Posted October 2, 2008 by Holly in Discussions | 27 Comments

Yesterday we had a discussion via Twitter about Happy for Now vs. Happily Ever After. As a romance reader, I’ve long professed my love of HEAs. I think most of us expect an HEA, no? Why else would we read romance.

But I’ve noticed an increase in dissatisfaction with the normal “marriage and baby” HEA. Or maybe I’ve just been spending too much time w/ Jen (heh). So I posed the question on Twitter:

Talking about HEA’s today. Are they necessary, or you ok w/o one? So far: Romance = HEA; Other genres = doesn’t matter. Your thoughts?

From there we had a lively discussion about whether or not we require a HEA in our books, whether they be part of a series or standalone. Then general consensus was that, yes, we need a HEA. But it made me wonder, what defines HEA? Marriage and baby? Or is being committed/engaged enough? Is an engagement/commitment considered a HFN? Or is HFN just the hope that things will continue?

I believe the answer to all the questions above are subjective. It completely depends on the story, characters and author whether marriage is required, or implied commitment is enough. Some examples I used:

Against the HEA: A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux – I would have liked this book better, had more respect for the author, if she hadn’t written an HEA for this book. I feel like both the hero and heroine were cheated by the throwaway ending Deveraux gave us.

For the HEA: Eve and Roarke from J.D. Robb’s In Death series. I don’t think anything less than the full HEA w/marriage would have worked for this couple. We really needed that full commitment from Eve, I think, to know she was truly serious about Roarke. I think we would have doubted her level of commitment otherwise. I realize this is part of an ongoing series, but even if it hadn’t been (JDR mentioned in an interview once that she’d only planned to write them as a trilogy! I’m so glad she continued on), I still would have required marriage to make the end believable.

Besides the above mentioned, there are many novels I feel require an HEA to make me happy. I’ve never been shy about sharing that I need my stories wrapped up with a nice, neat little bow.
There are times when I’ll accept a HFN, however. Even prefer it, if I’m being honest. I think I’ve become a bit jaded, but too often lately I find myself rolling my eyes that every single couple marries and has a baby and all of a sudden lives happily ever after.

We also discussed how we hate it when a couple gets a HEA in the beginning of a series and then loses it later. Again I used Jude Deveraux as an example: Her Forever trilogy. The h/h got a HEA in book one, lost it in book 2 and never really got it back in book 3. It was very frustrating.

On the other hand, there have been a couple times when a we see a couple from early in the series struggling with something in a later book and I kind of enjoy that. Not that their HEA is compromised, but they’re struggling with some real life conflict.

Again, it’s subjective. I’m curious how the rest of you feel.

Do you require an HEA for each romance novel you read? What about other genres? If you do, what do you consider an HEA? Marriage and baby? Or is commitment/engagement enough for you? Do you find, like me, that there are exceptions to every rule? Or are you pretty set in your beliefs for how a romance should end?

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27 responses to “HEA vs. HFN

  1. As I said on Twitter, I can be fine with a HFN as long as I am prepared for it. When reading a book classified as a romance, it MUST have a HEA. Rainbows, butterflies, love true love. If the book is set in the first person, it’s usually a clue to me that it is a series with the same protagonist throughout, and therefore I should expect a HFN. I can be happy with that, I just have to know. In UF I know not to expect a happy ending. Do I need babies at the end? No. Do I like babies? Oh, yes! But it has to be appropriate for the couple and the story.

  2. I’m not so much attached to the type of ending as I am to the craft of getting there. If the ending is contrived regardless of the type I leave dissatisfied. The same goes for major plot threads left unresolved at the end of a book. If it isn’t resolved till later in a series or at all don’t introduce it as a major thread in the book. It can be hinted at if it will become a major thread in a later book otherwise IMO its not key to the story and shouldn’t be there.

    I think major threads can be resolved satisfactorily without either an HEA or a HFN – hard to do but possible though sometimes its even harder to resolve them in an HEA or HFN manner without becoming contrived which irks me as a reader as much or more than the ending not being what I “wanted” to happen.


  3. For me, a happy ending is one where I can *see* these people managing a working, satisfactory relationship. It can be just the first hurdle in a long row, but if I close the book feeling that they can keep it together, that’s enough for me.

    It’s a difficult balance to keep the story realistic (characters I can buy as *people* with flaws and troubles and hangups, etc) and maintain the fantasy (they will be happy, by golly!)

    Generally speaking, epilogues annoy me. Way too neat, if you ask me. I think I like one in every hundred or so… 😀

  4. I think, having come to the genre from the UF and paranormal side, I’m more willing to be happy with a HFN. It sort of closes the episode for me, and that satisfies me greatly. But I think the answer might be different for different books. Like, I think of the BDB, what if Marissa decided to leave Butch? I think that could be kind of interesting.

