If you’re a romance reader or writer, you’re likely to know what HEA means. Otherwise, probably not. HEA stands for Happily Ever After. In other words, if you write or read romance, you probably expect your lovers to live HEA with no serious problems. Otherwise, it’s not really “romance.”
This came to my attention recently when Heather Massey wrote a review blog on my SF adventure-romance novel, Beyond Those Distant Stars. You can find it as the July 6 post on The Galaxy Express at http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net. Heather is very positive and supportive concerning the novel, but my non-HEA ending is a bit of a problem for her. At the end of the novel, Jason and Stella do not ride (or fly) off into the sunset together, and the reader knows there will be no more romantic or erotic scenes between them.
For readers wanting a traditional romantic ending, it’s a downer. It also commits the unpardonable sin of being UNPREDICTABLE. One romance reader said online that when she reads romance, she wants “to turn her brain off.” That means she settles into a romance knowing that the course of romance may be rocky, but that all will work out beautifully in the end. HEA will reign.
This may be the main reason readers like romance. It guarantees a predictable, happy product, a storybook ending with the metaphoric equivalent of violins playing in the background. It’s escapist fiction, a recess from the pains and disappointments of the real world.
Now, I admit I don’t read traditional romances, but I think the HEA requirement is too simple. Worse, it encourages sameness, comformity, mediocrity, and predictability. I suspect a lot of folks share a similar negative view of romance, but we shouldn’t forget that some romances are darn good. My point is that romances need to be less restrictive and more open to possibilities in order to explore more fully the often painful and difficult realities of life. Romances can be complex. They can be literature.
The Galaxy Express is devoted to SFR [Science Fiction Romance]. Beyond Those Distant Stars is a science-fiction romance. ONLY, there’s no HEA and while the romance is important, it’s not the main thing. I like this because (1) It’s less predictable and I have a real problem reading a book whose ending I already know in advance, and (2), it contains more verisimilitude, which means it’s truer to life. C’mon: How many HEA couples do you know? For that matter, how many successful, loving couples who have shared a long life together have done so HEA? Answer: practically none. We’re talking about human beings here, folks, and human beings are the most contrary, cantankerous critters in the universe, inclined by their flaws to keep divorce lawyers and day time drama watchers happy.
So when I write science fiction adventure-romance, my lovers will seldom live HEA. Usually they will split up and move on for various reasons, or continue together with some problems and uncertainties. In many ways, I think that’s more interesting and true to life. In addition, when I do write science fiction romance, romance is not the main thing as it is in romances. Always, I’m more concerned with ideas, adventure, and characterization. Always, there are romantic elements rather than a story focusing only on a romance. On top of that, one sex or erotic scene is usually enough. I can make my point with that.
While I know there are readers who want simply to turn off their brains and curl up with a book whose happy ending they’re assured of, I see romance as a continuum of possibilities rather than a fixed standard. IMHO, that’s what romance should be. And if do have a happy couple, they will live HFN (Happy for Now), which to me is more plausible and realistic.