In Defense of Happily Ever After: Nalini Singh on Hope, Love, and 'Realistic' Endings

Posted by Hayley on June 12, 2017


Nalini Singh knows what her readers crave: seductive thrills, paranormal activity, and a swoon-worthy happily ever after for the main characters. Her new romance, Silver Silence, is about a ruthless ice queen and the changeling who vows to protect her—and it kicks off the "second season" of the popular Psy-Changeling series. Goodreads asked Singh to share her thoughts on the power of happy endings for authors and readers.


For me, and for millions of other readers, the "happily ever after" (HEA for short) is an integral part of the romance genre. It isn't the cherry on the sundae—no, it's far more essential than that: It's the cocoa in a chocolate cake, the key lime in key lime pie.

When we open the pages of a romance novel, we are also opening our hearts and taking a risk on these characters. We empathize with their problems, we cry over their hurts, and we hope desperately that everything will work out for them. That good will win, and evil will fall. That love will conquer all, and hope will stand supreme.

And that word, for me, encapsulates the romance genre: hope.


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To paraphrase a bit from Doctor Who, we romance readers are the hopeful optimists of the world, the dreamers with stars in our eyes. Sometimes people look down on this. I've heard the romance genre being put down over and over again for not being "realistic."

Yet across the world, tens of thousands of people fall in love each and every day. They take the risk of trusting another person with their heart. Some of those people run off on adventures together. Some decide to build a house together. Some decide to have a baby together.

So much risk: Financial, emotional, and physical.

So many different, unique happy endings that prove HEA is just as realistic as any other type of ending.

Talking of those non-HEA endings—as a reader, I'm quite willing to read them, but only if I haven't been led to expect a romance ending. I'm lucky enough to have a lot of writer friends, and some of them have occasionally challenged the HEA in their works. I respect their right to do so, but I also believe that when a writer does this, they must be honest with their readers about what lies ahead. Because the trust a reader gives to an author is a precious thing, and it should be treated with care.

I still haven't forgiven an author who, some 20+ years ago, promised me a wonderful romance full of swashbuckling adventure…and then went on to kill the hero. (I don't know what I did with that book. Mentally, I threw it into the fiery depths of a volcano.)

Not that I know how to hold a grudge or anything.

If, on the other hand, the author had given me a clue in the blurb about the darkness in the story, if it hadn't been labeled a romance, I would probably not have been so shocked and angry. Just the other week, I read a book with a heartbreaking ending and was totally swept away by it. But I went into it knowing that while the book was a love story, it wasn't being marketed to readers as a genre romance. And when I cried my eyes out, my eyelids swollen and my face puffy, I only cursed the writer for being too good at her job—and not for breaching my trust.

Because it's all about promises. And one of the elemental promises of a romance novel is a happy ending—though the shape of that HEA will, and should, be defined by the characters. For some characters, a HEA will mean marriage and children; for others, it might mean a partner in crime through years of dangerous quests and deadly missions; and for still others, it may be the simple but profound knowledge that they are no longer alone.

If you call your book a romance, give readers their HEA. Because if you promise me chocolate cake and deliver red velvet, it doesn't matter how good your red velvet cake is—I'm going to be a grumpy chocoholic.

The happy ending is a foundation stone of the romance novel. Mess with it at your own risk.


Nalini Singh's Silver Silence hits bookshelves on June 13. Add it to your Want to Read shelf here.

How important are happy endings for you? Let's talk in the comments!

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Comments Showing 1-50 of 115 (115 new)


Berkley Romance We <3 <3 <3 Nalini Singh!


message 2: by Timelord Iain (new)

Timelord Iain Throwing a little shade on The Shadows (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #13) by J.R. Ward, I see... totally agree... can't wait for Silver Silence... and Archangel's Viper...


message 3: by Mei (new)

Mei Some of the best romance novels I've read do NOT have a HEA!!! But, at least for me, they're romnance all the same.
Still, the HEA is VERY important! And more the time passes (and the more I get older!) and more I WANT a HEA! Strange, no? ;)


Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* I love Happy Endings. Real life is missing that enough of the time with relationships.


message 5: by Francesca (new)

Francesca Mei wrote: "Some of the best romance novels I've read do NOT have a HEA!!! But, at least for me, they're romnance all the same.
Still, the HEA is VERY important! And more the time passes (and the more I get ol..."