    I’ve seen sometimes where the HEA is manufactured and false,and I hate that. But I also hate in some UF where they won’t let the romance progress, and I feel VERRA frustrated with that. Like, it’s a three or four book arc to get anybody together.

  5. Dev

    HEA is a must for me. I’ve said it before, but I always read the last chapter of a book before I start. Always. That way, if it doesn’t end the way I want it to, I don’t waste two hours of my life reading it.

  6. In a romance novel, I expect a Happily ____. Whether it be HFN or HEA, I want the happy. That’s why I read romances.

    Which do I prefer, HEA or HFN? That depends on the way the story’s written. As long as I get what I expect going in, that’s great. I’m happy. BUT I WANT HAPPY. =)

  7. A commitment is enough for me (like Hugh and Lilith — they are never going to get married or have babies, but I consider it a HEA, definitely).

    Categories, a part of me expects marriage, but if I’m convinced by the love story (and typically, I prefer it if the words are exchanged) I’m all right with it.

    If I’m reading a romance, I want the commitment at the end (and if it was a romance, I don’t want to read about them marrying other people later in the series.)

    Other genres, I’m a lot more open.

  8. I want happy…regardless of genre. Doesn’t have to be an HEA as long as I don’t get hit out of left field with some radical BS.

    On that note, i think part of the hea/hfn issue (cuz lord knows it’s been discussed rather heatedly before) stems from the fact that many of us have different definitions for each.

  9. (I should add dying to the thing I don’t want to see post-HEA. Unless they both die of old age. But one h/h dies and then goes on to find another true love? Blergh. I’d rather see them both tortured and killed and cry my eyes out (because I’m sick like that)).

  10. it’s a three or four book arc to get anybody together

    An excellent point, CJ. I think this is one of the reasons I dislike Suzanne Brockmann’s series. Same with Joan Johnston’s Bitter Creek series. They both started out fine, but then the HEAs got dragged out through one too many stories. Blech.

    Something else to consider:

    Most novels/genres offer a HEA. Perhaps not a fall-in-love HEA, but a good over evil HEA. Sure there are exceptions, but I’ve long argued (to those romance skeptics) that they read very similar stuff to what I read. At the end of a King or Koontz book, you want to know Good has triumphed, right? And if the guy gets the girl, so much the better.

  11. I am like Dev in that I have to read the last 10 paages of the book to see how it ends and if I am going to like it. If the ending sucks then I don’t read it.

    I have to have a happy ending. If it is a stand alone than I want an epilogue where we see them either married or having a baby. In a series I want to see growth from the couple. I’ll use Eve and Roarke as an example also, we have been able to see them grow as a couple, yes they have their fights and struggles but who doesn’t in a relationship especially a marriage, but they always work it out.

    So for me there has to be a Happy Ending.

  12. Meljean,
    I totally agree! I’d so much rather both characters die, or the one left behind stay alone forever. Maybe I’m evil?

  13. Heather,
    But what is a happy ending? Is it marriage and babies? Or just a commitment to each other (or maybe an engagement)?

    In Susan Mallery’s Marcelli series, Christine Feehan’s Drake Sisters series (and many, many others), the sisters each got their own book w/ a HEA, but were engaged rather than married in subsequent books. Obviously those are examples of HEAs, yes? But what if the couple decides they aren’t ready to get married, a la Kelly and Tom in Suzanne Brockmann’s series? Is that an HEA? I could be argued that no, it isn’t, because it was uncertain whether they’d ever get married (Kelly was very resistant to the idea).

  14. Willa

    Yes, I want a HEA, that’s why I read the genre, AND I want a commitment. Whether the commitment is marriage, a mating bond or dancing nekkid together around Stonehenge at dawn, I don’t mind.

  15. I’m a HEA girl every time. Its what I expect from this genre and its also what I enjoy. I like to know that these characters that i’ve invested time in are going to be happy together forever.

  16. I want a happy ending. It doesn’t have to be pink and sparkly, but it does have to be positive and satisfying.

    HEA is preferable in romance, but sometimes HFN is more believable. I hate a sugary HEA added to the story just for its own sake, ESPECIALLY in epilogues. Bleh.

    I’d rather have the book end with them holding hands and planning their next date than jump straight into an epilogue that has them walking down the aisle or cooing over their newborn. To me that implies that no happy ending is complete without a baby. And maybe for a lot of people it isn’t. But to assume that every couple wants a wedding and a baby within the first year of meeting is crazy to me.

    Don’t get me started on books that end with a pregnancy announcement. *head/desk*

  17. I’m cut and dried. I read romance for the HEA. HFN leaves me feeling unsatisfied.

    Okay okay… they spiel their “deepest inner emotions”. Great. But what happens in two weeks when the job is a real case, or the kid, or the MIL…??? Those problems leave me feeling unfulfilled and often cheated.

