Tying It With a Bow by Lynne Marshall


Tying It With a Bow by Lynne Marshall

Author Lynne Marshall discusses the importance of the HEA in romance and reader’s expectations of the genre.

Great to have you back, Lynne!  

And They Lived Happily Ever After

A writing teacher from an extension course I took at UCLA once told me, “Every story has a beginning, middle and end, with hope…not a bow.”

I beg to differ.

As romance writers, we specialize in bows.  Our promise to readers is a happily-ever-after (HEA).  If a marriage proposal hasn’t occurred by the end of the book, it is eminent, or the couple is clearly devoted to each other even if not headed down the aisle.

There has been much branching out in the romance genre in recent years, and relationships come in many different packages.  But I think we can still agree that any true romance must have at its core, a committed couple by the end.

After The BowNYC Angels

Sometimes I worry when I see an epilogue in a book.  I think, oh, no, that perfect moment the author created in the last chapter may be over.  The shine may have already worn off the brand-spanking-new couple package.  Reality may have set in.

As we know in our everyday lives, infatuation, lust, and crazy-stupid love cannot be sustained.  The reality of love (love without makeup, if you will) and life’s demands (the necessities of life) comes rushing in at the day-to-day level.

Real life couples don’t live by love alone, but our readers don’t want to read about that in our books.  Since the HEA is what our readers expect, unless the epilogue makes that HEA happier or ties that bow in a prettier fashion, authors might want to skip them.

Maslow’s Theory 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tends to kick through the love-shack door and break down that lust-induced glow.  It can’t be helped, and mature people understand it.  In real life, that’s where the intense commitment part kicks in.  That’s the deeper love.  True love, if you will.

But True Love isn’t nearly as heady or glamorous as First Love. We have our whole lives to experience that kind of true and tested love.  When we read, however, we like to escape reality. If our job is to write fiction, our products are allowed to be served with a generous suspension of disbelief. In other words, people can have sex on the back of a galloping horse.

The beauty of the HEA/Bow scenario is that it steps out of reality.  The climax of a good book takes a single moment in time, suspends it, puts a spotlight on it, and let’s the reader take in every nuance and thrill.  We can share in and relive that heartbeat of time over and over again, something that is impossible to do in our day-to-day lives.

The Theme of Love 

Themes are universal ideas shared by humanity, something we can all relate to.

Many of the great themes in literature deal with love:  Acceptance, healing, protecting, perseverance, compassion, loss of innocence, love conquers all, trust or lack of, family: blood versus love, friendship that changes into more, can’t buy love or happiness, the noble sacrifice, fall from grace, love and revenge…

The list goes on and on, but one thing is very clear, love’s lure is wide and sweeping. It is universal. Humanity digs it. And so do we.

Although many literary genres contain themes of love, romance novels are more absolute about those themes, and therefore require a definitive happily-ever-after.

Lynne MarshallThe Romance Genre 

The romance genre is a force to be reckoned with in literature because of the universality of the subject.  Love is what we all strive and yearn for.  It nourishes our soul like nothing else.  It is the glimmering hope at the end of the long and dark tunnel we call daily life.

Literary authors want to take us to the messy side of life, show us the dirt in pores, and then often leave us there, staring at craterous blemishes.  This isn’t my idea of escaping into a book.

The romance genre sees love as a “return with the elixir” found in that special world on that long and difficult Hero’s Journey in the book. But in romance, the battles are within—relationship barriers—and fought by imperfect soldiers (H/H) with character flaws, yet the victory is just as satisfying.  Conquering—or giving in to—love is a huge accomplishment, and the romance genre does it book after book.

After we wrench the guts out of our characters, force them to face their greatest fear, (black moment) insinuate that all is surely lost, then insist they see the light and change (epiphany/resolution) we must reward them with the prize of true love.  Otherwise, what was the point of the story?

So even though hope at the end of a book is a good thing, in romance, tying that happily- ever-after bow is far, far better.

Tie it with pride.

There has been quite a debate over recent years as to what qualifies as Romance.  Is the committed couple or are the ready-to-explore-commitment characters still a Romance requirement for you?


