Posted in characters, contemporary romance, creative writing, romance, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

HEA, HFN, and Realism

In most romance subgenres, happily ever after endings are a requirement. What exactly is an HEA ending, and how does it differ from an HFN or happy for now ending?

HEA and HFN both end happily. The main differences between them are for how long and on what terms will the characters be or remain happy?

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HEA’s simplest definition is that everything turns out for the best for the protagonists and any side characters. If there is an antagonist, they get what they deserved. HEA leaves the reader confident the happiness will continue long term with no major roadblocks or disasters.

HFN is often consider a more realistic type of ending. Not everything is perfect, but it’s pretty good for the moment and the circumstances. The protagonists’ lives have improved to a satisfying level, even if it isn’t the end goal and may not be permanent.

Now, let’s discuss making HEAs a little less predictable and, let’s admit it, less cheesy.

Make the characters work HARD for their HEA.

No quick resolutions or easy forgiveness. Leave the reader doubting it will happen right up to the last second. The “work” may be external or internal.

External work might be distance, others who keep them apart, lies or mistrust, etc. Internal work is a character overcoming internal issues, such as past hurts, commitment phobias, or held secrets.

Whatever type of work a character must do to reach their HEA, give them roadblocks and roller coaster ups and downs. Any time it starts to feel like things are getting to easy for them, hit them with another one that pushes them back a few steps.

Put a twist on a trope.

Romance has plenty of tropes to chose from. The difficulty is often making them unique and not just another Disney ending. HEA doesn’t always have to end with a kiss, sex, or a proposal.

What else signifies commitment? Exchanging house/apartment keys, adopting a pet, meeting family, etc.

The important thing to remember here is that the twist has to make sense and be relevant to the character’s arc. If a character is open and welcoming by nature, introducing her new love to her family at the end isn’t much of a twist, or very exciting. However, for a character who’s had to work through major issues with her domineering mother and has trouble opening her private life to people, introducing a new love to her mother would be a big step that showed trust and commitment.

Try unique situation and settings.

Very few real relationships reach the HEA moment over a candle-lit dinner or during a grand romantic gesture. Take a page out of reality and spice up a conversation over pizza or taking a walk and falling in love with a house listed for sale. Look for everyday moments that can be made special.

I love the scene from The Office when Jim proposes to Pam at a gas station. It’s a powerful moment, not only because it’s unexpected, but because his previous attempts at a grand gesture kept getting messed up and he simply couldn’t wait to start his life with her any longer.

Make the reader wait.

Whether this is a planned meeting that gets held up and makes a character doubt, a tough decision that is held off until the last moment, a sacrifice the reader isn’t sure a character will make, or something else, a pause before the HEA can up the reader’s anticipation.

In most romances, the reader knows there will be an HEA, but they don’t know how it will happen. If you’ve developed a strong story arc, every time the MCs get close, they’re pushed back apart, making the reader doubt their ideas of how it will all play out. Keep this up until the big moment. Then you can follow it up with a glimpse of what their HEA looks like long term.

One last note…

Make sure each character has their OWN happy ending before their relationship gets a happy ending. HEAs are even more unrealistic when the characters haven’t shown enough development for a reader to believe “true love” will last forever.

This doesn’t mean they have to be perfect, but they DO have to be capable of sustaining a long-term, committed relationship. Each character should have their own development arc and need to reach the climax of that arc before the story/relationship arc can reach it’s own climax.

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Posted in books, characters, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Writing a well-crafted ending readers will love

One of the worst endings to a TV series, for me, is still “Lost,” but it provides some good lessons in what not to do when crafting the ending of a story or series.

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Every subplot has to be relevant and tied up at the end. Readers hate being left with unanswered questions. When dealing with a series, of course some subplots span multiple books, but they still need to be resolved by the end of the series. Don’t introduce a subplot simply because you feel a chapter is lacking and you need to add something interesting. First, make sure it’s relevant to the main storyline and then follow the subplot to its conclusion to see if it is worth incorporating. Every subplot should have its own complete arc.

