Raising the Bar on Happily Ever After

By Debby Giusti

Romance readers expect—no, they demand—a Happily Ever After in the stories they read. When they pick up a novel, they’re eager to follow the hero and heroine through twists and turns, highs and lows, squabbles and make-ups to get to the end. Although readers love the journey, it’s the destination—the Happily Ever After—that brings the contented sigh as they close the book. It’s also what makes readers buy the author’s next book and the one after that so they can experience that satisfying HEA once again. 

Let’s look at other genres. Mystery stories end when the crime is solved and the guilty are apprehended and brought to justice. Some whodunits include a romantic thread, but the resolution that most satisfies the mystery reader is solving the crime along with the story’s sleuth.

In suspense, thriller and horror genres, readers experience a surge of adrenalin as the protagonist faces overwhelming odds and battles the antagonist. The reader sees himself as the hero. The threats are personal and the resolution emotionally satisfying when the villain is thwarted and the protagonist saves the day.

Men’s Adventure stories are similar, although they usually feature a cataclysmic event that will occur if the hero fails to outsmart the antagonist. Fantasy includes a good vs. evil element set in an alternative world, and dystopian fiction takes place in an after-the-apocalypse style setting when civilization as we know it is overtaken by a stronger, controlling entity. Romance may be included in the stories, but the main emphasis pits the protagonist against his or her opposing nemesis.

In Women’s fiction—and its chick lit offshoot—the reader journeys with the protagonist as she achieves a goal or learns something new about herself. A love interest may be included, although the romance is not the main focus of the story.

Literary fiction has been described as a segment of time in the protagonist’s life that does not necessary involve a goal or cause the lead character to change or grow. The resolution is often open-ended, leaving the reader to form his or her own conclusion to the story.

Romance readers never have to speculate about the ending of the stories they love to read. They know the heroine—with whom they identify—will find her hero, and the two of them will declare their love in the final scenes. Usually the hero proposes marriage, and sometimes the wedding is included as an epilogue. Wedding or not, the reader knows for certain that the hero and heroine will live happily ever after.

We all long for love, which is why romance stories resonate with readers. Finding love and being loved is the eternal quest. As Christians, we understand that the need for love is innate in all of us. God is love and the reason for our existence is to love him and serve him in this life and to be united with him forever in Heaven. The very essence of our being is centered on our love for God and His unconditional love for us. That love spills over into our love of neighbor and especially for that certain someone with whom we want to spend the rest of our life—our soulmate, our significant other, our spouse.

Secular romance most often focuses on physical love that the Greeks called eros[/i]. Christian romance elevates love to a higher level, known by the Greeks as agape[/i] or the giving of self for the good of the other. Christ died on the cross so we could have eternal life with him. Scripture recounts in John 15:13, “No greater love hath man than to lay down his life for another.” That’s sacrificial love and Christ asks us to follow his example. Including sacrificial love in our stories makes them even more satisfying to the reader.

We see this dying to self frequently in suspense stories when the hero is willing to sacrifice his own life to save the woman he loves, but it can also be found in stories that do not have life or death issues. “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry, comes to mind where both the husband and wife sold what they prized most and used the money earned to buy a Christmas gift for the other. Their lives weren’t threatened, but their actions were sacrificial.

At the conclusion of a satisfying romance, the reader is uplifted. To capture her heart, add sacrificial elements, be they ever so subtle, to raise the bar on your Happily Ever After.

Tell us about the stories with Happily Ever Afters that resonated with you! What made them special? Let me know if you want to be entered in a drawing for a copy of my October Love Inspired Suspense, Amish Christmas Search!

Happy writing! Happy reading!

Wishing you abundant blessings,

Debby Giusti


Amish Christmas Search[/b]

Oct 2020

An Amish girl’s disappearance is a mystery…


and the clues lead straight into danger at Christmas.


Convinced her friend didn’t run away as the police

believe, Lizzie Kauffman searches for the truth—but

someone will kill to keep it hidden. Now the Amish

housekeeper and her friend Caleb Zook are on the

run for their lives. And if they want to find their

missing friend, Lizzie and Caleb must figure out

a way to survive the holiday.


Pre-order !