Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Question About Love

(by Ava March, official moocher of Shawn's blog)

A romance is, by definition, a love affair. A romance novel is a love story. Happily ever after is truly wonderful, but unfortunately, happy characters living happy lives usually are not exciting enough to sustain a book. Therefore, most romance novels focus on the ‘falling in love’ portion of the romance. There are actually two different types of endings for romance books – the happily-ever-after and the happily-for-now. Problem is, when you start reading a book you usually don’t know what type of ending you’re getting until you reach the end.

I’ve been pondering the different types of endings for romance books lately, and decided to take over Shawn’s blog and find out what everyone thinks about love in m/m erotic romance books. Do you expect an ‘I love you’ by the end of a m/m erotic romance? If your answer is ‘it depends’, would your answer change if you knew the book was part of a series or a stand-alone? And not a 'maybe the author will do another book with these characters' type of series, but a definitive series where you know up front that you're starting with book#1. Does the subgenre make a difference? Contemporary, furturistic, historical, paranormal or suspense? Do you have different expectations for novels versus novellas? Personally, I expect the ‘I love you’ by the end of a romance novel – with 200+ pages to work with, I’d like to think the heroes can say those three little words to each other by the end or at least know in their hearts that the other hero does love them even if the other guy isn’t big into saying “I love you, man”.

Which leads me to something else. For a HEA ending, do the heroes have to say ‘I love you’, or is it enough that they each feel it inside and believe the other returns their feelings? And what if the book ends with a happily-for-now ending? What if the heroes are poised to fall in love, but are not actually in love by the end? Do you find that sort of ending satisfying, or does it leave you feeling kinda gypped out of the ‘I love you’? Of course, I’m assuming the guys are in a committed, monogamous relationship by the end of the book, or at least have committed to a monogamous relationship by the end of a happily-for-now book.

As an author, I’ll admit that it’s hard for me to get my characters to the HEA ending. If I’m dealing with two characters who know each other at the beginning of the book, then it’s a bit easier. But if the beginning includes the first meeting, then it’s much harder for me to get the guys to a believable HEA ending, complete with love. I’ve written both HEA and HFN endings. I tell myself that since I write novellas and have less pages to work with, that the HFN ending is a perfectly acceptable option. I even use the fact that I write historical m/m romances as another reason why HFN is just fine and dandy. But the more I think about, the more I wonder if that’s just a copout. That length really doesn’t matter – that a romance, even if erotic, should end with love. True-blue honest and heartfelt love. But then again, I guess it depends on what readers look for in a book. Is the journey enough, the getting there or maybe not really ‘there’ enough for the HEA, or is ‘there’ really the best part of a book?

So what do you think? How important is the ‘I love you’ in a m/m erotic romance?

Convincing Arthur - Loose Id/July 21, 2009


  1. To me, the HEA isn't always necessary. In fact, most of the time in m/m books I'm happier with just a HFN. I don't even always require an "I love you."

    I just want a believable ending (notice I didn't say "realistic"). If they've only known each other for a week or if one has been straight his whole life and just decided last month he wants to be gay, then a HFN without the three magic words makes more sense. I want a positive ending, but it doesn't have to be wedding bells and a ride into the sunset.

    If they've both always known they're gay and have been together for years, ILY and HEA makes sense.

  2. I'm an HEA kinda girl. What can I say? I'm a sucker for all that.

    I've noticed that with ANY romance I read, I really want that emotional aspect between the characters. I want the "I love you" and "I need you". I love it when a man who outwardly appears untouchable to fall to pieces for the one he loves. Hell, throw in some tears for all I care. But I want to know these two people could not possibly live "happily" without each other.

    I don't want it to be easy, however....

    I want them to work for it. There has to be obstacles.

    The characters have to prove not only to each other that they deserve the other's love, but me as well. After all, I'm the one reading the story and I have to WANT them to be together.

    Okay, I just totally rambled but that's how I feel, and what I look for when I pick up a romance.

