"A Candle Loses Nothing By Lighting Another Candle" - Father James Keller

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Behind the scenes around here there has been a lot of discussion of HEA (Happy Ever After) and HFN (Happy For Now) endings.  A wonderful author, Simon Lowrie, has begun delving into this matter for me with the great post below.  Please comment! We would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. 

Simon Lowrie Begins Authors By Authors HEA/HFN Discussions

"The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means."

So said Oscar Wilde, in perhaps the most famous ever dig at happy endings.  He died in 1900, so clearly the tyranny of neat conclusions has been around some time. These days,  happy-ever-after is as much a part of the package in some genres as the ISBN, and even has the handy little code of HEA to save the chore of writing it out.  A modern editor of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, or Jane Austen’s Persuasion, would return the manuscripts with a curt note saying that while the writing and plot show promise, the finalé is unacceptable and badly needs a rewrite.

Romance books have become a product, a brand like Oxo or Coca Cola. Upon consumption it must have that dependable taste or risk being considered a rogue sample.  Mills & Boon were the first to carve The Rules in ink, discovering a formula that allowed safe and predictable escape from the Great Depression of the thirties.  Outside the window was the Dustbowl, while between the covers of their books was a sheltered paradise of love gone right. 

It is perhaps true that endings, even ones which try to be clever and escape the box, must always be a little artificial and forced. A real life situation, after all, just muddles on and on until it fizzles out, and the same could be argued for life itself. Nobody wants that in a novel – why should they?  But before Mills & Boon ushered in the new idea of Rules on Rails,  writers were as free with their ends as with their middles and beginnings. These days the Rails lead to a different place - only women can write, the bedroom door must be left wide open, and so forth, but the concept itself is here to stay. The purest form of story ever invented is the fairytale, and while they don’t always end happily, they always end well: justice is done, or a lesson is learned, or a great obstacle overcome.  End a book this way and you can’t go wrong, for you’ll have all of history on your side. But happiness? That’s optional.

Simon Lowrie

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