A bridge over a beautiful waterfall

A bridge over a beautiful waterfall
Nature brings magic

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Saturday story building - HEA and HFN: Do we need it in every story?

Last week I talked a little about the romance genre, and I was reminded of one of the tropes that is characteristic of that genre. That is the "happily ever after" or at least "happy for now" ending for the hero/heroine. My question is do we need that in every genre?

My opinion is no we don't. There doesn't have to be a HEA or a HFN in other genres. In horror there generally isn't one to speak of, at least that I've noticed not being an aficionado of that particular genre. But in fantasy and sci fi, the two genres I primarily write in, what are the requirements for endings?

Two of my stories I have endings that can go either way. I can make them a HFN ending or I can totally screw with the reader and kill off my darlings. I'm leaning towards killing off my darlings, because that's not something I've seen a lot of. But my problem is how is that going to affect the reader? Are they going to read the rest of my books? Would that be a betrayal to my readers/fans if I killed off the main characters they've grown attached to in the books?

That's the biggest question as an author that I have to ask: do I need it? Do I need a HEA/HFN to keep my readers? Or can I get away with doing what I'm thinking and making it a tragically heroic ending for the characters in question? Well, one of them at least. I know in one of my sci fi series the ending I have planned for one of my main characters is rather ambiguous at best but still a valid ending because it leaves some hope.

All this rambling still leads to this one question: in fantasy and sci fi, do we need a HEA/HFN ending for the main characters?


  1. In my opinion, it all depends on the individual story and the expectations your readers have based on the beginning.

    According to genre theory, Lyrics (exploring the longing, separation, and union with the beloved) beg for a happy ending. Comedies (hero overcomes through imagination and luck/divine intervention) typically have a humorous/happy ending. Epics can go either way—typically happy ending OR perhaps the hero dies for the betterment of the people. Tragedies always end with the death of the hero, but hope is found in the afterlife or in the legacy left behind.

    Of course, with fantasy and sci fi, each story arc will fall under 1 of these 4 genres. For me, it comes down to creating not to a happy ending but a satisfying ending. Authors create certain expectations in their readers; I always feel sucker-punched when writers suddenly kill off characters for no reason. It can be done, but it must be done on purpose (in a way that the plot would not work without it). Otherwise, it feels arbitrary and contrived.

  2. I think you should decide based on the story, not based on whether you haven't seen a lot of it.

    I will say, I was reading a series where it was set up from the beginning that the hero would die. I got through five books, went through the stages of grief with this character (he knows he will die, so he goes through them too), and finally accepted it, just as the character accepts it and goes to meet his fate. The chapter ended with him killing the bad guy and falling unconscious from blood loss, his best friend lying dead beside him, and seeing light as he closed his eyes. I was sad but satisfied with that ending for him.

    And then the light turned out to be the glow from the lanterns of the people who came to rescue him, and I felt completely sucker-punched for a totally different reason than the first commenter. :P I will never re-read that series and I am STILL mad at Suzanne Collins for *not* killing Gregor in her MG series Gregor the Overlander. There was literally no reason to force him to live and jam a happy ending on it...other than to get that HEA/HFN that readers apparently want so badly.