    I guess I can live with the HFN--if there's gonna be a sequal ;)

    Great post Ava!

  3. I think there's probably something wrong with me, because I never read ANY book (or watch any film) and think "aaaaahhhhhhh" because for me, there's NEVER a HEA. All the author can do is show that the characters got together despite all obstacles and sink into each others's arm.

    As I said, there must be something wrong with my head, because even as a child I would say to my mother "yes, but what happened NEXT?" I was never satisfied with the HEA, not even for fairy tales (which were often nice for the main characters but other people - often innocents - had a raw deal, and I found it difficult to believe that ANYONE could be happy for ever after.

    So, yeah. No book is HEA for me, just HFN. This probably says a lot about me. ... :D

  4. Unless it is an m/m with another sub-genre attached (m/m murder/mystery or m/m SFF) so the story has meaning beyond the relationship (not bigger than - I don't want to read the m/m eqivalent of Confession of a ..), I want an HEA. If it is a series (again, with that other "reason" for us to hear back from these characters, like murder/mystery), then HFN is fine.

    I don't think seeing/hearing the I LOVE YOU is necessary, some characters (and some people!) will be better at "showing" than "saying".
    I tend to look for "relationship" stories rather than only "romance" - stories that have the relationship as a major part of the story (rather than sex scenes, if that makes sense?), of course, sometimes I want to read a lavishly romantic tale, something I can wallow in.
    Whatever my mood, I'm always grateful for blurb/teasers/descriptions that accurately what genre/sub-genre/category the story fits into (I don't want to find I'm reading a menage, death!story with girly bits if I've been planning on reading a "cosy" m/m *g*).
    I read a lot - fiction and non-fiction and while both kinds of reading fall into the "entertainment arena (I'm not currently studying anything), I would expect, even in a "mainstream" story, to have an idea that the protag/s were headed towards something better (I loathe worthy tomes deemed as "literary achievements" that seem to have no clear ending ... The writer is supposed to finish it! Sorry , different rant. *g* ).

    Great question!
    Cheers :)

    p.s. Shawn, I've just realised that I have five of your stories, so please accept a kack handed "Thank You!", I must be a fan!

  5. Everyone knows just because you say I love You to someone it doesn't mean a perfect happy ending. It takes work to keep a relationship going. I see the love declaration as a jumping off point to the rest of their lives. Cheryl

  6. I always want an HEA, except when it's early in a series when a HFN is ok, as long as I can at least sense love between the characters. I do want the HEA, however, by the end of the series. I can see where it's hard to get to the HEA in a novella, but I would like one anyway. And No, I don't need it declared (I don't think men are good at declaring love.) but I do have to sense it. I don't want just infatuation and/or lust; I want true love, no matter the gender or genders involved.

  7. I want a positive end at least. Of course when reading romance I prefer HEA but I will settle for HFN too.

    As dutchies we don't say ILY, hardly any time at all (ie I have never told my mother I love her but that does not mean that I don't). So I don't "expect" it to read in a book, the showing of it is more important in my opinion. When people start to say ILY every other page it does not sound real to me.

  8. Well, I guess i"m a big believer of HEA. HFN is ok, but I want more at the end if the book. Even if it is a series (G). Great blog as always!

  9. I write both novellas and novel length and I'm s sucker for the HEA - even in a series. Why cant' a committed in love couple have "further adventures?"

    But thats not to say a HNF doesn't work in some series, esp. in the paranormal/fantasy genre.

    Several of my m/f novels - (I know girl parts) have ended with HEA, but a threat to it, or with a cliff hanger ending...both clear clues that these lovers are going to be tested again. And by the way, both of those are paranormal/fantasy.

    But, personally, esp. in m/m where happy endings are so rare in real life, I feel its important to readers to get to the end of the book and hear the "I love you's" and know the heroes have their well earned HEA.

