Imperfect Endings: Or, Sticking the Landing

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about endings in romance novels lately–both my own endings and some of the very satisfying ones I’ve read recently. Many romance writers will agree, writing the ending is one of the most difficult parts of the book. Which doesn’t make sense on the face of it–it’s a romance and the ending is pretty much the defining characteristic of the genre: a Happily Ever After.
But somehow getting to that HEA, making it real and satisfying and tying up most of the loose ends is just so darn difficult. Certainly as I’m writing my own endings, my main thoughts are “This is ridiculous! No one talks like this in real life. All the sugar here is making my teeth hurt.” (Strangely, I rarely think this about other people’s endings. I suppose I’m only allergic to my own brand of saccharine?)
I’ve also been thinking about my favorite kinds of endings, especially since there seem to have been a lot of these types in my reading lately: the realistic, or imperfect, ending. In these endings, the protagonists are in love, yes, but all of their problems haven’t magically disappeared by some deus ex machina. They’ll be facing the future together, but it will still be a rough one. Medical or psychiatric issues aren’t cured by love.
Some of my favorite examples of these kinds of endings are in Cecilia Grant’s Blackshear trilogy (with A Gentleman Undone being one of my absolute favorite romance endings ever), Jeannie Lin’s The Jade Temptress, and Rose Lerner’s Sweet Disorder. There are no surprise inheritances from an uncle coming to save the day or the hero coming into an unexpected title. Just two people realizing they’re in love and facing a happier, yet still uncertain, future together.
I was trying to decide why I like these endings so much (besides the fact that I’m a bit of a pessimist) and it occurred to me: these kinds of endings give me hope. There’s no surprise inheritances in our future or an unexpected dukedom. Only car payments, and a mortgage, and raising kids, and who knows what else life will throw at us. But you know what? We’ll be OK. Better than OK. Because we have love.
So here’s to the protagonists whose stories end a little messily. With some uncertainty. Without rainbows and angelic choirs and every last little problem solved.
Here’s to imperfect endings. Which are really all of our endings.

6 responses to “Imperfect Endings: Or, Sticking the Landing

  1. Some endings have to be bittersweet, but I do like endings that make me have ‘feels’ 😀

  2. I’m certain you’ve read it, but this made me think about Jeannie Lin’s blog post about the realism of happy endings, and specifically whether it’s unrealistic to imagine a HEA for certain characters and whether introducing uncertainty or grittiness into the HEA undermines the fantasy of romance.

    I too prefer a negotiated conclusion. I want to feel that the couple is together and will weather life’s storms that way–I don’t need to think there won’t be any storms.

    I read a review recently of a romance from the 1930s that was set in Britain. Someone commented that while the book sounded appealing, she wouldn’t be reading it because she’d know that WWII was coming for the couple, with the blitz, etc. In some ways, the poignancy of those historical circumstances are why I’d want to read the book. Because wars happen, life happens, and when you have the right partner, it’s easier to navigate. Not perfect, but more bearable.

    So yes, more complicated endings, definitely. ; )

  3. I did read Jeannie Lin’s post and it started me off on thinking on all of this. I’ve never really understood the objections to romances set in turbulent time periods because there’s never any guarantee that life will be perfect in any time period.

    Although, I do understand the appeal of the perfectly fantastical ending–haven’t we all daydreamed about winning the lottery at some point? Or having more than twenty-four hours in the day? 😉

    But in the end, I agree, more complicated endings are more satisfying for me. And I want to see more of them!

  4. I don’t know what type of ending I prefer–I just know that a romance that ends on a jarring note will send me into a rage, even if I loved everything up to that point, lol.

    • Yeah, a bad ending will definitely ruin an entire book for me. And there are certain books that I still grind my teeth about, months after reading them, all because the book was great–up until the ending. 🙂

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