1. Slade Lucas
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    Slade Lucas Member

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    Love - Happily Ever After or Better for Heartbreak?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Slade Lucas, Apr 25, 2014.

    I have realised a habit that I have somehow fallen into when I have been planning my stories. I have many ideas for stories floating around in my head but one thing they all have in common is that the main character never actually gets to be with the character who he is in love with. Either the love interest dies or the love interest AND the main character die.

    In a story that I am writing now I have taken it a step further. All the characters live but the main character's love interest falls in love with someone else, a boy she loved when she was younger but whom she could not be with on account of the age difference between them. To rub salt into the wounds, every other character ends up in a relationship - the villain, after having his powers taken away, becomes good and goes to apologise to the girlfriend of one of the men he murdered and, eventually, the two of them fall in love. The villain's henchman and henchwomen were only in on his evil plan because they thought it might help their forbidden love to be acceptable, and at the end of the story they think "Well, let's just get together anyway."

    But the main character gets no one.

    I was just wondering what everyone else thinks about love in stories. Do you think heroes should get their love in the end because they deserve it or do you think that sometimes it is refreshing to find a story where not all goes to plan?
     
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  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Slade Lucas - Just off the cuff here ...I think the important thing is for your readers to feel that the right things have happened in your story.

    By 'right things,' I mean the ending should organically develop from the rest of the story. When the reader closes the book, they should think ...yes, it had to happen that way.

    I don't mean there has to be a happy ending, but an unhappy ending can feel just as forced as a happy one, if the circumstances leading up to it don't seem to be connected in any way.

    From what you said, you seem to be the sort of person who feels, in your core, that 'happy endings' don't exist. Therefore, if your hero walks away with no one, or the wrong guy gets the girl, or your bad guys get stuck with the relationships they deserve, then your endings will probably work, because the rest of your story will have led up to them.

    Don't worry about pleasing everyone, because you won't. Some people hate unfulfilled love stories, some people feel that happy endings aren't realistic. Some people like romance, some people hate it.

    Just write the story that feels right for you, and don't be tempted to veer off in either direction if it goes against the grain of what you want to say about life, and the fairness or likelihood of love.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2014
  3. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    Honestly love-stories are so predictable. IMO stories where every character ends up neatly getting together are worse than stories where even the love interests of love interests are in love triangles. It needs to make sense for the characters to end up in relationships to end up in those relationships. In the most memorable love stories I've ever read the boy could have got the girl but since he knew the girl was bewitched to fall in love with him as a reward it just ended up ruining there friendship and they each went their own way.

    It needs to make sense and be believable for the characters and the story.
     
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  4. Slade Lucas
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    Slade Lucas Member

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    I actually quite like happy endings. But for some reason I always feel that it would be too easy to give my hero the love of his life. He can have everything else - he can save the world, he can have a happy life (unless he dies, but he usually leaves his friends with a happy life because of his sacrifice), he can have money, superpowers - whatever. But not love. I dunno, it just feels as if he needs to learn a lesson from letting himself love someone who could never love him. Plus it is not totally true that he doesn't get love - technically he falls in love with the powers that he has and they become a central part of his life.

    I hate clichéd romance stories, too. That's why I try to avoid them, at least with my main character.
     
  5. Chiv
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    Chiv Active Member

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    I dislike happy endings. Too much closure and often unrealistic. Particularly involving love. I think contentment is a good goal to aim for. Characters (or at least some of them) should be content. By all means, every once in a while the guy should get the girl, because that does happen in life, but if it does happen, there needs to be cause for it. It sounds weird but I think a character should have to EARN their happy ending/contentment. I think the way I would go about it is lead toward a happy ending, but leave it open. Just please don't end with a happily ever after.

    “And will I tell you that these three lived happily ever after? I will not, for no one ever does. But there was happiness. And they did live.” -Stephen King
     
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  6. Slade Lucas
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    Slade Lucas Member

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    How can you earn love more than saving the Earth from getting blown up...

    I think that I will leave it open as you say. I want to leave it so that it is a good place for an end but if I would want to continue it I could.
     