    My life is already Real Enough, thankyouverymuch. I will read books knowing they’re HFN and that’s okay. It bugs me worse when they AREN’T Romance per se, but are pitched/sold/marketed that way. I go in expecting a groovy solid romance. I get a smooch and “you’re sexy” at the end.

    Yeah, baby. Rock my world. *eyeroll*

    Sorry. It’s an angsty subject for me. 🙂

  18. Both work for me. HEA’s I expext at the end of a stand alone romance because it’s the standard I set for romance books. But if a romance has continuing story arc that covers a few books then HFN is a-okay with me.

    In UF and Fantasy, HFN are normally what I expect. And with these genera’s I don’t care if there is no HEA, just as long as all of the loose ends are tied up neatly.

  19. lorraine

    I’m all about the HEA. It’s why I read the romance genre. I’m with Diana…my life is real enough. I want true love soul mates who want nothing less than than the whole shebang…marriage and children. I don’t have to read about the kids, but I want to know that’s where they’re headed.

  20. I used to be dyed in the wool HEA or get out of my book! I don’t consider KISA a HEA and hated the ending of that book. Still grates when I think of it.

    I also don’t want to see the H/H die on the page of old age – makes me sad. When I close the book I want to know that I can go back and re-visit them without thinking ‘well they’re dead’. Cause, duh, if it’s a historical then of course they died but I didn’t have to experience it and they stay forever young.

    Wait, I’m off point.

    Anyways, I’ve noticed some epilogues that were putting way too much sugar into the ending. I don’t have children and can’t but that doesn’t mean I’m not a living embodiment of HEA. So for me, I don’t need to see babies or pregnancies (although I do realize that that happens for most people).

    All this to say I’m okay with HFN although it’s with the knowledge that these two people are going to be each other’s mates for the rest of their lives.

    I *wouldn’t* be happy if after everything the H/H look at each other and say, ‘so, should we see where this takes us?’ Cause I might have to fictionalize myself and go in and kill ’em.

    So no HEA for them.

    Please, don’t take the HEA or HFN away? Pwwwwwease?


  21. Anonymous

    For me HFN is only satisfing as long as I eventually get the HEA. Once h/h gets the HEA, then I’m completely satisfy and do not need to see glimpses of them in other stories, living their HEA. It’s like saying, “and oh yeah, it’s still happy, happy, joy-joy for them.” That’s not necessary and stretches my willness to be delusional too far.

    For me, HEA is getting that feeling security and everlasting. In romance, marriage is the whip cream and the baby is the cherry on top – you don’t need it and may even make you a little sick afterwards but gosh, it looks good. Babies endings don’t bother me because for most (except Holly:), it’s comforting because it’s living proof of h/h’s love and immortalized their love. God knows, I never want to think the h/h will ever die. (kinda like Joey’s approach – I just want to put their story in the freezer and think it will be stay the same forever).

    Like Aztelady, I prefer the story to be as realistic as possible but at the end, I’m perfectly happy to drink the Koolaid.


  22. Anonymous

    I don’t need to marriage or babies; a commitment is enough of a HEA for me. I actually really like with Brockmann does with her recurring characters, as long as she never EVER destroys a previously established happy relationship. That would be it for me. But I trust her not to do that. — willaful

  23. MPH- heehee! I forgot about Joey putting the book in the freezer. Fabulous!

    When I read a romance I want the HEA. It is why I read them. There is enough “Yeah, I like you” stuff going on in RL relationships. I want the whole enchilada for my H&h. Babies are not needed, although they can sometimes be nice. I like to know the couple is at least headed towards that wedding (or some form of life long commiment.) I read romance for escape. Reality need not apply.

    Now, when it comes to UF I am totally fine with a HFN or even a promise of potential being fulfilled. Mercy Thompson is the perfect example of this.It took three books before she made a choice and is pairing up with the right guy. We shall see what happens in future books, but for now I am pleased as puch with how things are going.

  24. Yep, I like the HEA. It doesn’t mean that it always has to end with marriage and babies. I am willing to allow the author a little creative freedom in this aspect, but under no circumstances should the hero or heroine die at the end of the book. This is why after reading Message in a Bottle by Nicolas Sparks, I will never read another one of his books again.

    Funny story, when a friend of mine asked me if I read Nicolas Sparks (because she knows I read). I told her that I didn’t for the exact reason of dying main characters. I then told her that I strictly read romance and I asked her if she new the difference between a “love story” and romance. She lowered her voice and said, “The sex?”. I laughed and said no. The reason for the difference was with a romance you are guaranteed a “happy ever after” and that no one dies at the end. Believe it or not I think she was intrigued. Who knows, next week she just might ask me for a recommendation.

  25. Hmm…good question. I don’t mind a HEA or a HFN, because to me, they are both happy endings. All I ask is that it reads as believable. 🙂

    Pet peeve? The over-sugared aw shucks type endings where the characters basically become ridiculous charicatures of themselves and act stupidly and annoying. Grr.

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