HEA or Happy Now

 I asked readers a question on the LASR Valentine’s Day Party about their requirements for a HEA ending to books they read. Many said it was essential and one reader expressed the reason that may be shared by most of those who require the HEA. She said that real life has enough negative events and she wants to read positive stories. However, a couple of answers were thought-provoking and I want to share them.
One reader said if the story involved her enough she could accept a less than happy ending. I like to refer to this as “grabbing you by the throat and not letting go until the end.” And though we may all blame the author for a turn of events we don’t like, it is really the plot and characters that compel the outcome.
The other reader said she could live without a “happy ever after” if the story had a “happy now.”  That phrase made me stop and think about my plot in TO THOSE WHO WAIT. I had been wondering how I was going to promote this book to readers who expect their romance books to always have a HEA. This one doesn’t! But I re-examined it in light of this reader’s comment and decided it definitely qualifies for “happy now.” 

When I began the story I wanted it to end with Scott and Leah riding off into the sunset while “Til The End of Time” played softly in the background. But as usually happens, (I’m a panster, I confess) the characters did not behave according to my wishes when they came alive on the page. And a chain of events took place as their story evolved that made my plans for them impossible to write. Had I forced my intended conclusion to this book, it would have  been contrived and left the readers even more unhappy. Scott and Leah would not have been true to themselves and readers would have lost all empathy with them.
TO THOSE WHO WAIT has a beautiful love story, actually more than one. For two characters do not live in a vacuum. They have families and friends and enemies. And life happens, and not always the way we’d like. And even a hero and heroine love other people as well as each other. If characters have depth, they may be besotted with one another but at the same time love others just as deeply. I like to think readers would prefer to experience a true love affair rather than a titillating romp that barely skims the surface of their emotion. So be warned. This is not that kind of book! It will take you through a gamut of emotions but I think you’ll be glad you took the journey through its pages. 
If you read this book, I’d like you to share your reaction with me. Write to me at I’d  really appreciate knowing how you feel about it.
     Linda Swift divides her time between her native state of Kentucky and Florida. She is an award winning author of published poetry, articles, short stories, and a TV play. She has worked in public education as a teacher, counselor, and psychometrist.
Her first books were published by Kensington. She currently has available five ebooks (one in print) including a book of prose poems. She has four books of fiction, a Haiku collection, and three short stories to be released by various publishers in 2011. 
TO THOSE WHO WAIT, a contemporary mainstream, was released March 1st by Whiskey Creek Press; SUMMER LOVE to be released Apri 1st by Desert Breeze. Watch for announcements of later books by visiting her website at


  1. Good morning all. Wow, I thought I was getting here early but I see this has been up here since (gasp) 4:00AM. Thanks for the opportunity to discuss this issue of HEA with the LASR readers. I hope everyone with an opinion (and who hasn’t got one on the subject?) will let their thought be heard. Linda

  2. Linda,
    I guess I’m a sucker for HEA. I really enjoy it, but if the story is well done, then I can accept an ending without HEA. Ultimately though, HEA is the payoff for getting emotionally involved in the story and I really don’t want to get cheated on it.


  3. Thanks for your comments, Steph. And that is why I warn readers “up front” that this book will not give them that HEA, only a happy now ending. But the story of Scott and Leah is what it is and I could not change it. I challenge you and other readers to read this book and then tell me what you think.

  4. I do prefer the HEA, for exactly the reason you stated–because life has enough negativity in it. Reading romance is my escape and I want a perfect world. BUT… if the story is well done, I can accept a “happy now” ending. I’m a pantser as well and I firmly believe in being true to your characters.

  5. Hi, Joanne. I appreciate your comments. And I strongly agree with you about being true to your characters even if they break your heart. And these almost did! But you set a story in motion and then it goes where it will toward a logical conclusion. You know, I can never figure out if I’m a panster or a pantser. I’ve seen this word both ways. But however you spell it, that’s what I am.

  6. The answer depends on the subgenre. I can do Happy Now or even go without a happy ending if the story ends with some kind of emotional satisfaction. The subgenres that immediately come to mind…romantic suspense, paranormal, and erotic. However, if the story doesn’t have the intrigue or extreme conflict caused by external factors then it must have an HEA. All, IMO, of course.

  7. Good point, Emma. And of course, this was in your opinion. That is exactly what I wanted. I guess I didn’t take the factor of subgenres into consieration until now. I agree with what you’ve said.

  8. I can handle a book without HEA if it really engages my emotions. To me, HEA isn’t realistic. Even with the best of marriages and love stories there is turmoil. A story could end with the road to HEA or contentment.