  7. Chiv
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    Chiv Active Member

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    Well by earn I don't really mean through heroic actions, more through enduring through hardships. Any generic hero is made to save the world, but it's what they are put through and how they deal with it that makes them unique. However I would like to mention that I also think that it is important to give an ending that the story deserves, not the character. Don't make anything feel forced just to make the character have a happy ending.
     
  8. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    In romance novels, it's an absolute no-no to not have a happily ever after of some sort, and I think this can be loosely applied to most romance in fiction. Sometimes, the story is a tragedy and the hero doesn't get his love. I find such stories have to be much better written then happy end stories, because the reader is seriously emotionally challenged, so they'll be judging the craftsmanship of the writer more harshly. Or, rather, they need to be convinced the emotional investment and loss they'll experience because of the ending, was worthwhile, either due to beautiful prose or a profound message.

    Personally, I hate tragedies. I think there's too much tragedy in the real world as it is, I prefer the escapism in my literature. I can put up with a lot in fiction, but the ending needs to leave me feeling warm and fuzzy, not angry or devastated. It's all a matter if personal preference.
     
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  9. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    I oppose love in stories.

    Love is for fanfiction.
     
  10. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Look at it as a reader. Assume the author as done their job and you're emotionally invested in the protagonist and those important to him/her. You've been in their mind and have literally experienced the events of the story. So for all practical purposes you are the protagonist and truly (if a bit temporarily) are in love that character you're about to kill off. To make it worse, poetic justice says that the protagonist must be rewarded for being steadfast, and not bolting when good sense said to get the hell out of there. And then the author kills your girlfriend...the end

    Do you:
    a) Cheer?
    b) Throw the book across the room?

    You can kill off the characters and pull it off, but you damn well better make the reader see that it was absolutely necessary to the resolution of the story.
     
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  11. Echoesian
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    Echoesian Member

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    I agree with what's been said already-- that it needs to satisfy the story and the readers, and feel "right" so the reader doesn't become angry and refuse to read any other book you write.

    But another thing I wonder is... who's to say that the hero getting his love has to be a perfect happily ever after? It could come with some other consequence that might not be roses and sunshine. It could involve a sacrifice, loss, etc. Maybe his in-laws are the villians, or whatever.

    It doesn't have to be cliche.
     
  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I think it all depends on the book and style of story - I'd be damn confused if I read a historical romance and the love interests didn't wind up together - unless you're going for a step up - there's romance and then their's historical with romance thrown in - like Gone with the Wind. The romance is essential to the story but it's not the all and all of GWTW. Even then Mitchell knows enough to keep things open ended. Tragedy works for literary pieces & upscale general fiction but it's damn hard to pull off with easy going genre. Most genre readers are looking for entertainment. There's nothing entertaining about a tragic ending.

    Also never have an ending come out of left field - if the book is built around the idea that something like this might happen it's a helluva lot easier to take than a 'surprise' everyone dies ending. I remember watching that
    Jack Nicholson movie The Pledge - everyone I know hates that ending but I thought it suited the movie. I think that's the most important part of an ending - it has to be the most suitable, not the most agreeable.
     
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  13. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I believe in true love, so I tend to find happy endings in this respect realistic. If the couple has worked their asses off to be together, it feels right that they do get to be together. But sometimes the opposite works, especially if I get the feeling the two aren't supposed to be together (e.g. one of them is annoying or abusive in teenage-vampire-sque way). Sometimes the couple doesn't even have any chemistry. To me this is the case with Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson novels. I like Mercy as a character, but her love life was disastrously boring.

    Then there are those characters you just really, really want to end up together. You feel like they deserve a friggin break, yet the author just won't deliver it... It's bittersweet. There's this fantasy novel, I won't disclose the name so as not to spoil anything, but contrary to what I expected, I was okay with the terribly depressing ending. I think that was because I knew the author would not let the HEA happen because he constantly put his characters through crap with only tiny twinkles of hope here and there. I knew it wouldn't happen, but hoping against hope I read on... only to find out I was right. At first I was angry and disappointed, but when I thought it over, how a happy ending would've looked like... No, I couldn't even see those couples end up together, having a home, making babies, etc. The author had made the right decision, the decision his characters would've made.

