sub Plot: It’s not the money that worries George. It’s losing his daughter and that she may ultimately be unhappy. He expresses that fear through constant complaining, especially about the cost.
How this plays out:
George reaches breaking point and melts down in the local supermarket, ending up in jail. His wife, Nina, won’t bail him out unless he promises to stop misbehaving. Nina doesn’t yell, demean, law down the law, or ridicule George. In a cute reminder that this is a film about a wedding where promises are made, and not a film about control, Nina makes him recite a promise which lists his misdemeanours. The final vow in traditional wedding vows is ‘to love and cherish’. The final promise George has to repeat is “I will try to remember my daughter’s feelings, and how with every roll of my eyes, I am taking away a piece of her happiness.”
Writing Tip: Instead of letting your main characters try to control the other person’s behaviour, rather come up with creative ways for one character to help the other see how their behaviour hurts other people.
Tool Number 3: Finding solutions together
Main Plot: Merida wants to forge her own life. Her mother, Eleanor, believes that the best possible future for Merida is marriage. Her own marriage was arranged so she has no sympathy with her daughter’s ‘feelings’, wishes and dreams. She wants Merida to change.
Sub Plot: Demanding one’s own way, not making room for the other person’s thoughts and views on a subject is the perfect recipe for disaster.
How this plays out
Fergus discovers Eleanor working on her tapestry, muttering to herself after a fight with Merida. He wants to help his wife communicate better with their daughter. Wisely, he doesn’t tell Eleanor that the way she handles Merida is wrong. Nor does he tell her what she should be doing or saying.
He suggests a role-play. He’ll be Merida and Eleanor can be herself. He nudges her out of her angry headspace with a hilarious impersonation of Merida. This breaks the tension in Eleanor and allows her to be open enough to find a way through the problem with him.
Writing Tip: No one likes a control freak. Find creative ways to bring your main characters together to work on solving problems as a couple.
The Last Word
If you are writing a romance, characters need to be fully fleshed out. Two-dimensional characters are boring. Constant fighting is tedious. Other characters who help your main characters realise what they’re doing, or by giving them opportunities to have an ‘a-ha’ relationship moment, will make your story more interesting, richer, and deeper.
If you have always wanted to learn how to write a book, start the new year well and sign up for a course with Writers Write It’s the perfect place to learn.
by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series and The Device Hunter. Elaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.
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