Pondering Conventions

love-tree-banner.jpgNo, not like RWA or GRL, the kind you can fiddle around with in your jammies—genre conventions.

Warning: for communication’s sake this post contains some gross over-generalizations but absolutely no judgments.

We’ve all heard the conflicting advice to write with a reader in mind and to write the stories we want to read—like all things artistic, those aren’t always in conflict! Sometimes the stories we want to write adhere to all the standard genre conventions. But what about when they don’t?

And what does an HEA for two men look like anyway?

Does it have to include a proposal/wedding? Do they have to move in together? Share the cost of stamps?

With the number of states and countries recognizing marriage equality on the rise, is the expectation for a proposal/wedding keeping pace?

My 2012 release included a proposal, the couple had been together over a decade and it just worked for them, but none of my 2013 releases—or my current WIPs—do. Will. Do. Whatever. I’m all for marriage equality (I worked my butt off to get it on Oregon’s 2012 ballot, which didn’t happen, but …). Marriage isn’t for everyone, either in real or fictional worlds. But will readers see endings without the promise of a wedding as “HFNs”? Are they less satisfying?

When I read, the story just has to fit the characters. Beyond the love, anything goes. So, a story without a proposal or wedding would be fine, as long as one/both of the MCs didn’t spend their page-time shopping ring catalogs or hunting down their “something blue” (nope, not going into male-male wedding rituals, that’s just an example :)).

For instance, in the ending of one of my stories, one of the guys says they’ll need a bigger bed. To me, that implies a willingness to commit—and since we’ve already seen the other one change vehicles for the relationship, that says HEA to me. Not to everyone, though.

So, in my never-ending quest to write more satisfying endings, I’m trying to see the line. You know, the line between the kind of HEA we’ve seen since Shakespeare’s comedies and the HFN for couples who don’t get married (for whatever reason, and regardless of the pairing).

What say you, friends? How important are the nuptials to that HEA feeling?

rainbow rose

10 thoughts on “Pondering Conventions

  1. Charley, this is a great conversation to have. In the fight for equal rights (which should absolutely be had), we forget that a whole community who has been without them has its own normal. Now that this new normal has come along, those in the community get to decide whether it’s something that’s needed. Heck, in the heteronormative world, people are having the conversation whether or not the real life HEA comes with marriage or not. I feel like it’s absolutely valid to not give that. I know that in the m/m reading community, the statistic is that over half are straight women. So, yeah, it makes a lot of sense that HEA means marriage and kids. I’ve seen some recent rumblings about how that’s not fair to who these characters are if they were real. I can see where, because this has been a hard-fought battle that authors want to show that victory to its fullest extent. I just feel like the diversity of people and lifestyles, not this one ideal that’s been touted, should remain a part of the fiction that’s written.

    From my point of view, all I need to call it an HEA is that two (or more) people have realized they love each other and want to keep having a healthy, rewarding relationship. If that means marriage, if that means living together, if that means something else completely, I’m up for it. Just show me that deep love and caring and that drive to keep growing together, and I’m happy.

  2. I’m cool with happy for now endings as well. I primarily read m/f and mfm books umm.. cause I’m a chick who likes dicks. My reading reflects that. But even with mf romances, marriage isn’t necessary so why would I want that when I read mm or mmf stuff? In real life, even if there is a marriage, it’s still hfn. I KNOW people don’t want to acknowledge pesky things like death and divorce. But they happen. So even if fictional couplings have a marriage, well, that is STILL only hfn. I can suspend belief and buy into the HEA portion of the fiction, but I know it’s not true deep down inside.

    Commitment, love, sharing of the good and bad… in any form is what I want in my fiction.

  3. Happily Ever After, even for men, should be that acknowledgement of the commitment “we’ll need a bigger bed” works. So does a marriage proposal, and so does the line “he’d finally found home” or some such. Happily For Now is more of he’d be willing to give it a try and it’s too new to be solidly committed to it. There’s hope and the distinct possibility, but it’s open ended enough to allow for sequels, lol. That’s where I see the difference, no matter what kind of romance it is.

  4. Personally, I just like to see the characters get together, and decide to be “in a relationship” with each other, whatever that means for them. That’s me as a reader.

    But as a writer, it just seems trite, to me, the obligatory wedding proposal. Only the sappiest of my love stories get one. (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

    As a result, I have been shocked by reviewers who said “well, there’s no hea, it’s more a hfn ending” to some of my stories which ended with couples moving in together. So I think, for a lot of readers, only wedding bells will do. I can’t give that to every couple, though.

    So, let me know if you find that line 🙂

  5. You guys are awesome! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love unpacking genre conventions–especially if the discussion helps me figure out where to end a story. Some guys want to keep going and going, even after the main questions have been answered. 😀

  6. *nods* I think it should be whatever is right for the individual couple. Actually, I wish there was more acknowledgement of individual relationship differences in M/F as well — not every relationship is on the marriage + kids = happy ever after track. I totally agree with DR Slaten that EVERY happy ending is HFN, technically. (How many times have we seen a happy couple in a movie or book or TV show or comic split up by the writers later?) For me as a reader AND a writer, it really is just whatever is appropriate for these particular characters. For some characters it might be a marriage proposal or commitment ceremony, for others it might be moving in together or becoming partners in some other way (embarking together for new horizons in a fantasy novel, for example), or some other demonstration of trust. But it’s very much an individual thing.