  10. I prefer a HEA. I am getting better at accepting the HFN endings, only because there seem to be more books ending this way.
    I don't read books for the realism. If I wanted realistic, I would read a different genre altogether.
    I love the fantasy and the fairy tale (no pun happy ending. That's just what I prefer.

  11. I can live with either and, here it comes ... it depends. :-) I don't like bad endings (crying by the grave site) but my "depends" is based on the length of time they've known each other. If the span of the book is 48 hours and they are declaring their undying love at the end, instead of an "Awww, isn't that adorable" I am going "Yeah right *snort*" Not likely the reaction an author is seeking. Instant love? Not so much. Instant lust, oh yeah. So I'd rather that story be a HFN where they are moving towards the happy ending and just leave me assuming they do.

    The whole instant love story-line is one that annoys me more and more as I read more. I can deal with lots of unrealist things in my romance but this one make me just want to add in another chapter where 4 months have passed and NOW they say ILY. LOL

    So in general saying "I really like you a lot and I think this could be more" is enough for me at the end of a book. Sometimes I'd like to check in with them later to see if that really happened but sometimes I'm content to let them go on their merry way.

  12. HEA for me, though I can live with a very upbeat HFN. My brain will just take the extra leap and give them the HEA a little while down the road. Doesn't matter if it's m/f, m/m, menage, or what.

    Now I'm well aware that HEA doesn't mean the car won't break down, or the roof won't leak, but it does mean that when life gets difficult, the characters will have someone beside them to face the problems that get tossed their way. THAT's the whole point of romance to me. Ending up together.

  13. Well, crap, I should have just said "what JenB said" and saved myself some typing. And she used less words too.

  14. I have a double standard depending on the sexuality of a book.

    Since I am hetero, I want my hetero books to have the HEA ending because I'm reading to fantasize about what I want out of my own relationships. Love, lust, passion, adventure, happiness...

    Now, as a hetero woman, I read M/M because the idea of double the penis...? Weeee. I like reading gay erotics...I'm not a fan of gay romance. So the HFN is perfect. Hell, I don't care if they walk away hating each other as long as they had a hot man on man groping session in the port-a-john.

    I'm not a gay man so the relationship building aspect of a M/M romance is lost on me...while a hetero romance must have that build in order for me to feel satisfied.

    Two different types of reads with two different expectations for me.


  15. In writing my stories I use what I call positive endings, because I write from a realistic perspective when it comes to the relationships. That might sound odd considering my love of the paranormal, but I find the realism of the relationship balances out the fantastical aspects of the story line.

    I've never been one to believe in the Disney type HEA even as a younger woman much to my mother's chagrin. Honestly I believe everyone has their own version of the perfect ending and that you can't satisfy every reader.

    Be true to the story and to yourself as a writer. Just my humble opinion.

  16. Great discussion, everyone. Thanks for everyone chiming in.

    Though I have written both HFN and HEA endings (even had a book where they did not exchange I love you) my preference is for HEA. Well, as much as anyone's is HEA.

    I remember years ago reading a hetero romance where the woman said she loved the man but he never said it and I felt cheated. They were fully committed and all that but he never spit out the words.

    I'm with Shayne, when I read I'm not going for reality. Or if I am, I read a true crime book or other non-fiction. In romance I want escape.

    Now if it is a series, I expect by the last book involving the chraracters they will have said those three words.

    Anyway thanks everyone. And it would be great to hear even more opinions.

    PS. To "H". Anyone who has 5 of my books is A-Okay with me, LOL

  17. What Cindy said about the HEA, the characters having "someone beside them." I want for a story to end with some commitment and clear affection between the protagonists.

    I don't like having characters instantly falling in love, but (if the story is well-written) I can believe they really feel something for each other after they've spent a good portion of a few weeks together.

    I'm all right with a HFN if it is a series, but I want it to keep developing towards a HEA.

    I suppose what I want is to be able to believe that the characters will live together (at least, in a contemporary romance) and that they're emotionally faithful to each other.

