Contemporary Romance Writer: How Do You Define Happily Ever After?


Every self-respecting romance novel or movie ends with a happily ever after, or HEA in writer-speak.

But if we were all sitting around my family room talking romance (lovely idea, that!) and we tried to determine the components of a HEA … well, I’m not sure we could.

Spoiler Alert: I give away the endings to some books, so be forewarned! Nothing specific, but general examples.

Reconciliation HEA — The hero and heroine make up and admit that, despite whatever misunderstandings have kept them apart, they love one another and want to be together. Movie: Pride and Prejudice (and yes the PBS version qualifies too for all you Jane Austen purists!). Book: Think My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren or Along Came Jones by Linda Windsor.

Ring HEA — The hero gets down on one knee (either literally or figuratively) and proposes. Movie: While You Were Sleeping. Books? Think Lakeside Reunion by my friend Lisa Jordan or Savanna’s Gift by my friend Camille Eide, both debut novelists (and both great reads!)

Ribbons and a Bow HEA — The author neatly wraps everything up and gives you a reconciliation, a ring exchange, a wedding ceremony performed either onstage or offstage, and maybe even fast forwards to children or babies-to be. Honestly, I couldn’t think of one movie that has a Ribbon in a Bow HEA. Any suggestions? Book: Think Dining with Joy by Rachel Hauck — although Rachel did this with a very light touch that I liked a lot.

In Your Words: What’s your favorite kind of HEA? When you get to the end of a book (or a movie), do you want a reconciliation or a ring — or do you want it all wrapped up in a bow?


photo by Keeandra/
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  1. Loree Huebner
    December 12, 2011, 11:06 pm   /  Reply

    It really depends on my mood. Lately it seems I’m all about ribbons and bows.

    • Beth Vogt
      December 13, 2011, 6:33 am   /  Reply

      I’ve read a lot of Ribbons and a Wrap stories — they have to be done just right to make it feel right to me versus feel “forced.”

  2. December 13, 2011, 6:22 am   /  Reply

    I want to see six months down the road. If it’s a proposal, I like to see that they actually got married, and how they’re living with those differences that kept them apart for so long.
    Great post, Beth!

    • Beth Vogt
      December 13, 2011, 6:34 am   /  Reply

      Six months down the road is nice too, but once again, without seeming contrived.

  3. December 13, 2011, 6:45 am   /  Reply

    I’m happy with either outcome that flows well. Six months down the road is nice, but I don’t actually have to see the literal wedding tied up in a bow either–as long as there is full reconciliation, obstacles overcome, and the bright spool of ribbon visible from which the fancy bow will be tied.

    • Beth Vogt
      December 13, 2011, 7:16 am   /  Reply

      Beautiful word picture, Dee! I love the idea of “…the bright spool of ribbon visible from which the fancy bow will be tied.”

  4. Jeanne T
    December 13, 2011, 7:32 am   /  Reply

    I agree with all that’s been written. 😉 An HEA needs to be satisfying. 🙂 The Ring HEA can be harder for me to swallow, because like Pat, I like to see beyond the ring. I like these endings if I can see that the characters truly have learned and moved beyond some of the things that made their love unreachable in the beginning of the story. Does that make sense?

    • Beth Vogt
      December 13, 2011, 7:54 am   /  Reply

      Ah, good insights, Jeanne. You want to see character change. A reason for the HEA.

  5. December 13, 2011, 8:05 am   /  Reply

    Hmmm, I love all 3! 🙂 But I agree with most; I like an epilogue or something like that that shows where the characters are at after the marriage or whatever. But totally agree…without being contrived.

    And the movie Bride Wars sort of has that Ribbons and Bows HEA.

    • Beth Vogt
      December 13, 2011, 8:13 am   /  Reply

      Thanks for a suggestion of a Ribbons and Bows HEA movie. It’s on my To Be Watched list. (I don’t control the TV around my house. Haven’t in a long time. Except during football season.)

  6. December 13, 2011, 8:39 am   /  Reply

    Since I’m a fan of marriage, I like to see more than just a declaration of love. I want to know that the couple is going to get together, stay together, and has worked through the differences that kept them apart initially so I know they have what it takes to grow even closer as time goes by. Thus, I’m a fan of engagement or wedding endings. I don’t need an epilogue, although they can be fun at times.

    • Beth Vogt
      December 13, 2011, 9:36 am   /  Reply

      You and I are in agreement.
      I like to see the declaration of love — and a little bit more. But it doesn’t have to be a wedding — or for me, even an engagement. Maybe the promise of a ring? And sometimes epilogues aren’t the best thing, although like I said, I loved how Rachel Hauck wrapped up Dining with Joy.

  7. Cindy R. Wilson
    December 13, 2011, 9:06 am   /  Reply

    Beth, interesting post! I had to hop in to see the responses – as a contemp. romance writer, it’s interesting to see what people want. I personally don’t mind stopping at the reconciliation HEA. As long as I know problems are patched up and my hero and heroine have a future, I’m good. But if the author does go on to show anything after (like the wedding), then I like to see a follow up. I like to see further down the road and how happy the couple still is. Cool! I’m going to check back later to see what everyone else says 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      December 13, 2011, 9:38 am   /  Reply

      Glad you stopped in. It’s fun to see what readers and writers want from their romances. And then the question is: Does the novel we write deliver? And do we change the ending — or keep the ending true to our story?

  8. December 13, 2011, 10:40 am   /  Reply

    I want to see it all. A book that comes to mind that did this and was oh, so swoon and sigh satisfaction was Laura Frantz’s The Colonel’s Lady. I like to see the knee drop, the wedding (on or off stage) and down the road. I think that’s why I do this often in my mss. But, I’m happy with HEA’s in general. Loved Lakeside Reunion and My Foolish Heart. I don’t think I’ve read any of the others.

    • Beth Vogt
      December 13, 2011, 10:56 am   /  Reply

      Loved your answer.
      And now I must go read The Colonel’s Lady!

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