It's not a romance if the book doesn't have a HEA


message 6: by Kat (new)

Kat I get very grumpy at books that kill the main characters at the end. I have enough real problems in real life. I don't like it when characters the author has gotten me attached to over the course of a book (or worse, over the course of a trilogy) are left at the end with one half of the romantic duo alone and mourning. Just makes the whole thing end with a bad taste in my mouth and honestly, makes me wary to try that author again.


Evry day book nerd I totally agree!! For me is also a very fundamental part in a romance, and even though other of my favourite book do not have a HEA they were not romances so I was aware of my posible heartbreak or not completely ok feeling but I also remember weeks of being grumpy and plain angry with a book that promise me romance and did not deliver , I mean koodos for being savage and all but you can't just kill the MC and expect me not to hate you for breaking my heart, and still do. I think I could never trust that author again.


message 8: by Preetha (last edited Jun 12, 2017 09:21AM) (new)

Preetha Devi I know her books aren't romance, but I think Veronica Roth needs to read this.


message 9: by Janice (new)

Janice I always look a the ending of a book. If the ending is sad, I don't read the book.


message 10: by Kat (new)

Kat Preetha wrote: "I know her books aren't romance, but I think Veronica Roth needs to read this."

That's one person I was thinking of as I wrote...

And, shrugs, to each their own, and authors can write whatever they want, but I really don't want to get invested in a series where I now *expect* half the romantic duo to be bitterly and tragically killed.


message 11: by Janice (new)

Janice I very much agree...no fun.


message 12: by Alexa (last edited Jun 12, 2017 10:09AM) (new)

Alexa Ashryver katwiththehat wrote: "Preetha wrote: "I know her books aren't romance, but I think Veronica Roth needs to read this."

That's one person I was thinking of as I wrote...

And, shrugs, to each their own, and authors can w..."


I really really agree with you guys. Though I thank her for warning us in her very first book where she killed (well, you know!), I also hate her a little for making Tris such a beautiful character person.


message 13: by Timothy (new)

Timothy These kind of books are fine for the vaguely-literate miserable souls who read them, and so desperately need to read about someone's life whose isn't the crippling dumpster fire their own is. Just don't mistake it for "Literature"...


message 14: by Michelle (new)

Michelle I completely agree with Nalini Singh. For me it's all about expectations. There are a couple of very popular books that are supposed to be great reads, but I stay far far away from them (and their movie adaptations) because I know one of the main characters of the couple dies.

I invest a lot of emotion into most of my books and I've been lucky that the authors give fair warning of an upcoming death either by distancing the characters in the relationship or just preparing the reader for the inevitable. I feel this is especially important in a lot of the Fantasy/PNR I read because the characters are always throwing themselves out there into the middle of the battle.

As a reader who suffers from anxiety I require that "heads up" that something bad is about to happen if there isn't going to be some type of HEA. And even at 30, I know the real world is full of BS non-happy moments. I use reading as a form of escapism so an HEA is crucial to me.


message 15: by Y.M. (new)

Y.M. Nelson And this is why I had to re-categorize my first novel (one of the major reasons). This is not just opinion; it's a hard and fast rule with a lot of genre romance publishers. Now I know why. Thanks for the explanation, Nalini Singh!


message 16: by Dominika (new)

Dominika I agree with Nalini Singh. I expect a HEA in a romance. I simply hate it, when a romance author suddenly writes a book without a happy ending. I think it's cheating. If it happens, I become very careful and usually stop buying this author's books. If the author is really good, I may still buy her books in the future, but I carefully check the reviews before.


message 17: by Juonithz (new)

Juonithz I think it's not the HEA that makes the story, but whether the ending is a suitable one for the characters. It has to be satisfying. That's the test of a good book.


message 18: by willaful (new)

willaful I can't remember who said it -- maybe Sarah Mayberry? -- but a HEA is literally the only requirement that makes a romance a romance, and you can't define the genre without it.


Olivia "Don't Blame Me I Voted for Hillary" I don't read romances too often, but I do enjoy legal thrillers. When I read a legal thriller I expect justice to be done at the end. Which is the legal thriller's version of the HEA. This didn't happen in the book The Appeal by John Grisham. So I definitely don't recommend it.


message 20: by willaful (new)

willaful Olivia "Don't Blame Me I Voted for Hillary" wrote: "I don't read romances too often, but I do enjoy legal thrillers. When I read a legal thriller I expect justice to be done at the end. Which is the legal thriller's version of the HEA. This didn't h..."

