Romance and Reality: Deconstructing Happily Ever After, by Beth K. Vogt

And they lived happily ever after.

Those may be the silliest six words ever written.

I’m a romance aficionado. Love stories and can’t-wait-for-the-perfect-kiss rom-com movies? Absolutely! And, hey, I’m the author of Wish You Were Here, a contemporary romance novel debuting this May!

But that “happily ever after” sentence? Surely some exhausted writer thought, “How do I end this novel? I’m already 87,451 words in. What do I write?”

And they lived happily ever after.

Let’s break these six words down and see why they don’t work.

And – This conjunction joins the sentence with every prior scene in the book. The meet-cute. Obstacles. Falling in love. We’re past all the fun and games and focusing on the future.

They – In romance, there are only two main characters: the hero and the heroine. Yes, there’s usually a villain. Think the evil stepmother in Snow White. Or Cinderella. Or Enchanted. (Warning: Wicked stepmothers are way-overdone in romances.) But a romance focuses on a man and a woman falling in love.

Lived –This is when the whole sentence starts falling apart. Our hero and heroine, aka “they,” are now married. (I’m assuming they don’t live together. This is my blog post; I decide my characters’ personal beliefs.) I’ve been married longer than some of you reading this blog have been alive, so I know what marriage entails. It goes way-beyond the “we don’t squeeze the toothpaste tube the same way” conflict. Marriage can become all about who is right (me) and who is wrong (my husband). Marriage can be fulfilling – the best thing that ever happened to me – and it can be absolutely exhausting. There are days I fall in love with my husband all over again. But there was a season in our marriage when we were on our knees begging God to restore our faith, our romance, our relationship.

Happily –With synonyms like “jubilantly” and “merrily” this word tells me the writer didn’t have a firm grasp on the realities of life after the wedding. Had he never heard the whole “for better, for worse” clause in the wedding vows?

Ever after – These two words equal forever. Not a bad day coming our hero and heroine’s way. I. Don’t. Think. So. Romance isn’t a pass on real life. Remember all the struggles our hero and heroine had getting together? Those don’t magically stop when the minister announces, “You may kiss the bride.”

I’m not a cynic bent on ruining Romance Week. I believe in a love that lasts forever. Want to see what true romance looks like? Delete the trite phrase “And they lived happily ever after.” Ever-after romance requires: marriage + reality + faith + forgiveness = forever.

So how would I re-write that six word sentence if I were ending a romance novel?

Stay tuned.

Now it’s your turn: How would you rewrite: And they lived happily ever after? Or would you?

Beth Vogt

Beth K. Vogt’s novel, Wish You Were Here, debuts in May 2012. Beth writes contemporary romance because she believes there’s more to happily ever after than fairy tales tell us. She is also the Skills Coach for My Book Therapy, the writing community founded by best-selling author Susan May Warren.

See Beth’s website and her blog, In Others’ Words. You can follow Beth on Twitter.

Connect with Beth on her Facebook Author Page, Beth K. Vogt, Author, or via Email, beth@bethvogt.com.

Beth’s profile photo by John Skiba.

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25 Comments

Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers, Special Events

25 responses to “Romance and Reality: Deconstructing Happily Ever After, by Beth K. Vogt

  1. Since I’m not a romantic, I probably frustrate my readers to no end! 😀 — in my first book, I wrote the ending where I left the “love interest” standing at the door THE END,and my editor said, “um, can you at least bring the poor guy inside? I hate my last image is of him just standing there waiting at the door!” – teehee — That about says it all, I just leave romance standing at the door, waiting expectedly 😀

    Lovely fun post! ANd good luck with your debut!

  2. “And they lived happily ever after” is the perfect end to a fairytale, and the perfect beginning for penning a tragedy.

    • Kathryn,
      What a great conversation between you and your editor!
      🙂
      I want my characters to fall in love — I want them to find one another — but I don’t want fictional characters — or real life people, either — to think life is a magical journey on easy street once the “falling in love” happens.

