Elizabeth: Will They Live Happily Ever After?

Rear view of a couple sitting on beach with woman leaning head on man's shoulderRecently I’ve been working on the contemporary romance story I drafted during November’s NaNo writing blitz. One of the areas that I’m struggling with is making my hero and heroine’s happily-ever-after believable. I need both my characters and their relationship to grow and develop enough so that there is no doubt that they will be together long after the book is closed and put back on the shelf.

To do so, I need to answer the question: What do you need to “see” during the course of a story that will convince you two characters are going to stay together?

It’s not a trivial question.

To figure out an answer, I did a lot of “research” these past few weekends, thanks to what seemed to be a never-ending parade of romance-themed movies on the Hallmark channel. There were some hits and some misses in the mix. While all of the movies featured a couple that wound up together at the end, not all of those couples were completely believable. Some of the characters didn’t seem to know each other particularly well, some didn’t seem to have any “spark”, and some were from such different worlds, it was hard to see how they were going to manage to find common ground.  On the plus side, there were also a number of believable couples, so I made some notes and then it was time to check out the bookshelves.

I’ve done a fair amount of reading recently (thanks to a daily feed of free books via BookBub). Some has been good and some . . . not so much. The last few featured relationships that consisted of vast amounts of is-that-position-even-physically-possible-sex and little else; not a lot to inspire long-term relationship confidence there. Fortunately, a closer look at some of my favorite books gave me some good ideas.

Here then are some of the attributes/characteristics that featured in the stories that portrayed a convincing happily-ever-after:

A shared history /shared growth

Set in Victorian England, Rules of Attraction, by Christina Dodd, features a couple (Hannah Setterington and Lord Raeburn) who, although married, have been apart for nine years. Their shared history provides and foundation for their relationship and, more importantly, their shared understanding of that history and the parts they each played in it during the course of the story, make their connection feel strong and believable by the end of the book.

The same can be said for Delany Shaw and Nick Allegrezza from Rachel Gibson’s contemporary novel, Truly Madly Yours. Nick and Delany are not married, but they knew each other when they were kids and have to deal with each other, and their shared history, after the death of her father. Their shared history gives each insight into strengths and weaknesses of the other, leaving them vulnerable at times, but ultimately allowing them to develop a believable closeness.

In both stories, the couples are also dealing with shared problems/issues: the arrival of Queen Victoria in Dodd’s and the details of Delany’s father’s will in Gibson’s. Seeing how they work together and deal with each other during these stressful situations helps build confidence that they will be able to work through other problems that occur in their relationship over time.

“And will I tell you that these three lived happily ever after? I will not, for no one ever does. But there was happiness. And they did live.” ~ Stephen King

Fun Together

I have no doubt about whether Julia and Paul from the movie Julie & Julia had a long and happy relationship (ignoring the biographical aspects of the film) once the final credits rolled. Throughout the course of the story, the two consistently seemed to have fun together and to enjoy each other. From their wacky staged Valentine postcard photos to their casual conversations and interactions, there was no doubt how they felt about each other. Add to that a healthy dose of respect for each other and wanting the other to be happy, along with a generous helping of laughter, and they definitely had a recipe for long-term success.

“Before I met you, I never knew what it was like to look at someone and smile for no reason.”

Kindness

Eleanor Chivenham and Nicholas Delany don’t get off to a very smooth start in Jo Beverley’s, An Arranged Marriage. They are thrown together by necessity and are strangers when they marry. But early on Nicholas says something along the lines of “let us deal kindly with each other” and, amidst the trials and tribulations, that’s what they do. Little bits of kindness throughout the story build their relationship and cement their connection, despite the forces working against them.

Viscount St. Justin and Miss Harriet Pomery also have kindness going for them in Amanda Quick’s historical story, Ravished. In this case, it is Harriet’s kindness that wins over the Viscount who has had little kindness in his life up until then.   Additionally, both Harriet and the Viscount see aspects of each other that outsiders are unable to see. While others see the Viscount as the Beast of Blackthorne Hall, Harriet sees him as good and honorable and wonderful. Kindness, humor, and support for each other make them a strong and believable couple.

“A good relationship is with someone who knows all your insecurities and imperfections and still loves you the same.”

Attraction

A romance just wouldn’t be a romance without two characters being attracted to each other and that’s just what Leila Beauomont and the Comte d’Esmond are in Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase. The two are very believably attracted to each other, yet for a number of understandable reasons, spend a large part of the story trying to ignore/suppress that attraction.   Watching the strength of their attraction do battle with their attempts to remain apart builds tension and adds richness to the story. They have growing to do and problems to solve during the story, but once they do, their unfailing attraction, along with a healthy dose of humor and kindness, makes their connection at the end of the story completely believable.

So, my own characters have a shared history (and are working on that shared growth). There’s definitely attraction too. Now I just need to see how they’re doing on the fun and kindness. Maybe then their happily-ever-after will be all set.

When you’re reading, what can convince you that your characters are going to stay together for the long-haul? Do you have a favorite couple (book/movie/etc.) that really worked for you?

Edited to add: As I mentioned in last Wednesday’s post, my goal is to write 500 words a day. How did I do this week? I didn’t quite hit my goal, but I came close at 409 words a day. Low, but better than nothing.

7 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Will They Live Happily Ever After?

  1. Better than nothing, and far better than I’m doing!

    Something that interests me is how differently different readers/viewers see romances. I have a friend who binge watched Dirty Dancing when it came out on video. She must have seen that thing 100 times. (That is not an exaggeration.) Something about that romance really spoke to her and she was convinced they’d won their HEA. . I, on the other hand, couldn’t help thinking how difficult it was going to be for Baby to adjust to the poverty lifestyle that was all Johnny would be able to provide.

    • You’re right Jeanne -different viewers/readers see different things. There are some stories that really work for me that other reviewers pan and others that I find completely unbelievable that others think are great. Just reinforces the idea that writing something that appeals to all is an exercise in futility.

  2. I like to see characters have fun together, and I also like to see them be nice to each other—whether they start out nice or not, by the end, kindness and humor, I think, are what cements any kind of relationship, romantic or not. What super irritates me is endless elaborations on physical attributes. I keep thinking that if one of them was in a car accident and his/her face got scarred, would the other leave? I need to know there’s more behind the coupling than a pretty face.

    I also think you’re doing great on the word count! 409 words a day means your book is finished in six or seven months. Awesome!

    • Kay – I’m right there with you on the “endless elaborations on physical attributes.” It might initiate attraction, but there needs to be something more there in order to convince me that the couple has a real connection.

  3. I like people who display humor and kindness, so I’m always inclined to believe in couples who demonstrate those traits. I also like to see a couple working together to solve a big problem or wrestling with some major challenge to their most deeply held values, because that gives me the template for how they’ll help each other through tough times. If the couple only comes together at the end of the book and the teamwork happens entirely in some blissful future I’m less likely to believe in it.

    PS Good going with the word count, Elizabeth. Much better than nothing!

    • Jilly – humor and kindness really seem to resonate with a lot of people; I know that is what I look for in real-life. I agree that working together to solve a big problem gives a good idea about how they might handle problems in the future. My historical characters are struggling through that process right now. I’m hoping the changes in how they work together – from the beginning of the book to the end – are showing that they’ve grown and will be able to handle whatever the future throws at them.

  4. I like to see two characters who can work together to solve something, some problem. I like it when they can respect each other’s opinion, and I think that’s a great predictor of togetherness. They can razz each other, sure. But basically, they need to respect each other, and show the other that they respect each other. I know that you know that I know . . . .

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