Mon
Jul 10 2017 8:00am

Can a Romance Have a Bittersweet Ending?

In movies, many endings aren't sweet, but bittersweet. Last year's Me Before You, which is both a movie and a book, gave us a very bittersweet ending—one we couldn't stop talking about. However, in the romance genre, we all knew it wasn't really a romance—not based on the genre definition. 

Recently, a conversation started in Romancelandia about traditional romance novels, and if they really could have a bittersweet ending. 

What are your thoughts? Can a romance have a bittersweet ending and still be a romance? Isn't the whole point of the genre to deliver happy endings?

Tell me your thoughts in the comments! 

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13 comments
Fiona Marsden
1. Fiona Marsden
NONONONONONONONONONONONONONO.

Also NOOOOOOOOOOOO

Also NO

And NO
Fiona Marsden
2. Fiona Marsden
I've read romances where there has been a bittersweet ending because of some sadness they share, but they have to be both alive and together. I read a Lucy Gordon where the heroine has an illness and is older than the hero so you know that perhaps they wont have fifty years together so there is a bittersweet feeling about that. Then there is Amy Andrews How to Mend a Broken Marriage that even though they end up together, there is still the pain of loss and betrayal so while the relationship might last, it isn't that same sweet happiness of a classic forever after.
Elizabeth Halliday
3. Ibbitts
That highly depends on one's point of view.
Have you ever heard of Nicholas Sparks?
Fiona Marsden
4. Nicola O.
Genre romance is defined by a happy ending. Can there be bittersweet elements that aren't about the relationship? OK. But if the couple isn't together with resolution to their relationship obstacles, it ain't a romance.

It might be a perfectly delightful, entirely romantic, mainstream, womens' fic, or lit fic book, but it ain't *romance.*
Fiona Marsden
5. torifl
I hear bittersweet ending and think love story. Is a love story a romance? It depends on the ending. If the couple are happy and together ALIVE then yes, it can be called a romance. If the couple has loved and lost or loved and died because of their love, then it's not. I Technically Romeo and Juliet had a "bittersweet ending". Was it a romance? NO. It was a tragic love story with strong romantic elements.
Carmen Pinzon
6. bungluna
Back to what makes a romance a romance. For me, it has to have the main couple together, alive and in expectation that their relationship will endure. If this criteria is met, then yes, there can be some bittersweet element. But they MUST be alive and ready to continue their relationship!
willaful
7. willaful
I think some level of bittersweet is acceptable. An infertile couple who don't have a miracle pregnancy is just fine with me. (Though it's nice to see some resolution, whether in the form of adoption or deciding that being childfree is okay.) And a couple might face a temporary separation because of war, etc. Or have a sword of damocles in the form of a genetic disease that may or may not strike. As long as they acknowledge it and seem able to deal with it, that's okay.

I did however once read ahead in a book in which both characters were forever separated from their families because of their forbidden love for each other, and that was just too much for me and I DNF'd.
willaful
8. willaful
"Technically Romeo and Juliet had a "bittersweet ending".

Oh, I don't agree with that at all. That's a tragic ending. There's nothing remotely sweet about it.
Fiona Marsden
9. Courtney T.
Romances that are marketed AS romance should have a happy ending. If you're marketing yourself as an author of in another genre, but including romantic elements, you don't always have to. I also think we need to come to a consensus on the extent of what the happy ending. Do we expect these people to grow old together, and does it differ when talking about historical/epic fantasy or more urban and contemporary settings? Can you kill off one partner in a later book, and have the remaining one fall in love again?
Fiona Marsden
10. Ellarose71
No. Romances should be an escape. I work in a stressful field and reading is a sacred activity for me. I'm all about angsty and bittersweet plots to a degree, but the ending should be happy. No HFN, no terminal illness, no going their separate ways. Just no. Love stories are different, but still no from me. Life is 'real' enough, thanks, and there are certain realities I don't want to read. I wish spoilers weren't as frowned on as they are because I've been burned by books before that had unpleasant surprises at the end. It's an awful feeling and sometimes that feeling lingers. A few months back I read a book that I just loved, but at the end was a twist that just gutted me for days. Even now when I think of that book I feel sad and a little angry that I got roped into reading something that ripped my heart up. I have my own blacklist of writers I won't read again because of things like this.
Fiona Marsden
11. Althea Claire Duffy
I think it depends on what you mean by bittersweet. To paraphrase bungluna, if a book doesn't end with the lovers alive (well, sometimes undead in PNR) and together at least for now, I wouldn't market it as genre romance. I seriously love a good tragedy, but that's something different.

However, I think there's room in genre romance for some bittersweetness in other ways. Some endings are more HFN than HEA and that's fine with me; this is particularly true in YA, with its young protagonists who may not be ready for a lifelong commitment; in novellas and short stories; and in small press and queer romance which often push the boundaries of the genre in a lot of ways. I love when books acknowledge the pain and problems the protagonists have suffered. When they still have scars and their relationship isn't going to be 100% perfect with no work after the last page, but they still love each other and are, on balance, happy.

I definitely agree with what willaful and Fiona Marsden said above about "sword of Damocles" situations - I've written such endings myself. Among my heroines, Kereda's recurrent depression and Rissali's life-threatening asthma aren't going to be cured by the Power of Twu Wuv. They may or may not be a terrible problem they'll have to deal with in the future, and Kereda and Rissali and their partners are prepared to deal with it. And I think a lot of readers are tired of how common the miracle disability or infertility cure is.

Some stories work out perfectly, but sometimes an ending that's pure sunshine doesn't feel right or just isn't believable for a particular story, and there need to be some wisps of cloud among the blue.
Fiona Marsden
13. Fiona Marsden
Courtney T. - There was a discussion recently about an author who killed off a partner in a later book in a series. A lot of people found it very distressing.
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