Exactly. I think one of the primary traits of genre readers of any genre is the desire to see justice done/things come out as they should.


message 21: by Khenta (new)

Khenta It's not a romance if the book doesn't have a HEA

Exactly!
What she said!


message 22: by Pamela(AllHoney) (new)

Pamela(AllHoney) To me it isn't a romance if it doesn't have an HEA. No HEA = tragedy. Like Romeo and Juliet does NOT qualify as a romance. It is a tragic play.


message 23: by Kira (new)

Kira FlowerChild I rarely read genre romance novels. When I do, it's usually because things aren't going to well in my real life and I want to escape into a place where I know things are going to work out in the end and I am going to get my HEA. So yes, I agree, if an author labels his/her book a romance, a HEA ending is essential.


message 24: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Hayward Pérez I don't read many romances but have added the book mentioned here to my TBR list.


message 25: by Abby (new)

Abby I cannot agree more! I'm a sucker for a happy ending, and I have to believe that somewhere out there, book love exists ;)


message 26: by Julia (new)

Julia Shore The promise of a HEA means I can read a book and not have to worry. A Game of Thrones has taught me to fear long stories: the probability of survival of my favourite character over time rapidly approaches zero. Seriously, I am less likely to pick up an epic fantasy now than before GOT. I like the Psy-Changeling series because I know I will enjoy the book and all my favourite characters are safe.


message 27: by Mavi (new)

Mavi Santacruz I respect all the opinions yet I have to disagree. Yes. Who wants a sad ending? But for me it doesn't matter if it's a HEA or not as long as it has an ending, because I hate more cliffhangers than not finding a HEA (unless the book is part of a series). Some end well, some others doesn't and it had its reasons and that's okay, it makes it realistic.


message 28: by icba (new)

icba If there's no HEA or if there's a cliffhanger, I will personally not read it. Books are a daydreamer's escape and if there were elements of no HEA, it'll be like bursting your happy bubble.


message 29: by Sumeet (new)

Sumeet Mahendra So good....!


message 30: by Kathy (new)

Kathy HEA is a must for me, when a book is a romance or otherwise and ends badly I throw it in the trash! Whether a mystery, or fantasy a book needs to end with the happy ending, this means the mystery has to have resolved itself, the killer needs to be captured and locked up, the lovers must be together at the end, the lady must have her knight etc ... DON'T kill the hero or heroine, don't allow the killer to get away or get off, don't leave the ending hanging, etc ...


Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* To clarify, for me HEA isn't a requirement for all stories - the ending needs to fit the story - but for romance it's a requirement.


message 32: by hIpnoticraQs (new)

hIpnoticraQs HEAs aren't a necessity for me. Some unpredictability now and then would be nice though. When the first girl mentioned in the book falls for the first guy mentioned in a book or the other way around, it gets kind of old.


message 33: by Silvia (new)

Silvia I love a sad ending in any book except a romance. You can rip my heart out for hundreds of pages in a romance novel, put the characters through hell, fool me about who is going to end up with whom, but in the end someone needs to ride off into the sunset with someone else. Otherwise don't call it a romance, plain and simple. No HEA? Then you're writing the wrong genre.


message 34: by Tracy (new)

Tracy Griffin I'm reading on BLACKHEARTS by Nicole Castroman, A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab, THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE by John Scalzi and DEFY THE STARS by Claudia Gray. This week


message 35: by Jo (new)

Jo And this is why Nalini Singh is my favorite author, she totally gets why I read romance - for the HEA!!!


Evry day book nerd Preetha wrote: "I know her books aren't romance, but I think Veronica Roth needs to read this."
Yes please someone make her read it, I don't think I can read another of her books without remembering such a disastrous ending, It took me weeks to get over it (I drove my friends crazy for days)


message 37: by Mei (new)

Mei Francesca wrote: "It's not a romance if the book doesn't have a HEA"

Well it depends on what you think romance is. For me romance is the evolution of a love between hero and heroine. That's me, non necessarily everybody else. :)

Romance is a candlelight dinner, a red rose given, a thoughtful act, an unexpected kiss... All this do not have HEA, but it's romance all the same.

So, for me Romeo and Juliet is both romance and tragedy. Gone with the Wind is both romance and historical. The Thorn Birds is romance and tragedy too...

The romance is part of life. I know that we're reading romance with expectations that do not have anything to do with real life, but I do need romance even there. I could find romance in every book I've read... *blush*


message 38: by willaful (new)

willaful Mei wrote: "Francesca wrote: "It's not a romance if the book doesn't have a HEA"

Well it depends on what you think romance is. For me romance is the evolution of a love between hero and heroine. That's me, no..."