    Then there was this thriller and the author introduced a very cool female character and she had a great chemistry with the MMC, and then she was whacked in the end. There I could see the two leading a happy life together and then she just got shot. On the last effing page. I'm like fffffuu...

    There is one love-trope that sometimes bugs me though, and that's the gruff warrior who's lost the love of his life. It annoyed me to no end in The Night Angel (by Brent Weeks), although I have read some stories where I wasn't quite so annoyed (like The Dark Tower).

    I don't read romance apart from Juliette Benzoni's Marianne-series ('cause Marianne kicks ass), but I tend to look for romantic plots in the novels I read. It's realistic that people form bonds, relationships, fall in and out of love/lust, etc. so I kind of expect it from fictional characters too.
     
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  14. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends on what role the romance plays in the story. In some stories the romance is going to be tied to the character's goal, and in others it isn't. That makes all the difference.

    Stories are pretty simple...for the most part, a story consists of a main character who has a goal, a "villain" (could be any number of things/people/concepts) that keeps the character from reaching that goal, and the strategies and choices taken and made in order for the character to overcome the villain and reach the goal.

    To me, character goals are best when they're multi-layered. So a character wants Thing A. Great, but that's not what he really wants. The best character goals dig deep--they're intangible, almost indefinable, complex, contradictory feelings that not even the character himself understands, at least at first. The desire to be accepted, the desire to move past a tragedy, the desire to prove self-worth--things like that. And these goals can be reached in any number of ways, whether through romance or not. And that's why romance may or may not matter, because what really matters in a story is that the character's goal--the deep-down, intangible goal--is reached and satisfied. The goal on the surface might be to find love, but the deep-down goal might be to find self-acceptance. If the self-acceptance happens and the love doesn't work out, that's okay. The reader is still satisfied, because the true goal--self-acceptance--is met, and the character's arc completes. This is why bittersweet endings work so well. We know the characters are better off, but not everything works out exactly the way we want them to--but we're okay with it, because the important things are satisfied.

    In romance, obviously, that deep-down goal is satisfied by the romance. Maybe that's the case in some non-romance stories, too. In those cases, the romance working out is part of the satisfaction of meeting the goal, and it needs to work out for the reader to walk away satisfied. But if the romance is not relevant to the goal, then it doesn't matter if it works out or not. If the goal is moving past a tragedy, and the character obtains that closure while losing a romance along the way, the reader is still satisfied. Because the real problem of the story--how can Joe get past his father's early passing?--is wrapped up in a nice, neat bow. The reader's been following that conflict for 300+ pages and gets closure on it. The romance is merely a side-plot.

    Character goals drive the story--they create the conflict because the purpose of the "villain" is to oppose the character in his/her quest to achieve the goal. Side-plots come and go--some are wrapped up neatly and others are left hanging, depending on story needs--but the reader is invested in the character because she/he wants to see that main goal satisfied. That's what matters. The romance may or may not be part of it, and that's up to the writer, because only the writer knows the characters well enough to understand what outer goals will satisfy the inner goals. The reader doesn't want to know, for the same reason the audience doesn't really want to know how the magic trick is done. We just want to be taken along for the ride.
     
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  15. sunsplash
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    sunsplash Bona fide beach bum

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    You don't always get your hearts desires and I think there's something to be said for a MC that's strong enough to pull through disappointment like that and continue on. I even much prefer it if the realization is made that, in the end, they just weren't right for each other and it wouldn't have worked anyway, or she truly loves him enough to let him go and be with his choice. If the story is strongly romantic, there's a expectation of a cavity-induced ending, but if that's not the central focus, there's absolutely nothing wrong with everyone not being coupled off in the end...and honestly, the cynic in me usually prefers it that way. I'd say, since you're so unsure (and if you haven't yet finished writing), don't decide on an ending until you're there and see where the characters take themselves. If you force it either way, it usually shows to the reader.
     
  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @xanadu -
    I SO much like this paragraph. You've put an intangible writing matter into words, very well indeed. It's making me think hard about my own story, to determine which of my main character's goals is the most intrinsic to him.
     
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  17. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks! That really means a lot.

    Now I just have to practice what I preach...it's easy to say things like that. But try to write a story around it, actually implement it into your own writing, and all of a sudden it's not so easy...

    But that's the great journey, isn't it?
     