  9. This is an interesting topic. A lot of the most notable books in literature don’t have HEA’s. I love them, when I read a romance, but I think it’s more important to be true to the voice in your head. It’s nice that your book comes with a wee warning–I would like knowing in advance it won’t be HEA, but I don’t think it has any say on how good or well written a book can be.

  10. Very interesting topic and one I struggle with often as both a reader and a writer. I’m glad you brought this discussion up.

    I think, for me, I’m like you. As long as it’s a good ending that fits the pacing, characters, and storyline I’m okay without a HEA.

  11. I’m content with HFN if the content of the book calls for that. And, since I also read horror, which very rarely comes up with even a HFN, I certainly don’t expect one. That’s not to say I don’t like HEAs, because I do. If I read a romance, no matter what the subgenre, that would lead me to expect an HEA, I might be satified with HFN, if it made sense, but I certainly would expect at lest that. Jane

  12. Thanks for stopping by, Linda. One reviewer who read this story, asked me what happened after “The End” and I what you said about contentment would apply here. I honestly didn’t see there ever being a HEA for these two lovers, much to my sorrow. Sometimes, people just do what they have to do and writers have to record it that way.

  13. Linda, you are absolutely right that the plot and characters compel the outcome. What I look for in any genre is a satisfying ending. Romeo & Juliet does not have a HEA, but would we want one? To my mind it’s much more important to have believable characters and a believable ending than to force the plot into an unrealistic HEA.

    That said, I enjoy a well-written HEA as much as the next person!

  14. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Danielle. And feel obligated to preapre readers for this as I don’t want them to feel I set them up and let them down. One of the first readers of the book, wrote to me that she was “stunned, shocked” and so I didn’t want that reaction from my readers. Forewarned is forearmed, they say.

  15. A.R. I agree with you. I struggle, too, and there seems to be a point in every story where things can go either way. And I have to really put myself into the story and figure out how the characters would play it out, not how I would like for them to. In my opinion, a book should reflect life unless it’s a fairy tale.

  16. There are some plots that don’t allow for a HEA. Sarah’s Journey was rejected by one publisher because it didn’t have a HEA, but those who have read and reviewed it, GET the story and understand the era and the issues. Everyone wants a HEA, but sometimes it just isn’t reality…or in the cards, as they say.

  17. Thanks for visiting, Jane, and for your comments. I think this story would have to be categorized as women’s fiction, but the pub called it “Vintage romance” so it’s a bit confusing here. I know most if not all readers expect a romance to have a HEA. By the way, I’m a great fan of yours. I like your mindset!

  18. Hi Nikki, thanks for your input on this subject. I value your opinion. And I remember the stories that left me a little bit sad or wishing for a better conclusion far longer than the ones that were all wrapped up and truly satisfying. It was years before I forgave Louisa May Alcott for letting Beth die and giving Laurie to Amy instead of Jo. And I became a writer before I understood that she did what she had to do.

  19. Well said, Ginger. I’m glad you’ve had this experience and understand it and that you shared it with us. I guess if you are reading just for distraction or to kill time, you want to skim the surface, nothing more. And I sometimes read for that reason myself. But if I want to savor a book, I want one that appeals to all of my emotions and lets me “get lost” in it.

  20. I know just what you mean, Linda. No matter how thoroughly I plot, my characters sometimes have a mind of their own and a different story in mind. It’s fun, but aggravating when this happens.

    Toni Noel

  21. Right you are, Toni. But it’s always best to go with the flow, isn’t it? You can kill a good story if you insist on your plot when it differs from those strong minded characters. One of my best short stories happened because a minor character took over the story and changed the plot. So keep listening to those voices in your head!

  22. I guess I’m the exception. If I’m reading a romance I want an HEA. That’s why I read the books. I think one of my greatest disappointments was a big NY author of romance who had the heroine walking into the sea at the end of the book, definitely not a HEA. Mainstream is a different kettle of fish, but for romance – please. We have enough problems in everyday life. If we want to escape with a romance, lets include a happy ending.

  23. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Allison. I guess this is why I don’t call TO THOSE WHO WAIT a romance in the strictist definitin of the term. So I would discourage you from reading this book unless you go into it expecting to deal with some sad moments. But…I can recommend SUMMER LOVE, which will be released April 1st by Desert Breeze as an ebook only. How’s that for sneaky promotion?

  24. oops, too hasty in my answer. And didn’t proof before sending. I think strictest or most strict would be correct but it still doesn’t look right. And I can spell definition! Sorry.

