There’s a rule all writers of romance fiction follow. The story MUST have a happy ending. No matter how many twists and turns roil the plot, the main characters must celebrate their mutual happiness by the time the story concludes.
“But, life isn’t like that,” you say. “People stray from relationships. They sabotage their own joy and fall in love with the wrong person. Sometimes illness strikes and…(gasp) they die!”
“Yes, that’s real life,” says your editor and/or publisher. “But if you’re writing a romance novel, it’s got to have a happily-ever-after-ending. Period.”
While some rules are made to be broken, this isn’t one of them.
Those of us who belong to the baby boomer generation want and expect stories to have happy endings. After all, every fairy tale that we listened to, every Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys/Cherry Ames book we read ended happily ever after. All the Saturday afternoon movies we watched ended with the type of happy resolution that left us worry free for the rest of the weekend. Each episode of Father Knows Best, My Friend Flicka, The Cisco Kid, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, and Perry Mason had us smiling when we thought about them later that night or the next day. Even those of us who nervously chewed our nails as we watched that intrepid collie, Lassie, rescue little Timmy from the bottom of the well, felt relieved and reassured by the time the show’s credits rolled past our eyes.
Of course, the skepticism of adolescence and young adulthood crept over us boomers.
We questioned why Ward Bond’s aging character never tired of sleeping in a covered wagon. And that evening when Robert Young’s character, Jim Anderson, arrived home from work late and a tad disheveled, was it because he’d been playing fast and loose with his secretary? What was the true nature of Chester’s relationship with Marshall Jim Dillon? Was Miss Kitty in on it? Why didn’t anyone ever tell us that Perry Mason’s actor, Raymond Burr, was a gay man? Knowing his real identity might have persuaded more of us to become criminal lawyers. Or not.
[Please note that the absence of references to TV shows featuring black, Asian, or Hispanic Americans is due to that era’s absence of TV shows featuring black, Asian, and Hispanic Americans. “Amos and Andy” and “The Nat King Cole Show” didn’t count. We didn’t find the former funny, and Nat King Cole’s songs didn’t inspire us to dance.]
Nevertheless, my generation was conditioned to expect happy endings. We were sure basic goodness always won, right prevailed over wrong, and the bad guys/gals were vanquished by the law. Even when we learned about the ugly tyranny of slavery, the evils committed against America’s First Nation Peoples, the inhumanity inflicted upon Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II, and our government’s refusal to allow a ship filled with Jewish passengers fleeing Hitler’s death camps to drop anchor in a U.S. port, we continued to cling to the mythology we’d absorbed. We felt sure our country had a penchant for rewarding the efforts of good folks and punishing the deeds perpetrated by the bad.
Perhaps it is our persistent obsession with happy endings that leaves us flummoxed and shaking our heads in disbelief when we hear, see, and read about the chaotic destruction of our nation’s moral and legal norms that is raining/reigning down on our country right now. How can this happen? Where is our happy ending?
The 2018 mid-term elections showed us a faint glimmer of normalcy when voters reset the balance of congressional representation. Next, we pinned our hopes on the Mueller Report. We knew if Congress received a document riddled with more redactions than there are holes in a slice of Baby Swiss Cheese, the general public could forget about reading the unedited version. Our eyes wouldn’t see the evidence linking trump and the Russian government. Nor would we read the facts surrounding trump’s perp-walk through the mire of obstruction of justice.
So far, the bad guys are winning, and my generation keeps looking for Rin-Tin-Tin, Paladin, and the Mod Squad. What’s happened to happily ever after?
The November 2020 Presidential election affords us one more opportunity to craft the ending we wish to see, but we’re off to a rough start. As of today, the Democrats have enough announced candidates to field two baseball teams. By the time this blog is posted, it’s possible there will be enough office seekers for each team to have a deep bench of substitute players and a squad of cheerleaders.
I hope the women and men who seek to sit at the desk in the Oval Office heed former President Obama’s advice and avoid creating a “circular firing squad.” We cannot shoot down our best chance for our democracy’s survival. And I hope we voters are aware that trump’s ability to poison our country is strengthened by the silence and support of Republican lawmakers, some of whom are standing (or slumping) for re-election in 2020.
Let’s look at the next two years as we would regard a romance novel instead of a mystery, police procedural, or speculative/science fiction tale.
We need a compelling story, one that no doubt involves conflicts, plot complications, and strong characters. One that includes a happy ending.
Renée Bess is the author of five novels and the co-story collector of the 2018 Goldie Award winning anthology, OUR HAPPY HOURS, LGBT VOICES FROM THE GAY BARS. She is a 2019 winner of the Alice B. Readers Award. You can find her blog here the fourth Thursday of each month. Her website needs a few adjustments, but in the meantime, please take a look. http://www.reneebess.com