E is for Ever After

Betcha thought I was going to say editing.

I’ve never been a fan of the Happily Ever After (or HEA) ending in books. Not that I mind if people are happy; by all means, please. Have at it. I can’t stand a series that leaves readers miserable after they’ve been through hell with characters over three or seven or twenty books. What I mean is the actual, “And they lived happily ever after” ending that so many fairy tales either spell out or imply.

Really? I don’t buy it. I’m willing to bet that Cinderella had issues after the wedding. Maybe she turned into a huge slob after so many years of being forced to clean up after people, or maybe she’s constantly nagging Prince Charming about leaving his socks on the floor. Sleeping Beauty seems to have married a guy she hardly knows, and you can’t tell me that’s not going to lead to some problems.

The idea that we should aim for a happy ending in our own lives is problematic too, isn’t it? Romantic comedies take us through the ups and downs of dating, but everyone’s happy at the end. It’s often implied that a big, beautiful wedding is the thing that really pulls a girl’s life together, and the rest is just details. Sure, we know it’s fiction. But we also kind of believe it. Of COURSE we’re going to find eternal happiness! Isn’t that what life is all about?

And if life’s not perfect after the wedding… where did we go wrong? Did we choose the wrong Prince? Was the wedding not Pinterest-perfect enough? Or maybe it was too perfect, and everything after is a let-down. Maybe the happy ending is IT, and it’s all downhill from there, and THAT’S why they never show the rest in movies and romance novels! *gasp!* Shouldn’t life be better than this?

It’s not just weddings. I’m sure most of us have a big goal in our hearts, and we’re sure that when we reach it, we’ll have our Happily Ever After.

The perfect mate.

The child.

The book deal, or the X-number sold.

The degree.

The (insert career-related goal here).

The bank balance.

The house on the beach.

The pure-bred dog of our dreams.

All of the whatevers available of the thing we collect.

But it’s not so, is it? There’s always something to disappoint us, some difficulty that the fairy tale didn’t prepare us for, one more hill to climb. Constant happiness is an unrealistic expectation.

But if we understand that, we can find our happiness among the slips and the falls and the failures and disappointments. We can understand that life’s not perfect, but it’s still be a wonderful adventure. We can laugh at the beautiful, messy imperfection that is real life, ride the waves, and find joy even when we know it doesn’t last forever.

The real problem with Happily Ever After is that it’s the end of the story, and who wants that? I say screw HEA. I’d rather keep living my story, whatever it brings.

(Special thanks to a few of my characters who taught me this lesson)

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About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with five cats, two dogs, and just the right amount of humans. USA Today bestselling author of the Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy), Into Elurien, and Vines and Vices. Writing dark, decadent, and deadly Urban Fantasy as Tanith Frost. www.katesparkes.com www.tanithfrost.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

16 responses to “E is for Ever After

  • Amos M. Carpenter

    Great post, Kate, closely related to what I just blogged about for “E” day (Endings: http://amosmcarpenter.com/2014/04/05/endings-a-to-z-e/). And I agree: perhaps it should be renamed “Happily for at least a Short Time Thereafter, but Life Goes on, so Who the Heck Knows?” πŸ˜‰

  • Emily Witt

    Are you familiar with Stephen Sondheim’s “Into The Woods”? It basically critiques the entire idea of HEA – the fairytales all end the way we know them to in the end of the first act and in the second act they realise that life goes on after they get the wedding/riches/child, etc, and sometimes shit happens. And they characters being fairytale characters are all really taken aback by this.

    • Kate Sparkes

      That’s excellent, I’ll have to look into that. Reminds me of a story I once wrote. And a play called “Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet” where everything goes haywire after Romeo and Juliet don’t die… it’s a great theme.

    • Tammy J Rizzo

      “Into The Woods” is one of my favorite plays, specifically for how they continue the stories on after the HEA endings. It’s a brilliant take on the whole Happily Ever After deal.

      This was a great post! Thank you!

    • cfjeanjean

      Oh I’m going to have to see about reading ‘Into The Woods’ that sounds really cool.

      Kate you should definitely write the story of how Cinderella becomes a slob after she marries Prince Charming – that would be hilarious!

  • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    There is definitely a lot of happiness to be had out there. You just have to be open to it. Great post.

  • MishaBurnett

    I started a reply and then realized that I’m going to have to write a blog of my own to do justice to this theme. Until then I want to leave you with one of my favorite last lines from a film, Decker in “Bladerunner”, as he and Rachel flee the city for points unknown.

    “I didn’t know how much time we would have together, but then, who does?”

  • njmagas

    I don’t care much for HEA either. I mean, in some genres it works, and it’s almost necessary, but for the genres that I usually roll through, I prefer my endings to be more along the lines of “the world kept turning”. As long as it’s not a bloody cliff hanger, I’m usually pretty satisfied.

  • Denise Drespling

    Love this post! I have to say I am a sucker for happy endings, but I’ve come to realize that it’s not so much “picture perfect” that makes it happy, only that it is fulfilling. I’ve read sad stories that had a wonderful ending. The ending made me happy even if life wasn’t perfect for the characters. That’s what I love.

    One of my favorite short stories is “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates and it’s because the ending isn’t really an ending. You might think it’s going to be bad, but because the author doesn’t say, the reader can keep hoping it went better. Some people get mad over a non-ending, but sometimes that’s the only ending the writer can give the characters to be fair to them. Sometimes not knowing is more fulfilling.

  • Shah Wharton

    Love this, and I concur!

    You can tie this into the aging process. Youth is the be all and end all, maintaining it is all we strive for (if you read any woman’s magazine). But youth is also a place of false promises and delusion, of ignorance and naivete. Sod HEA, give me a reality I can work with. Sod Prince Charming, give me my hubs – in all his Princeless (priceless) glory. πŸ™‚


  • StuHN

    I’d just be happy with a Happy NOW, and a good after. πŸ™‚


  • Charlotte Comley

    A great thought provoking post, thank you. Nice to connect and follow on http://aimingforapublishingdeal.blogspot.co.uk/

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