Happily Ever After

Some people wonder why genre readers want to read the same thing over and over. Well, they don’t read the same thing all the time, and they have expectations. A primary expectation?

A Happily Ever After ending.

If you enjoy perusing book reviews on Amazon, you’ll find that many readers (primarily outside of genres, though genre fiction can have the first three faults as well), express similar complaints:

  • The book was boring and they didn’t finish it.
  • The plot was too convoluted.
  • They didn’t like any of the characters.
  • They didn’t like the ending.

When you’re not writing genre fiction (romance, mystery, etc.) you aren’t confined to leaving your main characters happy. In fact, I recently read a book where one of the two main characters was fatally shot near the end of the story. I found this shocking since nothing, to my mind, led the reader to think the author planned to kill a protagonist. But on the other hand, the author hadn’t done much to make me like the protagonist, so I really didn’t care when he died, although I didn’t think he deserved to die. Mission accomplished?

In contrast, the genre reader wants the ending to be happy for everyone, with the possible exception of a clear villain. Even then, they may want to see the villain reform and experience his own happy ending.

In keeping with the expectation of a happy ending, the author needs to make the reader love the characters. On or near page one, the heroine especially needs to touch the reader’s feelings. The reader wants the hero and heroine to deserve their happy ending. Readers won’t root for a hateful, deceitful, conniving protagonist. And therein lies the connection between characterization and a happy ending.

What about plot? Yes, plot matters. The plot must live up to the confines of the genre, but be fresh. This is a tall order, but not impossible for the creative writer. Writers uncertain about genre rules should read as many books in the genre as needed until an “Aha!” moment strikes. Only then can the author understand the genre reader’s expectations about plot well enough to write a marketable book.

And of course, you’re never boring!

Your turn:

What is your favorite genre and why?

What is your favorite book in any genre?


17 Responses to Happily Ever After

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Layton May 12, 2016 at 3:54 am #

    Romantic suspense used to be my favorite genre, but now romance is my favorite. I want to read my happily ever after story. I want to smile and enjoy a story and if I laugh out loud, it’s even better.

    The story that has stuck with me the longest is Told You So by Kristen Heitzmann.

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    Diana Harkness May 12, 2016 at 5:40 am #

    I don’t have a favorite genre–I read anything as long as it is well written. My favorite books are ones that I cannot forget: the Dean Koontz novel Innocence, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, Swamplandia by Karen Russell, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, and my guilty pleasure, The Door into Summer by Robert Heinlein. There are many others, but those are the ones that come to mind this morning.

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    Evelyn Wagoner May 12, 2016 at 5:45 am #

    I’m definitely a “happily-ever-after” girl. I plan to have “Now Living Happily Ever After” on my tombstone! My favorite is, obviously, romance–historical or contemporary–and I don’t mind if a little mystery is thrown in, as long as the romance is the focus. My favorites are Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers (the novel that gave me hope for Christian romances) and Never the Bride by Gutteridge and McKay. They pretty much wrote my life … right down to the purple pen.

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    Renee McBride May 12, 2016 at 6:11 am #

    I read and write sweet and inspirational romance. The romance genre always has a happy ever after, but I’m not as hung up on my spiritual fiction wrapping up every loose end into a happy ending. As long as my protagonist has found a way to Christ, he or she can have a few bumps at the end knowing they’ll have Christ to help them through. Although, a Christian romance should always end with a satisfying relationship building between two protagonists.

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    Teresa-Rae May 12, 2016 at 6:30 am #

    This is a very helpful and timely post! My favorite genre is crime fiction. My favorite book in any genre is Wuthering Heights.

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    Heidi Gaul May 12, 2016 at 6:41 am #

    I love reading Women’s Fiction and Literary. My favorite author is Sue Monk Kidd.

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    Lisa Evola May 12, 2016 at 7:14 am #

    I tend to read mostly YA fiction. As a friend recently put it, YA writers have to be more creative in their story because they can’t fall back on sex and violence. That is pretty much why I read it…
    Not everything is great and creative mind you, but I have found that I enjoy the story much more when I don’t have to cringe at certain parts of a story….and YA is a pretty sure bet.

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    Katie Powner May 12, 2016 at 7:38 am #

    I’m drawn to a variety of stories but not romance so much. I’m okay with it if the ending isn’t happy, sometimes that’s just how it is. I like to write stories that have a resolution but don’t necessarily tie everything up with a bow.