Adam Firestone, RU’s resident weapons expert, returns on Monday, July 29th.


The Medic's HomecomingThe Medic’s Homecoming released on June 18, 2013 

Lucas Grady never planned to return to Whispering Oaks.  But when family duty called, the prodigal son arrived like the good soldier he’d been for years.  And with him came the unfulfilled expectations of the past—expectations his neighbor, Jocelyn Howard, knew all to well.

Jocelyn had been in love with the rebel next door since she was a little girl.  But she couldn’t shake those old insecurities that she’d never be good enough, for Lucas or for anyone else.

Still, the newly discharged Army medic had scars that could never be truly healed—or so he thought.  Maybe together, they could mend their wounds…and make each other whole again…


Bio: Lynne Marshall is a multi-published author of twenty contemporary romances for Harlequin in both Special Edition and Medical Romance lines, and also in single titles with The Wild Rose Press. She is also venturing into Indie publishing with One for the Road due out this fall.

The second book in the Grady family duet, The Medic’s Homecoming, is a July 2013 Harlequin Special Edition. Making the Surgeon Smile was book #7 in the NYC Angels Medical Romance continuity in June 2013.  Watch for the upcoming 200 Harley Street 2014 Medical Romance continuity in which she also takes part.

Connect with Lynne on via her website or friend her on Facebook.

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32 Responses to “Tying It With a Bow by Lynne Marshall”

  1. Thanks for your great post, Lynne. I’ll admit that my bow is not always wrapped too tightly. 😉 Of the four completed novels I have, two see the H/h married with kids. The other two are more HFN, showing them in a committed relationship.

    Question: How do you think the explosion of trilogies in which it takes the H/h three books to get to a HEA have changed, or will change readers’ expectation of the HEA ending?

    POSTED BY REESE RYAN | JULY 26, 2013, 10:07 AM
    • That’s a great question, Reese.

      I think some readers will be ticked off by it, but others will understand it’s a 3-fer, and you have to read them all.

      Personally, I haven’t read one of those yet in the traditional Romance genre, but I did enjoy the question of who the heroine would end up with in both the Hunger Games and Twilight stories.

      How do you feel about those trilogy books suspending the ending HEA until #3?

      POSTED BY LYNNE MARSHALL | JULY 26, 2013, 10:18 AM
      • I think that as long as there is SOME resolution at the end of each of the novels (perhaps in a gift bag, if you will), then the author can save the full-blown HEA (gift-wrapped with a bow and confetti and a sprig of lavender) for the last book in the series. Look at Harry Potter for example. Even though all is not well in the world, Rowling still ended each book with some semblance of hope and some resolution. She never left Harry hanging off the edge of some cliff of doom. Twilight is another good example, at the end of each book, some major conflict had been resolved and the romance was, if not happily ever after, at least happily for now.

        POSTED BY LAURA SHEEHAN | JULY 27, 2013, 1:52 PM
  2. Great post! I love the distinction you made between “true love” and “first love”. Romance stories should be about first love. My only concern with this is the young adults who read romance and think that first love is the norm. Is there a way a writer can change that?

    POSTED BY JESSICA FLORY | JULY 26, 2013, 10:47 AM
    • Hi Jessica – Unfortunately, I think young folks have to figure that out for themselves through trial and error. Lots of people chase that “special” kind of love, and think the relationship is over when it evaporates.

      I think our brains have to mature and through life experiences we start to figure out the distinction between first love and true love.

      It helps to have adults in the picture (like parents or other devoted couples) to display what sticking with someone through thick and thin (in a healthy way) is about.

      Am I rambling? :/

      POSTED BY LYNNE MARSHALL | JULY 26, 2013, 11:02 AM
  3. Hi Lynne,

    Commitment is fine. I don’t need a wedding.