  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah. And awareness is the key. I find that's what I get most often from being part of this excellent forum. Awareness of writing issues I might not have thought of before.
     
  19. Augen Blick
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    Augen Blick Member

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    If I ever read a romance where the guy misses the girl i would really really want to slap the author.

    AB. brokenhearted already
     
  20. Slade Lucas
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    Slade Lucas Member

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    Ah, darn it. looks like I'm getting a slap.

    I think that a part of my reluctance for my MC to get a happy ending is because I sort of know that it wouldn't be a happy ending for his love interest. He fell in love with her on first sight which is one of the things I really hate in romance because that is not love - it's like Romeo and Juliet, where they don't even really know each other but they somehow think that they love each other and I hate it. Although it turns out that she is everything that he would look for in a girl in the end I still find it kind of hard to forgive him for that. Plus, she has a bit of a backstory - the guy that she eventually gets with was a few years older than her when they first fell in love, a few years more than is really acceptable. In the end he had to move away but neither of them really moved on. I could change this backstory but I've sort of got to know her as a character now.

    From the responses I've got there are a lot of people who don't like an unhappy ending like that but it wouldn't be unhappy - the MC has a much brighter outlook on life and the possibilities it holds for him. He tries to be an optimist, looking for the silver lining to this big, dark cloud. I want the reader to feel like he does - sad but silently hopeful at the same time.
     
  21. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    If it makes sense for them not to be together it makes sense regardless of how many readers feel cheated for not having a happy ending. For me the satisfaction from reading a book where the characters don't get together is the shock of them not getting together, there has to be a reason for it but if there is a reason for it it can really work. You could leave it open ended. Then optimists can assume they ended up together while people who don't like happy endings can assume they didn't.
     
  22. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, it's not an unhappy ending, if you portray the MC's love interest as being not right for him. From what you said about her past and her feelings for another guy, it seems that way in this case. Your MC may feel sad, but the reader won't.

    An unhappy ending—from a romantic point of view—is when two characters, who seem "meant" for each other, are separated at the end, and both of them suffer for it.

    It's not unhappy if the romance feels half-hearted, or the attraction is one-sided. Then it's a lucky escape, for both parties! The only thing that gets hurt is pride.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2014
  23. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I on the other hand can buy the love at first sight plot, no problem. It can happen and it has happened in real life, and fiction tends to imitate real life, so to me that's a plausible route to go about romance as well. Not that I mind stories that have characters who don't believe in it, or who define love differently than I do -- in fact that's quite interesting, but I'd probably be inclined to believe the characters truly were in love only to have the rug pulled from under my feet later when they go like 'nah, that was just infatuation'.
     
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  24. desert rat
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    I have a question about one of your backstory details and I mean this respectfully (I know sometimes these type of questions can come across smarmy and arrogant; but this is plain curiousity). I have noticed several authors using the age difference as a rationale for relationships not working out (you refer to that when two of your characters were younger). I am not sure that is true in todays world as it was in the past. It depends, to a degree, on the age of the characters (that is, how young were they when they were younger? what is age difference that they can overcome now that they couldn't then?). For example, today a ten year gap between partners is not uncommon, and I know of a few 15 year age differences. If we put that into the past those people would have been one year and 11 or 16 years; clearly absurd. So if it is only 5 years difference, well there are plenty of examples of younger girls with older boys. So my point is that this may be weak reason to have kept the lovers apart when they were younger. I don't know if this is important to your story, it is simply a common theme I see among love and character development that I am not sure stands up as it did 20 or 30 years ago. Shakespeare used the classic fathers keeping lovers apart. Could you use different religious beliefs? One family moving across the country enforcing separation?

    I have a similar development in my story (though the characters are in their late teens when it happens), in which the women basically self implodes after the death of her mother (drugs, sex, gangs, etc.) and her loving boyfriend is powerless to stop her and so flees. They then meet up again 20 years later. I think for love to last a long time of separation, the cause of the separation has to be severe; if it was as "simple" as an age gap they could have gotten together once he was 30 and she was 20.

    I know this is a detail of your backstory, but am curious others views on using age difference as a cause for separation.
     
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  25. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    I like Adventure Time too. :)
     

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