  25. I hate to play devil’s advocate here, but when I read romance I want a happy ending. I’m reading to escape the turmoil and constant conflict that is the lot of humanity. In fact I started writing my own books after my father passed away and I was left with the complete care of my mother who was already on the slide into dementia. That took a long 4 years while she slid further into oblivion and I held her hand. So when I read fiction, I want my happy ending, so for at least a short time, I can believe in them. And I do believe they are possible since I’ve been with my husband for 30 years.

  26. Fiona, I can relate to you on more than one level here. I, too, sometimes write for escape or as a catharsis for some emotion that is hard to deal with. Some of my short stories came while dealing wiht the grief of my father’s sudden death. We’ve dealt with and are dealing with family members with Alzheimer’s. I believe in HEA also as I’ve beem married to the same man forever. But this book did not lend itself to HEA so I won’t recommend it for you. I’ll invite you to read CIRCLE OF LOVE, SINGLE STATUS, SUMMER LOVE (out April 1), or my Civil War saga out in July. TO THOSE WHO WAIT is my only book that is not a HEA.

  27. I have to have a happy ending. I had waited patiently to get a copy of The Time Traveler’s wife from the library. I was one chapter in when I found out it didn’t have a HEA. I quit reading it. Life’s too depressing enough! 🙂

  28. If the characters are speaking through the writer, it seems like the only way to be authentic is to give the reader the most realistic version that is coming through. The author has to be true to the characters, otherwise the reader will see through a contrived HEA. I think the best writers allow characters to come to life and present their stories. That is the real gift that authors give us.

  29. Amy, you sound like a reader who really relates to a book’s characters. And I applaud you for that. And I appreciate readers who have shared their differing points of view on this. That is why I asked the question. So, as I’ve said to others today, TO THOSE WHO WAIT is not the book for you. But a list of other happy ever after books of mine are listed here just above your post. I hope you’ll try one. Oh, and I have two holiday books which I didn’t list and they are of course, happy books, too.

  30. Kaye, what insightful comments you have posted. As authors, we MUST be true to our characters or we fail them and our readers. And I like that you feel we are giving our readers a gift when we do this. Thank you for commenting.

  31. Characters sometimes write their own stories, and the writer can’t always adhere to a HEA. However, as readers we prefer a HEA. Life whooshes by swiftly and there are all sorts of endings, and many aren’t happy at all. When being entertained, we don’t mind tears while reading the story, but the ending has to leave us with a smile.

  32. Oh, I am sorry to hear that the ending must leave you with a smile because TO THOSE WHO WAIT simply won’t do that. But there are smiles within the book and such a tender love story. And the resolution would leave you satisfied although sad. But I understand your preference and repsect it. And I’m glad you gave me your reasons for your requirements. Thanks.

  33. I’ve had a belated thought on this subject I want to add. Some readers, myself included, like to read stories of conflict and sadness sometimes to confirm that our own bad times are not unique. You know the expression “Misery loves company.” And to cry over another’s problems is a way of sharing our own sadness and frustration over events sometimes.

  34. Hi Linda,
    When I read a romance I want a HEA. That’s why I’m reading romance.

    I believe that if a reader reads a story of conflict or sadness, she wants to see the protagonists overcome those obstacles and emerge triumphant in some way. When you’re experiencing bad times yourself, seeing others reach a HEA or at least a HFN gives you hope.


  35. Hi Jana. I appreciate your comments. And I don’t want to leave the impression that TO THOSE WHO WAIT is total gloom and doom. There was a satisfactory conclusion for the heroine and hero, just not together. They loved, they parted because of things beyond their control and their love for their children. But the story is open-ended so you could imagine that in time, they were together again if that’s the end you wanted. Thanks for giving me a chance to clarify this.

  36. I want to read this book now, consider me officially teased. I hope I win the Nook! How cool is it to buy new books so cheaply!

  37. I expect an HEA in a print book. I love an epilouge too. But I don’t get those often in the books I read. Now in ebooks I’ve read books that really didn’t have an HEA. You had to imagine they stayed together and had a HEA. But I really want one in all books. Especially when I love a book. I hate when they end and they could have been kept going for another chapter and maybe got engaged or had a wedding or found out they were pregnant. Once they make that total commitment the book ends to quick. I want to read on about all that love and hapiness and I think it would be great to have books end with a beautiful yet hot love scene. Now that they are in love, the sex would be even better and I very rarely see that happen.

    Just so thoughts thanks!

  38. Cindy, I’m so glad you were teased into reading this book. I don’t thik you will regret it. Thanks for your comments. Linda

  39. Christine, I appreciate all of your thoughtful comments and I’m sorry to just now be checking back with you. In TO THOSE WHO WAIT, the characters have to make hard choices but they wouldn’t be who they are if they decided other than the way they did. But you can imagine a future together if you want it to happen. The door is left open for that. Linda

Speak Your Mind