    Mary Jo

    POSTED BY MARY JO BURKE | JULY 26, 2013, 10:48 AM
  4. Great post, Lynne.
    I think when we read a romance we’re looking specifically for the soothing balm that is a HEA. We know the outcome of the story. It’s a given. And we’re reading it for the fantasy of that first love, that perfect kiss, etc. Even if the couple have only known each other for a week, within the story, the romance and HEA make sense. Well, at least for me. ; )

    POSTED BY ROBENA GRANT | JULY 26, 2013, 11:52 AM
    • Hi Robena,

      I’m happy to know you enjoyed the blog post.

      Your comments perfectly sum it up for me. If the author goes too far off the mark, the book may straddle that line of “is it a romance” strong romantic elements kind of thing. I enjoy those books, too, but some readers may not.

      POSTED BY LYNNE MARSHALL | JULY 26, 2013, 12:46 PM
  5. Hi Lynne,

    Reading is definitely a form of escapism for me, but when I read a romance, I have expectations of a HEA. Your post reminded me of Tristan & Isolde, and while it’s a good story and romantic, the ending made me depressed.

    Wonderful post! Thanks so much for blogging with us today!

  6. Afternoon Lynne!

    I totally expect either a Happy Ever After or at the very least a Happy For Now. Definitely things must be pointing in the right direction. I remember reading a book once where the heroine died….I threw the book across the room, and will never read that author again. Like Jen, reading is escapism, and I want – no need! – my HEA tied up in a bow. =)

    thanks for a great post!


    • Hi Carrie –
      When I read general fiction I prepare myself for whatever happens in the story, but when I pick up a book labeled romance, I have definite expectations.

      I’m with you on tying that bow!

      Thanks so much.

      POSTED BY LYNNE MARSHALL | JULY 26, 2013, 5:06 PM
  7. The sigh and ethereal glow of a HEA is the payoff for riding the rapids of the romance. Wedding not required and I think that will become more the norm as society accepts folks who don’t necessarily see traditional marriage as the only road in a committed relationship.

    I wonder if romance will eventually tackle the cultural trend of poly amorous relationships that actually work for more than a brief menage and that are not considered kinky. Hmmm….

    • HI Christine –
      pushing the envelope, as always, 🙂

      Well, only time will tell.

      I think a certain subgenre of romance is already tackling that HEA, and there is a certain percentage of followers.The larger relationship, which may feel crowded to the majority of lovers, appeals to a small percentage at this point, I believe.

      Whether that percentage will grow in the near future is hard to guess.

      Provocative as always, Christine…

      POSTED BY LYNNE MARSHALL | JULY 26, 2013, 7:35 PM
  8. Hi Lynne,

    Great observations. I have to admit, as a reader, I was attracted to the romance genre because it promised a for-sure HEA. (I did NOT want another “Ivanhoe” were the hero ended up with the wrong woman…my tiny, little eleven-year-old world was wrecked for weeks after that)!

    My definition of HEA has expanded since then, and definitely includes HFN, (in whatever permutation of human relationship the author can realistically offer…M/F, M/M, F/F, M/M/F, etc., just make me BELIEVE). But there are too few things in this world that offer guaranteed happiness. I’m proud to be part of a community that delivers on that promise, time-after-time).

    Oh, and I just finished another perfect example, titled “The Medic’s Homecoming,” by an excellent author named Lynne Marshall!

    POSTED BY SAM BECK | JULY 26, 2013, 9:00 PM
    • Hi Sam!

      HEA and HFN are definitely worth reading a book for, right?
      I see you subscribe to the “branching out and different packages in the romance genre”
      and the beauty of any literary genre should be a living breathing and evolving subject.
      I wonder what Romance will look like in fifty or a hundred years?
      (cue the cryonics machine!)

      Thank you so much for reading my little ol’ book. I sincerely appreciate it!

      POSTED BY LYNNE MARSHALL | JULY 26, 2013, 9:42 PM
  9. Hi Lynne,

    I loved your article about HEA. Being a romantic at heart, I can’t imagine reading a book without a satisfying conclusion between the man and woman. I NEED that HEA. When a book doesn’t deliver, I am sorely disappointed.