Romance in this context is genre romance. The happy ending is part of its criteria.


message 39: by Anne (new)

Anne Hendricks Challenge me: I don't need a HEA - I like high quality fiction and a hell of a story.


message 40: by M. (new)

M. Jones Whatever the story, whatever the genre, for me what is needed is the right ending. Sometimes that's happy, sometimes not.

There is a book which I won't name, in which a doomed relationship ends in the death of one party and the suicide of the other, leaving a third party bereft (in fact: bereft for eternity). It's not happy at all, though there is a sliver of hope at the end, but as a reader you realise that it was the best possible ending. Anything else would have been wrong and you would have felt cheated.


message 41: by Ali (new)

Ali HEA is not a must for me. In fact, I prefer the endings where it's left a bit uncertain. So that after you turn the last page and close the book, you can wonder: "Will they.... or will they not...?" and then you can play a few possible endings in your head, as you please :-))


message 42: by Saunders (new)

Saunders No happy ending, no reading of the book - for me that is what a good romance is all about. Worst thing for me is reading a story, getting into it with great expectations and then bam the hero/heroine is killed off with no warning in the synopsis.


message 43: by Virginia (new)

Virginia Rand I guess that's what makes romance readers different from me. For them, every fictional romantic relationship is expected to have a happily ever after, but for me the story and the author has to earn it. I'm not working hard to believe in HEAs so with a lot of romance couples I look at them realistically and say 'that's going to fall apart within the year.' A HEA can be realistic, but only if the characters do the work required.


message 44: by Helen (new)

Helen Vilaranda I love romances and HEA'S! There is one book where I was upset that the girl ended up with the guy! Why? Because I thought she was not good enough for him. Because I did not like her! Because I thought he could have someone better! But to each his own!(The book was Thoughtless by S.C. Stephens).


message 45: by Mei (new)

Mei Ali wrote: "HEA is not a must for me. In fact, I prefer the endings where it's left a bit uncertain. So that after you turn the last page and close the book, you can wonder: "Will they.... or will they not...?..."

M. wrote: "Whatever the story, whatever the genre, for me what is needed is the right ending. Sometimes that's happy, sometimes not.

There is a book which I won't name, in which a doomed relationship ends in..."


Anne wrote: "Challenge me: I don't need a HEA - I like high quality fiction and a hell of a story."

Thank God I'm not the only one! I was starting to think I was wierd! ;-)


message 46: by Y.M. (last edited Jun 13, 2017 11:38AM) (new)

Y.M. Nelson Evry day book nerd wrote: "Preetha wrote: "I know her books aren't romance, but I think Veronica Roth needs to read this."
Yes please someone make her read it, I don't think I can read another of her books without rememberi..."


I was wondering when someone was going to mention Veronica Roth. Also waiting for a Nicholas Sparks mention, too.


message 47: by siriusedward (last edited Jun 14, 2017 02:01PM) (new)

siriusedward You got it Nalini.
Your writing is beautiful and I trust you to keep my H and h happy and in HEA (there maybe little ups and downs but their HEA will be solid).I dont easily trust authors .Thanks much for being true to the HEA and us.Love you for that.

Realistic fiction has its place as does all other genre.. for me Romance is as you said a place for hope,dreams ,a wish fulfillment...an escape , a comfort .. a return to our favorite people and places...

As you said heartbreaking ending is okay as long as you don't label it Romance or try to justify it..neither is cheating or anything allowed in Romance.. here it should be ideal ... a place where we can believe that .. yes our H and h will be the best.. will strive for the best... or will slowly change for the better. .
Keep writing. .


message 48: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Smith Selling me a romance without an HEA turns me into the reviewer on here that no author wants to see. As an author, and a devoted fan of romance, I never want to disappoint my readers that way.

HEA's rule!

And yes, the hope is totally one of the most important ingredients. After my own HEA blew up in my face, it was romance that restored my hope.


message 49: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie Engstrom I don't believe HEA has to come at the very end of a book. In addition to several other novels and novellas, I write a series in which each book has a unique wedding, but not always at the very end. In fact, my publisher has labeled my books "Where Happily Ever After Finds You." Actually, I would label my series as part WF and part romance - a combo. Weddings are my big thing!
Bonnie

bengstrom@hotmail.com


message 50: by AlwaysV (last edited Jun 14, 2017 01:24PM) (new)

AlwaysV HEA is my requirement when I buy books. I've bought & will keep buying Nalini's books forever. . . simple as that.

I totally agree that Romance doesn't need to end or have anything to do with HEA. I just won't read or buy any Romance without HEA.


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