  7. Oh, boy. Poster child for HEA being laughable even in the heteronormative world speaking up here. At the end of February, 2013, I moved out. Of a marriage that was approaching its 42nd anniversary. So yeah, HFN is the only thing we can expect.
    Unless our characters commit in whatever fashion to each other and then on their honeymoon are stepped on by an elephant at the moment of orgasm. That would be HEA guaranteed. (That is, for the curious, the way I’ve filed my papers for as a chosen way to exit the planet, preferably at age 95.)
    That said … most of my guys end up with HEA/HFN. Why? Because I’m still a hopeless romantic. Because — don’t know about y’all, but — my characters are REAL. OK, real to me. They live, they breathe, they whine, they pester me to distraction, they invade my dreams, they steal my chicken salad. When they’re in distress/conflict/turmoil, I fret. I want them to be happy. When one of them finishes off the bottle of 15 year-old the Macallan, I may change my mind, but until then, nope, I’m a sucker for HEA/HFN.
    And again, that said … it’s what my guys (MM or MFM or MMMM) want. They’re not looking for “Hi, stranger, wanna?” I do have a minor character who very much pretends to be that way, ready to drop trou for anything in tight jeans, but even Marcos is that way because his once-in-a-lifetime lover got taken out by AIDS (in the backstory). Why is HEA what my guys want? Frankly, because it’s what my gay guy friends IRL want, what they’re looking for, once the layers of heart-shielding come off and they get real with me. (And yes, I have a lot of gay guy friends. And lesbians. And bisexuals. And transgendered persons. I work at GLBT Advocacy & Youth Services.) A fair number of my friends know that it’s unrealistic, that they are, after all, men subject to the vagaries of instant ‘OMG, I want me some of THAT’ which makes monogamy ever after extremely hard to (ahem) come by. It’s still what they want, what they’re looking for.
    Sappy? Sure. But it’s fiction. (Don’t tell my guys I said that, k?) If I wanted reality, I’d live *waves arms vaguely* out there somewhere, in the land of rat races and car trouble and the grocery always being out of your favorite mustard and runny noses and batteries that go dead at the worst possible moment. There’s plenty of reality. When I read, I want something different. When I write, the worlds I create are worlds in which HEA/HFN is at least attainable, whether or not they achieve it. So far, I’ve not written anything longer than a short short without HEA/HFN. The sappiest HEA I’ve done is, hands down, the epic fantasy saga. It’s not a couple at the end, it’s a foursome, but even within that, there are two couples who are more deeply connected. Here’s the love declaration between two of them, the main main characters (remember, it’s epic fantasy, and everything is writ large):

    Donid pulled Robet into the shelter of his arms and brought their lips together, slowly, gently, looking into his eyes the entire time. He drew away and rested their foreheads together, saying softly, “I am yours, my love, for all the time there is. From the first yesterday to the last tomorrow, I have been and forever shall be, yours, to do with as you wish, to have, to hold, to care for, to spurn, to cast out, to draw in. I am yours, and yours in a way that includes no other, not even our lovers yonder. Yours, Robet, completely surrendered, yours.”
    Robet brought their lips together again, as Donid had done, slowly, gently, looking into his eyes the entire time. When he drew away, as Donid had done, he said, “The gift of your dear self I take to my heart. You have always been, and forever shall be, mine and mine above all others, to treasure, to guard, to tend, to have, to care for, to draw in, to shelter, to love. From the first yesterday to the last tomorrow, from the stars’ awakening to their final slumber, you are mine. For all the time there is, belovéd, you are mine.”

    Donid is the alpha. He’s the big dog, the ruler of the world, the holder of the key, master of the dragons. And yet in their relationship, he relinquishes that position to Robet, for love. Sappy? Yeah. Like lots. But it’s what *they* wanted. So it’s what they got.
    Otherwise, that bottle of Scotch over there might be empty.

  8. I read mostly M/F stories. Not that I’m anti-anything. I firmly believe in “to each his or her own, live and let live.” It’s just my personal preference.

    That said, I don’t see any reason why an ending without marriage has to only be HFN instead of HEA. From experience, a marriage ceremony, certificate, and a piece of jewelry does not guarantee the “EA” part! Conversly, the lack of that ceremony, certificate, and piece of jewelry does not mean that the relationship is only “FN”.

    As far as I’m concerned, if a guy who trips my trigger comes along (no pun intended), I will see absolutely no reason why we should need to get married. Express a committment to each other, yes, but go through the paperwork? No. Committment is in the heart, not on a piece of paper.

    • I like the way you put it: “ceremony, certificate and piece of jewelry”–every couple is different, and this should be reflected in fiction. In a perfect world, the only reason to get married would be that two people want to.

      Thanks for commenting, Sara, I’m glad you did! Liking MF doesn’t mean you’re against anything. That would be like saying if you like bananas you must be against tomatoes. To me, anyway. 🙂 I still read some MF, have since the 70s and boy has it changed over the years!

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