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Keep your subplots manageable. Every story has subplots to provide characters with a fuller life and help them grow and move toward their ultimate goal in stages. However, this can easily get out of hand if you try to develop subplots for every little aspect of the story. How many subplots is too many often depends on the length of the story. Novellas or short stories really can’t handle more than one. An average length book of 60-80k words can usually handle 2-3 subplots. 80k and up can handle 4-5 when the story is complex. Anything more than that runs the risk of leaving unanswered questions and upset readers, unless you’re Robert Jordan.

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Don’t forget what your characters wanted or needed to learn at the beginning. No matter what the story is about, it’s really about the characters. A plotline can’t exist independent of the characters. Maybe the MC needs to solve a mystery, and it’s a plot-driven story, but readers still have to get invested in the character moving through that story, which means the character’s arc has to be tied up as neatly as the story arc. Look back at who the character was at the beginning. Have they changed? Have their achieved their goals? Have they learned something important? If the answer is no to any of these questions, the character hasn’t arrived at the ending along with the plot.

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The ending has to make sense! This doesn’t just apply to avoiding Dues Ex Machina endings where something completely outside the story swoops in and fixes everything at the last second. It also applies to endings that don’t match the characters’ stories or personalities, defy logic, or seem completely unreasonable. Sometimes, you start out with an ending in mind, but the characters and plot elements change while writing. The ending needs to adapt to those changes as well.

Posted in writing, writing advice

Where Does Your Book End…Literally

Many writers start a project with an end goal in mind. Even those of us who are pantsers (write by the seat of our pants) tend to know generally where our story or book will end. Those who outline and thoroughly plot know exactly where their story will end.

Globe2I’m talking in terms of the end goal of the plot. Will the MC meet their goal or fail so spectacularly that readers will be hard-pressed to forget? This is important. VERY important. Having a weak ending or no ending at all is a major turn-off for readers, but that’s also another discussion all together. What I’m talking about today is where your book ends physically.

How many of you decide or even just consider the physical location where your plot will come to fruition?

You may be asking if it really matters. It does. A lot.

Let’s Consider Neo and the Matrix…

MatrixThe final fight scene in the matrix blew people away when it originally hit theaters in 1999. The special effects have been copied over and over by now, but the bullets halted mid-flight and Neo’s ability to move like the Agents wasn’t the only thing that made this final scene so memorable.

Setting had a huge role to play as well.

The end goal of the plot in Matrix was that Neo realize he is “The One” and figure out how to defend the freed humans against the machines. Fabulous plot, but what would that final realization have been like if Neo had reached it outside the Matrix?

Not nearly as impactful.

Neo being pretty much dead and losing hope while faced with his enemy, inside their fabricated world — of which he has little control of at this point — while his mentor is being tortured in that same building, and no chance of escape…well, that’s a pretty bad place to be, right? The exact kind of place he where you either need to dig deep or give up. Being outside of the Matrix, relatively safe and surrounded by people who are trying to help him…what would have pushed him to find his true strength? Neo realizing he was the one person meant to save the humans wouldn’t have had anywhere near the same effect if it had come over his morning bowl of mush as he worried about Morpheus having been captured.

Where your final scene happens should be connected to your character in some way.


Is it a place from their past, something symbolic of what they’re trying to overcome?

Such as a childhood home or the location of a traumatic experience, or perhaps a place they once loved and they return to at the end of their quest to put their life back together? The location should be relevant to your character’s history and journey.

Has it been previously referenced?

Ending up somewhere that readers are familiar with, even in passing, will mean more to them than a brand new, never before seen venue. Foreshadowing is a great tool in setting up the final location where the book will take place. A brand new location risks seeming irrelevant to the reader, and may not be the most logical place either.

Does the location make sense for what’s going to happen?

If the final scene is a verbal confrontation (Ex: standing up to a tormentor), think about what type of space will make this more intense. Wide open areas provide room to escape or avoid while small spaces may pin the character into the situation until it’s resolved. Public locations vs. private ones can have a great impact as well. A public location means there will be witnesses. Will there be action involved? Will they be on the move or stuck in one area? What obstacles will the location provide?

Is there meaning behind the setting?