    POSTED BY CHARLENE SANDS | JULY 26, 2013, 10:17 PM
    • Hi Charlene –
      I am in total agreement with you.
      We can get all those other kind of endings in general fiction.
      When it comes to romance, your lovely Harlequin Desire books tell the stories the way we want to read them!

      Thanks so much for popping in.

      POSTED BY LYNNE MARSHALL | JULY 26, 2013, 10:30 PM
  10. Great post! Love the idea of “Tying it (that happily ever after bow) with pride.” I think every romance author strives to do that. Just introduced my daughter to “Romancing the Stone” tonight… Talk about tying something up with a bow! That movie had every component. The romance, the conflict, the double villain, the hostage rescue… you name this movie had it. Who doesn’t love the boat in NYC at the end? That’s a hell of a bow! Congrats on The Medic’s Homecoming!! Loved that book!

    POSTED BY DEE J. | JULY 27, 2013, 2:34 AM
    • Hi Dee J –
      It was so wonderful that Romancing the Sone was such a big hit. I think it was an aha moment for many future romance authors. “Yeah, that’s the kind of story I love!”

      Perfect intro movie to the romance genre for your daughter, and such a fun bow.

      POSTED BY LYNNE MARSHALL | JULY 27, 2013, 9:59 AM
  11. Hi Lynne,

    Thanks for such a great and thought-provoking post! The committed couple or ready-to-explore commitment couple is definitely a requirement for me. I don’t mind if they still have issues and conflicts they’re going to have to keep working on, but it’s such a good feeling when you know they’re going to stick it out and work through them together. 🙂

    POSTED BY GINA BONO | JULY 27, 2013, 7:52 AM
    • Hi Gina!
      You are so right. Too perfect turns that pretty bow into a tight knot. Knowing all the issues still aren’t solved, but the couple is willing to work it out because they love each other, is the kind of ending I love, too. The character arc – where they both change some for the greater good – is key.

      POSTED BY LYNNE MARSHALL | JULY 27, 2013, 10:03 AM
  12. Lynne,
    I’m all about the happily-ever-after. Life is hard enough the bow at the end of a story somehow makes it better.

    • Hi Susan –
      So glad you agree about the bow. At least in our reading we can count on the kind of ending we love best. Doesn’t always turn out that way in life, though, and we all get that, but we don’t need to read those kind of stories for pleasure reading, too.

      We’ve usually put our characters through hell, so that HEA is a sweet payoff.

      POSTED BY LYNNE MARSHALL | JULY 27, 2013, 10:05 AM
  13. Lynne –
    You know that one particularly bad week at work (with the death of a professional friend &dealing with the murder of a NY state trooper) turned me into a romance author. I’m a firm believer that when life makes you stressed or depressed, reading a romance is a lot cheaper than therapy!


    POSTED BY LEIGH COURT | JULY 27, 2013, 12:57 PM
  14. Lynne –
    You know that one particularly bad week at work (the death of a professional friend & the murder of a NY state trooper)turned me into a romance author. I firmly believe that when life makes you stressed or depressed, romance novels are a lot cheaper than therapy. Here’s to the happy ending!


    POSTED BY LEIGH COURT | JULY 27, 2013, 6:31 PM
  15. I definitely want an HEA or HFN – just like I want the “bad guy” brought to justice at the end of a mystery. I don’t mind reading a trilogy to get there, and I’m happy with a cliffhanger at the end of Books 1 and 2. Just tell me up front IF this is a trilogy. I won’t read any until the entire story is released so I can read it as one piece. Loved the column. Thanks.

    POSTED BY SUSAN IN TX | JULY 27, 2013, 10:40 PM
    • Hi Susan in Texas.
      Well put!

      All the reader asks is a heads up about the story. I know a lot of readers who won’t read a series until all of the books are out, then they buy them all and read them. The only flaw in this technique is the author doesn’t get the credit right off for selling Book #1, etc. A sale is still a sale, but that first book/first week push for sales is held up and it can cost an author making any big lists – i.e. NY Times best selling author, etc.

      Thanks for reading, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog.

      POSTED BY LYNNE MARSHALL | JULY 28, 2013, 12:08 AM


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