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    Christine Henderson May 12, 2016 at 7:58 am #

    In fiction, I write romance so when I read the genre I tend to read it as a textbook. My favorite escapist genre is suspense with Joel Rosenberg as the author. I appreciate how he makes me ponder and consider things. One of my favorite books of his is Epicenter since it was the first one I read.

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    Linda Riggs Mayfield May 12, 2016 at 8:14 am #

    My favorites are still oldies/classics: early Zane Grey, particularly Riders of the Purple Sage (and I think its made-for-TV-movie starring Ed Harris and Amy Madigan is a classic, too!); the Eugenia Price’s Lighthouse Trilogy, and in what might appear to be a complete departure–all the early Robert Ludlum mysteries, particularly The Holcroft Covenant. A pastor friend introduced me to them, with the caveat that each one has one chapter with gratuitous sex and/or violence, as if his publisher told him he had to include that in the book, so he encapsulated it in one chapter. If you anticipate it and just skip it, you can enjoy the rest of the brilliantly written book just fine. My friend was right.

    Tamela, I learned a lot from your post today. Recently I was telling my husband about the book I was reading, a very popular Christian historical romance, and he began finishing my sentences. He was reading a book written ten years before mine, and the heroine, the circumstances of her mother’s death, the story line, the setting, and the secondary characters were all the same! I felt a little betrayed, and I confess, plagiarism even crossed my mind. Now I’m guessing that genre has a specific and oft-repeated formula, and since my husband and I are both newbies to it, we didn’t recognize that. Disbelief once again suspended. Thanks! 🙂

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    Janetta May 12, 2016 at 8:16 am #

    Happily ever after stories are my favorite. A great book to me is when I think of the characters and wonder what they’re doing after I finished the last page. To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book.

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    Loretta Eidson May 12, 2016 at 8:29 am #

    I love the tense situations protagonists find themselves in that keeps me holding my breath for their safety. Along the way, their attraction to each other grows as love evolves. Obviously, romantic suspense is my favorite, but romance is a close second. Happily-ever-after endings are a definite for me and leave me closing the book with a smile. Some of my favorites are: Jungle Fire by Dana Mentink, When a Secret Kilis by Lynette Eason, Deadlock by DiAnn Mills, and Huckleberry Hearts by Jennifer Beckstrand.

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    Sheri Dean Parmelee May 12, 2016 at 9:53 am #

    Hi Tamela:
    I read a variety of genres, but love biographies of not-so-famous folks. Like someone said earlier, I love a good Joel Rosenberg story but sometimes just want to escape into a Nicolas Sparks novel (I did think things were stretched out a bit with The Longest Ride….I felt the need to skip a few pages from time to time, but that is probably my A++++ type personality rather than a reflection on his writing). When I am getting ready to hop on a plane, I will pick up a book that looks interesting in the airport book store, provided it looks like a “clean” story, well-told.

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    Natalie Monk May 12, 2016 at 11:09 am #

    Inspirational historical romance is my go-to genre and has been since I was eight years old. It does my heart good to remember there was a time when people weren’t constantly glued to screens, when they took time to enjoy the simple things, when men took responsibility and kept promises, a woman’s presence was revered and children were respectful. Social differences of eras, cultures, and regions also pulls me to the genre.

    Romantic suspense would probably be my second favorite, because of the fast pace and protective hero factor, but I love books from many genres: the Narnia books, Jane Austen’s works, a few from Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker. Then there are epic historicals like Chasing the Lion by Nancy Kimball and Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series. I believe I could fall in love with most any genre if the book is well written and doesn’t contain overmuch objectionable content.

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    Grace May 12, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

    I really like happily ever after stories – no matter how many twists and turns the plots might take to get there. I love characters that pull me into it and love to see the story end well for them. I remember abandoning a movie (not a novel I know, but like it in a different way :-)) because the hero was killed in the first part. I had no desire to see the second part of the film, as it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

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    Barbara Blakey May 13, 2016 at 8:19 am #

    The “happy-ever-after” ending is so important to me that I’ve been known to read the last chapter early if I’m in doubt. But as far as my favorite genre, it depends on what’s happening in my life. Sometimes it feels chaotic, and I want a simple dependable read such as something from the #1 Lady’s Detective Agency or I’ll relax in Mitford awhile. But most of the time I want something that makes me think. I want to go on a journey and be surprised along the way. I do not want an insipid romance, I want it to mean something. I read a lot of middle grade and YA because of my business, but I can’t write it well. I also love Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and Dickens. My favorite book is usually the one I just finished.

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    Tamela Hancock Murray May 13, 2016 at 9:57 am #

    I have really enjoyed all these comments. Thank you all so much for stopping by!

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