A Checklist For Writing Your Happily Ever After
Hi everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Today I want to discuss one of the components that is absolutely essential to any romance story - the Happily Ever After ending (HEA). And for this discussion I’m going to lump Happy For Now (HFN) endings under the same umbrella.
From the outside looking in, this element of your romance seems simple enough to write. After completing their story journey, the hero and heroine discover they truly do love each other, they profess this sentiment in a heart-tugging, romantic manner, and then—figuratively or literally—thy ride off into the sunset with the blissful intention of never parting. Easy-peasy, right?
Wrong—at least not if it’s done right. As with most things, getting it right is much harder than it looks.
So how do you make sure your ending is satisfying and memorable? Below are some things you should take into consideration when crafting your story’s HEA
Don’t rush the ending.
There are certain scenes, even in the fastest paced stories, that have a huge emotional payout for your reader - these are the scenes you most certainly DON’T want to race through, that you want to dig into in order to provide depth and texture and sensory richness. These scenes are the heart and soul of your book, the emotional lynchpins that, when structured well, can land a book on many a reader’s keeper shelf. In a romance, the HEA is one of those scenes. This means that you should take the pains to immerse the reader in whatever emotions are applicable - hope, joy, anguish, poignancy, rage, passion, or a deep and abiding commitment, or some combination of these.
Just one note of caution here. While you don't want to rush your ending, you don't want it to drag on either. Make sure you give it the emotional depth it needs and then wrap it up.
The HEA should never appear to be cookie cutter or generic.
An ending that has nothing to do with the characters and their story journey will always fall flat. Rather, your HEA moment should be informed by these specific characters and the specific growth and healing they experienced throughout the story. This is their payoff for all of that angst they endured (and the payoff for the reader as well) so make it fit!
Don't make the HEA moment feel like it comes from ‘out of the blue’.
We’ve all read at least one book where the characters had a relationship that went something like “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, oh wait-I love you.” Not very realistic and also not memorable (except in a bad way). For the HEA to be satisfying the reader needs to feel it came about over time and as a result of personal growth and the recognition of qualities in their .
Your protagonists should show that they’ve earned their HEA.
They do this by exhibiting growth through overcoming obstacles both external and internal throughout their story journey. It should be clear that the people they were at the beginning of your story could not have made the commitment necessary to grasp their HEA, that it is only by undergoing the changes experienced through their story journey that they are finally ready to make the necessary leap of faith.
There should be a sacrifice of some sort on the part of both protagonists.
Again they need to show they deserve this reward. The sacrifice they each make won’t be the same or even carry the same weight. Instead the sacrifice will be tied to who they are and what their wound is. And a good rule of thumb is, whoever has the biggest problem with commitment should be the one to sacrifice the most, to make the biggest leap, to make himself/herself vulnerable in order to reach for the HEA in the end.
There should be indications that this HEA is truly a new beginning for a rich and fulfilling life to come.
Now that they’ve committed to each other the reader wants some indication that this commitment will stick, especially if one or both fought really hard against it for a large portion of the story. In many romances this is done with an epilogue, but that’s not the only way to do it. It can be shown in the depth of the sacrifice, in the willingness of a proud protagonist to humble himself.
So that’s my HEA checklist. If you've reached this point in the writing of your story, you've invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears in its creation - make sure you don't fumble the ending. Give your readers an ending that makes them sigh with satisfaction and think about your story long after they've closed the book.
Can you give an example of a book or film that you thought had a particularly memorable HEA? Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for any book from my backlist.