Whatever setting you choose, there should be a reason for that choice. Think about your character arc. Where did this character begin emotionally, mentally, physically, and in reference to the overall plot? Where do they end up? Does your final setting reflect the changes your character has made during the journey that is their character arc. A character arc should come full circle. Setting should as well. That doesn’t mean your final scene should be in the same location as the beginning scene, however, the final setting should be chosen just as carefully as the initial setting was chosen. It needs to reflect what the character has overcome and what their future may hold.


What final scenes of books or movies have stuck with you, thanks in part to the setting?

Posted in writing, writing advice, writing thoughts

Falling Flat or Finishing Strong

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Ever feel like this guy when you’re trying to work out the ending to your book? 

I agonize over the endings of my books, series endings especially. I’ve mentioned this before, but instead of just whining about it, I thought I’d share some insights I’ve learned and some tips from other authors.

Tips From Other Authors

KM Weiland offered up some great tips on her YouTube video. You can watch the full video for her whole discussion, but here are the highlights.

1. Wait until the resolution to tie up any loose ends. In other words, don’t interrupt the action to talk about Carlos’s shoe size or Betty’s grade on her science paper. Rope 2

2. Tie up loose ends BEFORE the climax. If you really need to let everyone know whether or not Skippy found his lost shoe, spit it out before Joe and Susie head off to fight the zombie horde.

3. Make the unfinished business exciting enough to be included in the climax. If Clara’s long lost aunt is going to drop back into the picture, she better have something to do with the solving the mystery or winning the fight or it’ll just be a distraction that pulls readers out of  the story.

Brian Klems offered up some great writing tips in his Writer’s Digest article, but here’s what relates to finishing a book:

1. The hero should be the catalyst. No one wants to invest time and energy in a character only to see someone else step in at Sexy young soldierthe end of the MC’s story and save the day. What was the point of that character going through everything they did if they don’t do anything in the end?

2. The hero should grow internally. What does this means? Basically, the problems the hero faced or struggled with in the beginning need to be resolved in the end and be part of the reason he’s able to triumph at the climax. If you’re dealing with a series, maybe the growth is incomplete, but there should be growth all the same.

3. A new and better hero should emerge. The MC needs to have earned the right to be called a hero by the end of the story. If they don’t demonstrate that they can do something the others characters can’t (and we’re not just talking supernatural abilities), why is he or she able to save the day over any other Joe-schmoe in the book?

What I’ve Learned

The ending can make or break a book. I’ve been disappointed too many times for it not to effect the way I write. I’m slightly obsessed with making sure my books don’t peter out in the last few chapters because, as a reader, I hate that! Here are a few of my own tips to avoid writing that ending that makes your readers cringe.

1. Complete your character arc. What was it in the beginning of the book that your character struggled with the most, that defined who he or she was and why they felt like they couldn’t meet their goals? Have you resolved it by the end of the book? I’m not talking situational problems. This needs to be deeper emotional wounds that have held your character back. Have they overcome some part of what’s been holding them back? If not, take note of what those wounds are and how they need to be fixed in your final chapters. Questions

2. Answer the freaking question! Okay, this makes me think of “Lost” and how confused and irritated I was when they wrapped up the sixth season and 90% of the hints and mysteries were completely abandoned. If you bring up a challenge, hint, clue, noticeable item, etc. and then never mention it again, readers are going to be left saying, “What about…?” And that’s annoying. Either get rid of those plot points that never panned out, or make sure they’re followed up on.

3. Redemption and justice are musts. Unless you want to end things ambiguously on purpose, take a look at the major players in your book and make some tough decisions about what they really deserve. Does your bad guy need to die, or will he find redemption? Is your MC going to save the day or meet with spectacular failure because of his less than stellar choices? If your readers don’t feel like everyone got what they deserved, even if it wasn’t the ending they saw coming or wanted, the ending will feel incomplete and leave them at odds when they set the book down.

Crafting the perfect ending can make you want to tear your hair out. Maybe it will never be perfect, but hopefully some of these tips will help you write a complete ending that will hold readers’ attention and leave them feeling satisfied and ready to go grab the next book!

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