At the end of last month, I had the pleasure of speaking to a local reading group. Before I started, I knew the group would be difficult. They tended to read *worthy* books and I write historical romance. However the group meets in my local gastropub and I happen to like the owner. So they put aside JG Ballard’s Empire of the Sun and read my Hattie Wilkinson Meets Her Match.
And the dozen or so ladies came prepared to discuss and dissect my novel.
By far the biggest complaint was that there was a happy ending and things were neatly tied up. Real life isn’t like that quipped the former English teacher who preferred her endings open. She wanted to guess.
I pointed out that closed endings with a satisfactory outcome were preferred by the vast majority of people. And when I read a book, I want closure of the main driving force behind the story or else the story isn’t really done. If you read a murder mystery and the killer was never revealed, you would feel cheated.
In a romance, the spine of the story is the growth of the relationship of the central couple. And that relationship needs to reach a satisfactory conclusion. For the vast majority of readers, they prefer an upbeat ending to one which is shrouded in gloom, doom and despair. So Happily Ever After where the reader can feel that the couple’s love and relationship will survive is a necessity. It was the growth of this relationship which was driving the plot after all.
One book which had a profound impact on me was The Gifts from Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. In it, she describes romantic love as a fragile but perfect shell where the two halves form an identical whole. It doesn’t last long and eventually gives way to the much less pretty but infinitely more practical nautilus shell, a shell which often has bits added but can withstand rigours everything the sea wants to throw at it.
For me, the romance genre concentrates on the perfect but fragile shell but as a reader and an author, I want to know the couple can survive to the nautilus stage. That the shell which holds their love is hard and withstand the hardest storms. And for me, if the couple’s relationship is at the centre of the book and is the glue holding the whole thing together, I want a satisfactory ending for the relationship. In other types of stories where the relationship is not the main glue, a satisfactory ending can be achieved, even if the relationship doesn’t turn out how I would like.
After I explained this, the meeting went far better. However, I doubt I converted that particular woman to the infinite joy and pleasure that is the romance genre. It is her loss and a cross she will have to bear. Personally if I am reading a romance, I want that Happily Ever After feeling when I reach the end of the book.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historic romance. Her next book will be SUMMER OF THE VIKING. You can read more about Michelle and her booksl on her recently re-done website www.michellestyles.co.uk