Ah, the Happily Ever After — or, HEA as we like to call it — is the golden element that makes a romance novel … well, a romance. But is there only one type of HEA? Can we look at it with only one perspective? Today, we have YA author and English literature professor Marie Rutkoski here to discuss her most important lesson about writing and her thoughts on HEAs. Take a look:
I’m a professor of English literature as well as a writer of young adult fiction, and while my academic focus is on Shakespeare, some of my favorite classes to teach are on the craft of fiction. I’ve been asked by RT to share what I feel is most important for my students to learn about writing. It is this: consider what Happily Ever After (HEA) means for the story, not the characters.
HEA is what we talk about when we talk about love — the deep satisfaction felt by readers when the characters, who have been striving against some current that thwarts their romance, finally get it right. Some of my favorite HEAs: Pride and Prejudice, Fingersmith, I’ll Give You the Sun, Jellicoe Road, Graceling, “The Tiger’s Bride,” Where She Went … I could gladly keep going. There’s a temptation to sink into the deliciousness of the HEA as we traditionally understand it.
Instead, I suggest that we think of HEA more broadly, in the sense that “happily ever after” means different things for different books. However devastated I might be upon finishing Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I understand that this is a happy ending not in the sense that I am happy, or that the characters are happy, but that this is the perfect outcome for the story McCarthy set out to tell. When Paul D. says to Sethe in Beloved that she is her “own best thing,” and she replies, “Me? Me?”, it is a moment of love at its most humane: the effort to salvage, in the face of brutal loss, the self and the other.
The Road and Beloved are hard on the heart. They are meant to be. But they reach their true ends, and there is, if not happiness, a pleasure in the reader at seeing an author keep faith with her characters and world. To urge a writer to seek an HEA is to propose not necessarily a satisfactory romance between characters, or even a romance at all, but rather to emphasize a love between the writer and the book. Be true to your characters. Keep promises made to the story. You can break a reader’s heart, but you can’t break the heart of your story.
— Marie Rutkoski
(Author photo by Tobias Everke)
The Winner’s Crime, the second in Marie’s Winner’s Trilogy, is out now! For more writing advice from your favorite YA authors, visit our Everything YA page!