Christina here. I’m totally addicted to Happy-Ever-After endings and absolutely refuse to read books that end badly or even just so-so. I want the full-on fairy tale everyone-is-happy-and-get-what-they-deserve kind of ending in everything I read or write. That means I’m also the kind of reader who LOVES epilogues. I really like finding out that everything has turned out OK in the hero and heroine’s lives, and I enjoy knowing every little detail the author cares to add. But only in their immediate future – I don’t need to know what happens during the rest of their lives.
In real life, very few people ever do get a HEA. Happy for now, or happy sometimes, with ups and downs, is more normal of course, but when I leave characters I’ve spent many hours with, I want to picture them at their happiest. What happens years down the line doesn’t matter, because I won’t know. Or will I?
Occasionally, we get a glimpse of characters as they return in other stories if it’s a series. Depending on how it’s done, that can be fun, and you feel as though you’re catching up with old friends. When I do this in my own books, I always try to show them as still being happy. But they only have tiny cameo roles and the reader will get a snippet, no more, because it’s not their story I’m writing, it’s someone else’s.
I’m currently working on a new story and at the beginning there is an appearance by a couple who starred in an earlier book. I suppose you could call this a sort of epilogue for them, only the new book takes place twenty years later, which means the couple have been together for that long. This shouldn’t be a problem as, in my mind, they were always going to stay in love forever. They were soul mates after all, and I envisaged a long and happy life for them. The difficulty is in portraying what their relationship looks like after twenty years. What are they like now?
When we are with a partner for many years, the love can still be as strong, but the way we act with each other might change over time. In fact, it would be strange if it didn’t. The chemistry is still there, but perhaps not as urgent or desperate as when we first fall in love. We develop routines, become comfortable together, know each other inside out, and might not have that burning need to always be touching or connecting. So I’ve had to think about how I want that relationship to look now, and how the two characters act with each other and towards others.
I have read stories with an actual epilogue that takes place after ten, fifteen or even twenty years. Most of the ones I’ve come across tried to persuade me that the couples hadn’t changed at all, that their yearning for each other was more or less exactly as it was at the end of the story. That they are still madly in love and also as madly in lust. And here’s the thing – I’m not sure I buy that.
There are probably couples out there who are still madly in love/lust after twenty/thirty years together, and you sometimes see them in newspaper articles celebrating their diamond anniversaries and looking blissful, holding hands. That’s really sweet, but how often does it happen really? And even if a couple are still in love after twenty years, I would have thought it would be a little toned down, a bit less frantic somehow perhaps?
I mean, yes, it’s nice to know everything worked out for them and they’re still so happy. That’s what we want as readers. But I was satisfied with waving goodbye to them after the first ending of their story and a short epilogue happening the following year or so. After that, not so much.
Perversely, I know that if I’d been given an epilogue where the couple are worn down by years of marital strife or too many children and not enough money or whatever, I would have been extremely upset. So a rosy glimpse of their futures ought to please me no end. But it doesn’t. Not if they haven’t changed at all. Anyone else feel this way?
On a slight tangent, as far as endings go, I remember being flummoxed by The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles – or rather, the fact that the reader was given a choice of three endings! I could see which one the author wanted to choose (the sad one, which was probably more realistic), whereas I wanted the HEA one obviously. But because it was so clear that this wasn’t what Mr Fowles had originally planned, it felt wrong either way. Confusing!
Thinking about this further, I guess what I’m after as a reader is that first breath-takingly wonderful period when a couple is falling in love or have just got together. There is something very special about that time and it won’t ever happen again. Sure, you can continue to be happy together, but the excitement or thrill of the beginning of a relationship will never be replicated. It won’t ever be as intense. So in my new story, I’m going to try to keep things vague. I’ll show the reader that the older couple are happy and together, with fulfilling lives and a family around them, but no other details. That way readers of the original book can hopefully keep imagining them however they want to and it won’t ruin things in any way. Sound good?
What about you? Would you enjoy periodic updates on your favourite fictional couples through the years? Or are you like me, preferring to leave them alone for the most part? And do you have a favourite epilogue or do you dislike them?