I think people who love romance novels, and who seek out romantic movies (even though so many Hollywood rom-coms are cold, formulaic crap from beginning to end) are wired a little differently from the rest of the population.
“The ending was so predictable!” critics say. “You know who’s going to end up together from the beginning,” others complain.
Well, yeah. That’s the point.
Reading a romance isn’t like reading a mystery or a thriller. In a mystery, readers are on guard for clues from the very first page, trying to outguess the characters and, by extension, the author. That’s the fun of it all. If a reader has guessed the culprit halfway through the book, the author hasn’t done his or her job, and most mystery readers will roast the book accordingly.
In a romance, the fun is not in trying to predict the ending. Please. The fun is in seeing how it all plays out. There are sacrifices to be made, there’s growing up to do, there are adventures and daring rescues (by heroines just as often as by heroes), there are mysteries to solve, and all the while there’s a delicious emotional journey playing out on the page. If the author has done his or her job, we get a front row seat rooting for two people we care about while they work through ALL that stuff before finding their way to a happy ending.
So yeah those characters had better actually wind up together. If I got emotionally invested in two characters being together, and then I reach the end of their story only to find that they’ve decided to “see other people” I’mthrowingthebookacrosstheroom.
But a romance novel would never end that way, so I’m in good hands.
Movies and TV shows are a little bit more of a romance crapshoot (which is why I try to point out the ones that deliver and the ones that don’t on this blog).
Take this thought-provoking review of The Five Year Engagement by a colleague of mine over at Media Matters. Jerry Holsopple has good questions about the clues romantic movies give readers to identify which characters are meant for each other. By my definition of romances, it ought to be head-slappingly obvious who the Hero and Heroine are (hint: it’s a romance, so they’re both pictured on the movie poster), but all snarking aside, his questions are valid. And one sentence inspired me to write this blog post:
Five-Year has a predictable ending but the creative way it accomplishes it is satisfying.
Then that means it’s probably a good romance. Predictable ending? Good. Satisfyingly creative way it’s accomplished? EVEN BETTER. That’s where romances are made and broken, not in the ending.
And one final thing about predictable endings to romances: I don’t want to waste my time and emotional investment rooting for the heroine to choose one guy only to find out she winds up leaving him for a different man. Team Edward and Team Jacob might be fun for lots of people, but love triangles only work for me when it’s pretty darn clear which side is going to come out in the wash.
It’s about the journey. Not the ending.