      Duncan: Well said.

  3. I think one of the most important things in a successful relationship (not that I’ve had one) is friendship. We all know that “falling in love” is the easy part!
    Kat, you are funny, left him at the door! I can see Duncan’s point (we agree on so many things), often tragedy follows the fairy tale beginning.

  4. Ginger R. Takamiya

    …From that day forward they met each day knowing that no matter what comes, they would face it together.

    Not sure on my tenses 😉

    Great post Beth!

  5. Alena T.

    Gosh Beth, I love the happily ever after. Epilogues. They give me a glimpse into their happily ever after and I close the book with a smile on my face.

    • Alena,
      I love a good epilogue too … but it has to be a well-written epilogue, not just a the-reader-wants-an-epilogue one.
      And, yes, I love to have a smile on my face when I finish a book … or sometimes, tears are appropriate too.

  6. Loved how you broke this down, Beth! Brilliant!!! I love happy endings. *sigh* Great post!

  7. As always, beautifully written and fun. I’m glad I have my copy of your book pre-ordered.

  8. Ginger, Alena, and Susie – Thank you for stopping by. I thought, too, that this was a fun and imaginative post by Beth.

  9. Fun. And it makes us think about cliches.

  10. Thanks, Yvonne.
    And, yes, as writers we do have to think about cliches. One of my crit partners is superb at going past the cliche. That’s why I love hanging with her.

  11. I love happy endings, but I’m a fan of hope-filled ever afters in place of HEAs. I like to think that a fictional couple in a romance has what it takes to make their marriage work, because marriage takes work. The way I know they do is by the writer taking the couple on a journey throughout their story in which they handle hardships, triumph over trials, and conquer challenges. The hero and heroine who have overcome the myriad obstacles we writers throw at them have proven that they have what it takes to make it over the long haul. As as reader, I then have hope that they will enjoy a rich and rewarding future, which I find to be more realistic than the idea of them be happy the rest of their days.

  12. Well said, Keli.
    I know from your recent blog post on the same topic that we are in agreement on HEAs. I like your approach of hope-filled ever afters.

  13. “And they lived happily ever after…until they didn’t.” 🙂

    I’m not a fiction writer, so the whole idea of ending a story with a crystal ball statement doesn’t make sense to me. I’m sure my imagination could use a little exercise, but how about:

    “Love brought the strength of Hope to their lives, and that made all the difference.”

    “Love brought the strength of Hope to their lives, and together they were ready to face whatever lay ahead.”

    There have already been some good responses!

  14. Elizabeth,
    I like your options too. Love does require strength and hope.

  15. Five months out of the year my husband, son, and I live in a STUDIO condo; so everything you describe in a real marriage is amplified in our relationship. Hanging near a window overlooking the ski slope is our sign, “We All Lived Happily Ever After.” When feeling turmoil, we can look at the sign and choose to live happily (i.e., forgive, accept, and count our blessings that we live at a ski resort). My son has even started praying, “God, please help everyone live happily ever after.” It is a benediction worthy of Dicken’s “God bless us everyone!” (you can see a picture of it at my FB page Anne Martin Fletcher).

  16. Roxanne Sherwood

    I’m a big fan of Happily Ever After, but real brides going into a marriage with those six words in mind will be terribly disappointed. Maybe, the story should end with “the hero and heroine worked together on their marriage through life’s ups and downs and were happy that they did.”

  17. Applause to Anne and her husband and son — and their choice to live happily ever after. (There’s a secret there!)
    And, Roxanne, it’s true — you can’t hang future happiness on those six words.

  18. I love the whole idea behind this post, Beth! Maybe we need to stop our love stories after the first word in that famous concluding line. Just, “And….” That leaves us lots of room for growth.

  19. Thanks for stopping by, Sue. Beth had a great idea! Very enjoyable.

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