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Happily Ever After

By Tamela Hancock Murray

Some people wonder why genre readers want to read the same thing over and over. Well, they don’t read the same thing all the time, and they have expectations. A primary expectation?

A Happily Ever After ending.

If you enjoy perusing book reviews on Amazon, you’ll find that many readers (primarily outside of genres, though genre fiction can have the first three faults as well), express similar complaints:

1.) The book was boring and they didn’t finish it.
2.) The plot was too convoluted.
3.) They didn’t like any of the characters.
4.) They didn’t like the ending.

When you’re not writing genre fiction (romance, mystery, etc.) you aren’t confined to leaving your main characters happy. In fact, I recently read a book where one of the two main characters was fatally shot near the end of the story. I found this shocking since nothing, to my mind, led the reader to think the author planned to kill a protagonist. But on the other hand, the author hadn’t done much to make me like the protagonist, so I really didn’t care when he died, although I didn’t think he deserved to die. Mission accomplished?

In contrast, the genre reader wants the ending to be happy for everyone, with the possible exception of a clear villain. Even then, they may want to see the villain reform and experience his own happy ending.

In keeping with the expectation of a happy ending, the author needs to make the reader love the characters. On or near page one, the heroine especially needs to touch the reader’s feelings. The reader wants the hero and heroine to deserve their happy ending. Readers won’t root for a hateful, deceitful, conniving protagonist. And therein lies the connection between characterization and a happy ending.

What about plot? Yes, plot matters. The plot must live up to the confines of the genre, but be fresh. This is a tall order, but not impossible for the creative writer. Writers uncertain about genre rules should read as many books in the genre as needed until an “Aha!” moment strikes. Only then can the author understand the genre reader’s expectations about plot well enough to write a marketable book.

And of course, you’re never boring!

Tamela Hancock Murray is a literary agent with The Steve Laube Agency. She’s privileged to represent new and established authors who write to glorify the Lord. She graduated from Lynchburg College with honors in Journalism. During college she served as a Congressional intern. A later internship with the U.S. Department of State, included the responsibility of writing daily news briefs for the Secretary of State. Tamela is published in fiction and nonfiction. Her works placed on bestseller lists and she was honored with an RWA’s Inspirational Readers Choice Award. Tamela no longer writes books so she can focus on representing her authors, who appreciate her experience as a working author and an experienced agent who knows today’s market. Tamela and her husband live in Virginia and are the parents of two lovely daughters. Find Tamela on Facebook, where she is probably the only Tamela Hancock Murray, and on Twitter @Tamela_Murray.

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2 Responses to Happily Ever After

  1. Tamela, I found this post to be very timely. Especially since I stayed up until the wee hours this morning to finish reading a book. I was very disappointed in the ending. Since there were extra pages in the back of the book I searched each one looking for peaceful closure for the protagonist. The book was part of a series, and my guess is, the final ending I expected will be found in the next book. Now I totally understand why each book needs to be a “stand alone.” (Sigh)

  2. Tamela Hancock Murray says:

    Just saw this! Yes, very few authors can get away with writing a series in which each book is not a standalone. Even then, as a reader, I like for each book to have its own ending and merely hint at events to come.