Spoiler Warning: To talk about the changing nature of the romance novel and the romance covenant's cardinal rule: The Happy Ever After, we will be discussing spoilers, including The Shadows by J.R. Ward, Jennifer Echols' The Biggest Flirt, Sinner's Creed by Kim Jones. Read with caution, and join the discussion!
The Romance Writers of America define two basic elements to the romance genre: namely, a central love story; and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. We often talk about this as the Romance Covenant—the simple rule that there must be a Happy Ever After.(1)
The Romance Covenant is important because of the element of trust that the reader has placed in the author. The reader has to trust that even though they are going to be put through the emotional conflict, a happy resolution is guaranteed. We will endure the angst, pain, and suffering if we know that it will all pay off in the end. The thinking is that if a book is marketed as “romance,” then it should not betray the reader’s trust. It’s an issue of genre and the rules. An unhappy ending is unthinkable to romance purists. It’s analogous to a crime novel ending with everyone ducking out to tea instead of figuring out who the murderer was. Conventional thinking is that if you want to avoid hate mail, you need to write a happy ending. Preferably with a white dress and buckets of babies.