Advice from the Archives: Finding That Perfect Ending for Your Story—HEA vs. HFN

by Karen Reid, Editor for Harlequin Superromance

We all want a happy ending in a romance story—or as I prefer to say, a happy beginning! But when do you end with a Happily Ever After (HEA) and when do you go with a Happily For Now (HFN)? My quick answer is  that it all depends on what is right for your story. And believe it or not, wedding bells and rides into the sunset aren’t the best ending for every book. And that is okay!

Happy Endings are the business that we’re in, so we all take it very seriously! But not every sweet resolution has to look the same way. Sometimes the promise of a new, better beginning for now is more satisfying for the reader than a ring on the finger and the promise of forever.

My general rule is to give your couple the happy ending/beginning that is right for them and for their story at that time. This of course can come in many forms. For example, what if our heroine has had such a traumatic past that simply trusting someone enough to say the words “I love you” is a big deal. In this case a walk down the aisle at the end of our story would be too much for our happy couple at this point in their journey. Or perhaps your hero has lost his wife, and is completely focused on raising his young son. For this hero, even starting to date the woman who has taught him that it’s okay to open his heart again would be the most romantic HFN that you could offer your reader.

You might be thinking “But a romantic wedding is what my readers have told me they ultimately want at the end of a romance?” While this could be what you’re hearing, and it might be what they think they want, it’s not always what they truly need. And a well-written story, in which the characters have developed and grown, and their arcs have taken their fated turns, will give the reader the best and most fulfilling ending, with or without wedding bells—I promise!

Yet there are definitely times when HEA is the best ending for your story. Perhaps your heroine is a woman who’s never had a family of her own until she meets our single dad and falls for him and his young family. In this situation, a marriage proposal would be the greatest expression of love and acceptance that our heroine could ask for…and it would, therefore, be exactly what she needed. And, personally, I love it when two people who were previously against “tying the knot” find that they can’t get to the altar fast enough! Super romantic!

So, to wrap it up, I think it’s key to be honest with yourself about what is right for your hero and heroine—HEA or HFN. And as long as you listen to what they need, than you will give your reader the Happy Ending/Beginning that they want!

Happy Writing.