Writing Romance: Why the Happily Ever After Matters

5 minute read
Author: RobertB

Writing a romance novel? Or just looking for a happy ending? Find out why the ‘Happily Ever After’ is so important — not only for your story but for your heart and soul, too, with advice from best-selling romance author Jean Oram.

Writing romance: the power of a feel-good love story

The romance genre and its almost-guaranteed happily ever afters (HEAs) have a history of being dismissed. Is it because most romances are written by and for women? Or that romances are emotional stories of hope, with a theme that we are all deserving of love, just the way we are?

Why on earth would we dismiss that?

Most good stories have elements of a love story. (For example, you’ll find love story threads in The Hunger Games and even Independence Day.)

The enduring power of a feel-good love story has its roots in our species’ history and brain chemistry as well as from our desire to connect with universal truths about ourselves and our world. Arguably, HEAs have an important role and should not be dismissed.

Why we seek out the ‘happily ever after’

Humans are social beings who, at one time, literally needed to belong to a pack in order to survive. It is no surprise that in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, “Love and Belonging” is listed as one of the top four needs. In fact, it is a prerequisite to “Self-Actualisation.”

image of maslow's hierarchy of needs in the shape of a triangle split into 5 layers. From bottom to top the layers are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation. A heart that says 'happily ever afters' has been placed over the top three layers.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that in the HEA of a romance, self-actualisation often occurs after the main character receives love (from the right person). This love helps them become a better version of themselves, and it often also reveals the key piece they needed in order to complete their allusive goal.

Love stories are good for your brain (and heart)

Could the attraction of a HEA also be rooted in brain chemistry? Neuroscientist Paul Zak studied the effects of compelling stories and the release of chemicals in the brain. Zak discovered we are the most invested in the hero or heroine and their journey to love at the height of a story. This is also where we empathise the most, and when our brains release oxytocin. (This chemical is nicknamed the “love hormone” as it’s released when we hug others. It is also associated with lessening the effects of anxiety and depression.) Therefore, when we read and become a part of the story, we often feel the same things the characters feel. So by reading (and writing) romance, we can trick our bodies into releasing the same chemicals it would if we were falling in love or being hugged!

Gif of a woman saying "the only drug you need is reading"

I asked my reading group what HEAs meant to them and why they feel they are an important part of a romance novel. Their replies certainly lined up with the science! While some of my “Jeansters” read to uplift their mood, destress, or escape, others read for connection. Here are a few of my favourite quotes:

“I read to… feel good. A HEA makes me feel good.”

— Donna Wolz

“Our brains are mini computers. My data professor always said if you input garbage, your results will be garbage. By reading positive, I’m putting positive in my brain. That helps make my outlook positive.”

— Audrey Burger

“I love to laugh, and I love the feeling of completeness when I read a book that I’m heavily involved in and get to the end and read a HEA. I guess, to me, it’s like leaving a friend’s house knowing that they are happy and doing okay. And that’s a great feeling.”

— Janet Lewis
Writing romance to inspire!

For others, HEAs can be inspiring. For example, if readers identify with a character who is achieving something, it empowers them to believe that they, too, might be able to achieve that something. And in a romance novel, that can be anything from following the dream to open a B&B, finding sexual empowerment, standing up to a nasty boss, or finding love.

“They [HEAs] just leave me with a sense of hope. If those characters in the story can make it to a happily ever after, maybe there is one waiting for me, too.”

— Nancy Shreib
A gif of Marge Simpson saying "oh I love happy endings!"

But is there a chance that a steady diet of inspiring HEAs could skew a reader’s view of reality? Not likely. In fact, readers often intentionally choose HEAs for the intention of increasing their feelings of hope and positivity.

“I know that no life or relationship is a fairytale. But I want to be left with the promise, or hope, that come what may, love, justice and happiness are real and can happen to anyone.”

— Vicci Lucas

“We need the happy ending for our spirit, our soul, our sanity, in a world that doesn’t always give us what we want.”

— Elizabeth Crosman

Just as we might search out funny cat videos when we need a few laughs, romance readers search out HEAs to give them hope and an emotional lift—solidifying the importance of a HEA within the romance genre.

So, as we ride out some of the craziest times in our living history, why not pick up (or write!) a romance, if for no other reason than this one offered by reader Margaret C., “It is nice to escape into a story and leave reality behind, to go somewhere where everything works out just right.”

Amen, sister. I’ll meet you in the bookstore’s romance section where I’ll be choosing my next happily ever after.

Gif of Belle from Beauty and the Beast sliding along a ladder on a bookshelf.


Read this: Now that you’ve cracked the happy ending, why not look at some brilliant beginnings in our blog Elements of a Kickass Opening Chapter?

Do this: Learn how to plot, structure, and write the perfect romance story (complete with your very own HEA) with our Writing a Romance Novel course, with more advice from best-selling author Jean Oram!

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