Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happily Ever After

Most of my erotica markets are in romance, so romance is what I write, although some of my stories are more erotic than romantic, and some are the other way around. For me, the difference between romantic erotica and erotic romance is defined by where the emphasis lies. In erotica, the emphasis is on the sensuality and the sex; in romance, the relationship is the important part.

But the one thing every romance publisher wants is a happy ending.

There are two types of happy endings, according to the industry: Happily Ever After (abbreviated HEA) and Happily For Now (HFN).

I don't believe in Happily Ever After.

I'm sure I must have at one point. I loved Disney and fairy tales as much as the next girl, tomboy or no. But looking back, unless the narrative summarized the rest of the characters' lives together, I've always had the sense that the hero and heroine go on to have lives—and lives contain both happiness and sadness.

I discovered the phrase "call no man olbios who is not dead" while listening to a Teaching Company lecture on Herodotus (who attributes it to Solon), and it perfectly solidified everything I've always felt about "endings." I'd first heard the usual English translation "call no man happy who is not dead" as a child, watching the movie Clash of the Titans. In the movie, Ammon seems to imply that those who are going around saying "call no man happy who is not dead" mean that the only happy people are dead people, and all living people are miserable. But what the phrase originally meant was that you couldn't judge how olbios someone was, couldn't judge how happy or fortunate his life had been, until that life was over. Only when we are dead can the full shape of our lives be seen.

Since most stories stop with the end of the plot arc, and usually do not include a brief summary of the rest of their lives, I've never been able to assume the HEA. I find HFN endings to be much more realistic.

Interestingly, Clash of the Titans has a HEA—Zeus basically commands that Perseus and Andromeda be rewarded with happiness and prosperity. My favorite book, The Blue Sword, also has a HEA, at least in my opinion; the characters' future lives are touched upon, and you are left with the sense that all will be well. I don't object to that at all; in fact, I find it uplifting and satisfying, when it's done right.

The problem is that most modern romance doesn't do that bit of sum-up, but still wants to call itself HEA. I don't buy it. Show me that they stayed together happily for the rest of their days. Otherwise, I'm going to assume that they have to put up with the same tragedy and heartache that the rest of us do. I'm going to assume that they'll have to work to keep their relationship healthy, because that's how it is in real life, thank you.

It's one of the reasons I love the musical Into the Woods. If you're a total romance nut, you should still go see the show—just leave at intermission because the second half is all about what happens after Act One's HEA. Turns out it wasn't an HEA at all, and the stories are much more touching and poignant because of it.

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