Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Our Bad Heroes and Getting to a Happy End

Yesterday, I made the decision to temporarily leave a critique group that I had been for a long time.  It wasn’t an easy choice to make because I love the women who make up that group and I learned a ton working with them.  But, several months ago, I hit the jackpot and found a really fabulous critique partner.  The woman really knows her stuff and there is nothing like having someone really pay attention to your work to make you write better.


So, when it started to feel like my head might explode—I’m pregnant, we’re renovating the house, I’m editing a full length novel, I just finished writing a full length novel, I’ve started writing another full length novel, and I have a husband and two small children at home who need me—I knew something had to give.


Fortunately, I happen to be a member of two critique groups.  So I knew that giving up one group did not have to mean giving up critiquing all together, it just meant that out of everything I did, something would have to be let go. 


I will miss them all terribly and I hope they continue to let me know what they are doing in their writing and in their lives.


This got me thinking about endings.  I really struggle to end a book.  My father had this great line he used to say when I was growing up, and I have no idea if it is someone else’s quote that he uses, or if he made it up himself but he used to say: It’s better to have a horrible ending than horrors without end.  I think about this a lot in real life.  I’ve had to end ‘friendships,’ business dealings, and relationships that just were getting too horrid for words.  Each time although the end was awful, I felt better for having made the break. 


But this just doesn’t work so well in the land of Happily Ever After or Happy For Now.  For the record, up until this point all of my work has been HEA although I am currently working on something that is a little different for me (1st person narrative, HFN) and we’ll see how that goes.  I digress. 


Readers aren’t happy with a good enough happy ending.  Especially in a full length, they have spent a lot of time reading and investing in your hero and your heroine and they expect to see them reach their conclusion. In Romance, that is a Happy Ever After.  Whatever challenges they have been through, they just want to see them ride off into the proverbial sunset and be happy together. 


Our readers, however, are not stupid.  Just because you claim the couple is happy does not mean they believe you. If ten pages before the end of the book, the hero is berating the heroine in a terribly demeaning manner, having him simply come back and apologize does not a happy ending make.  We all live in the real world (or some semblance of it) and we know that a woman who takes that kind of abuse and forgives it with a smile is most likely doomed to a life of that kind of behavior. 


So I guess my question is this: Since we write about bad boys, alpha males, and lets face it the kind of guys our mothers told us to stay away from when we were children and were smart to do so, how do we redeem them at the end?  What is the secret for taking a bad boy and making him so much better that we can’t help but forgive them?  Why do we forgive them in our books when we would never let our friends, sisters, girlfriends get any where near them in real life?




Sandra Sookoo said...

Because we read for escape from real life. Although recently I've bemoaned the fact that men in real life are hardly Alphas anymore, and if they were, would we even still like them? In this day and age of equal rights for women, etc., would the antics of an Alpha male really fly?


We'd call them a prick and leave them in a hurry. So, thus, we read and count on our authors to write about our fantasies.

For me, a guy in a book has to make a real, believeable sacrifice in order to win his lady love. Make it hurt him where it counts, and vice versa actually. Women are not above having to make a sacrifice too.

But that make be just me. I'm not into the cavity sweet endings. My characters have to work for it :-)

Anonymous said...

Great post, Rebecca.

I think we forgive them because we expect the happily ever after and know that the irritable alpha male will make the heorine's life complete. Sandi was right in saying that we read to escape real life.


J Hali said...

OOOH! Rebecca, a hard one for me...NOT! I'm a sucker for a the HEA. I like the bad boys and the heroine should feel lucky to have captured his attention especially if he's busy trying to save the world, his species or something important like that. And if you write the strong kickass heroine, the same for them - the hero should feel lucky she found a moment for him.

You know what I really think *grins* Should the bad boy/girl have to CHANGE. Why can't he/she be accepted for who they are? Yeah, they may kill a few people along the way, might even hurt each others feelings. Can't they say sorry, make up and strive not to do it again? In reality we hurt those we love sometimes. The people I love allow me to say I'm sorry and strive with me to be a better person.

As a reader, I know the reality but I need to escape sometimes in "make believe" which for me is the sappy I'm sorry and Happily Ever After.


Sandy said...


I agree with Joann that the hero/heroine need to accept each other with all their flaws as well as good points. They can't be perfect, or they wouldn't be real.

Annie Nicholas said...

Thought provoking post. I've wondered about this myself and even experimented with it in my writing by making the hero more realistic and less Alpha. It was not recieved well, to say the least. LOL
My only answer is people don't want to read reality, they live it.
Personally, I would like to read about the shy little league coach falling in love with the single mom story. Is that romance though? or women's lit?

Rae Lori said...

I agree with the others, alphas and bad boys are fun to write and escape with in the pages of a book. In real life we probably wouldn't tolerate much of what romance heroes get away with but it's fun to fantasize about all the quips and swoony dramatic gestures that our heroes and heroines do in the stories. I happen to like a varied range and have a soft spot for "nerdy" type of heroes. :-)