  18. Thanks for stopping by, everyone, and chimming in!

    I'm like Cindy, in that when I read a book with a HFN ending, my brain will leap ahead and make up a HEA for the characters. I do so want the heroes to find lasting happiness and love. Even when I write HFN books, I know how that relationship will look a year or so after the book ends. As a reader, I enjoy it when characters make little appearances in other books. When the author gives me a snapshot of their lives. It's so wonderful to see that the heroes are still living their HEA. And the fact that I feel this way did make me wonder about how others feel about HFN endings. From the looks of it so far, it seems it varies by the reader and for various reasons. And it's reassuring to know that HFN is fine and dandy with some readers, as long as it fits the book.

    This isn't to say I'm not satisfied by a HFN ending, or even if the heroes aren't in love at the end of a book. I've read many a m/m romance with a HFN and loved the books. It doesn't distract from my enjoyment. But I also tend to want to believe the heroes stayed together, grew old together. If the author leaves the characters together at the end, then I assume they stay together and eventually find their HEA.

    And Barbara - of course, it can't be easy to get to the HEA. Gotta have the angst!! I'm a complete angst whore...I love it! :D

  19. Wow, what a great topic! Kudos for the convo launch, Ava!

    I'm late to the party and have very little to add that hasn't already been said...I can be happy with either one depending upon the storyline and characters themselves. Some situations and individuals just don't automatically go all the way to a HEA and ILY. And that's fine as long as there is some resolution.

    That said, I eat the HEA's up when they work in the story! They are awesome and make my heart happy!

    Along these lines, I read a story recently (long novel-length historical), and at the end there wasn't EITHER a HEA or HFN!!! I was so ticked. Why this was under the romance heading, I have no idea. I felt cheated and mislead, wondering wow, how are they going to work through all this, expecting some great mysterious thing to happen to keep the protags together, then nothing. Black mark for that naughty author...

    Angst is always welcome (and expected, esp in M/M), after all anything worth having is worth fighting for!! :)

    To sum up, I read and write both HEA's and HFN's and enjoy both! But don't try to slip a "neither" or "not really" past me...I will be pissed!

  20. Always late to the party, that's me.

    A realistic HFN to me is a better book than an obvious fake HEA. I read and review many books where it's clear that the author was in a hurry to achieve that all important HEA and rushed the ending to comply with the "HEA directive" from the publisher. To me that makes the book and the characters totally unrealistic. If you can't make the HEA work in a novella, then don't try to manufacture one -- we can see it coming.

    I have read two books recently which didn't have an HEA or even an HFN and they were wonderful romances-The Front Runner and Call Me By Your Name - Were they less romantic because they didn't have the requisite HEA? Of course not. They were both great romances. Who decreed that in order for a book to be a romance it had to have an HEA? What about all the great romances in history that didn't? Does that mean that they loved each other any less? Hardly.

    The only book I remember reading that freaked me out was one where the author created a 1-page epilogue where she killed off one of the protags, and since then I haven't read any of her books because that was so unnecessary. When I interviewed her I asked her why she had done so and she had no reasonable explanation.

    So to summarise, a sincere HFN works for me. I much prefer it to the fake HEA's going around.

  21. Great responses everyone. I really appreciate you all coming along to make your comments. Lots of familiar

  22. Hey Shawn..

    I missed a great discussion - but i agree with Shayne - i read books for the fantasy, the getting away factor - if i dig too deep and think what happen next, then a whole new ball game start rolling...

    I like the words as well - another fantasy thing, in real life I don't think it's said enough or said for silly stupid reasons.

    I really am all for HEA - but if a series can life with HFN...


  23. It's never too late for you to comment, E.H.

    As Ava and I found out readers have a lot of different opinions on the subject but everyone, of course, wants a great story.

  24. Happy with happy for now. :) Guess it kind of has to fit in with what the rest of the story is like.