I’ve pondered in the past the essential components of a romance novel. Chief among those criteria is, of course, the HEA. Unlike the unbridled evil of such books as Love Story or The Notebook, real romance novels shouldn’t leave readers sobbing into their pillows. (Love may mean not having to say “sorry,” but these novelists should apologize — heck, send chocolate and flowers to! — to their traumatized readers.) Does real-life romance always end happily? No. Do I care? Desperately, which is why I demand my fiction provide the HEA real life doesn’t always deliver. In the tug-of-war between reality and romance, I will always add my muscle to Team Cupid’s.
Recently, I gobbled up two YA paranormal romance series. It amazes me sometimes how the young adult genre can be so gritty and riveting, probably because their target audience is young enough not to crave the beautiful simplicity of HEAs. But anyway, after gleefully reading through these two stark, gripping series, you can imagine my reader rage when, at the very end, main characters died. They died. As in, like, stopped living. Moved into the Beyond. Was there a sequel where they found out, ala Star Trek 3, that the beloved main character could be resurrected? An epilogue that reassured us it was all a trick to fool the bad guys? No, my friends. They died. Forever. Heck, in the second series I read, the main character, the one narrating the book through the first-person voice, perished. You… you can’t do that, right? My eighth grade English teacher said so! But apparently, that series’ author didn’t have Miss Webber for eighth grade English, because she went right ahead and did it.
So, yeah. Thanks, YA novels, both for shattering my tender little heart and for reaffirming my undying (undying, because dying sucks!) devotion to the HEA. No more shall I stray from the clear, untroubled waters of traditional paranormal romance, in which the most tragic occurrence is the evil rule of Count Sparkleskull.
Back in the day, when I was a starry-eyed music major at college, one of my professors told the class about early (like, pre-Renaissance) European musicians. Back when most official music occurred in the church, songs in a minor key were considered sacrilegious, since their melancholy sounds seemingly questioned the glory of God. But crafty musicians found a way around it. They would create a musical piece in a minor key but, in the very final chord, the song would move into a major key, turning a dark and somber song into something bright and shining.
I have no problem with making our protagonists suffer a little, as long as, major-key like, the last bit of the novel brings those crazy kids together. Conditions may be rough, but by golly, our romantic pair can face anything together. Insert C-major chord.
Gritty rocks. Realism is awesome. Even tragedy in moderation is acceptable. Ending a romance novel with a tragic death or a failed love affair? Not. Cool. Death, taxes, and divorce may sing the song of reality, but I like my fiction a little less blues and a lot more national anthem.
HEA all the way, baby!