An earlier version of this post appeared on the Contemporary Romance Writer's blog and in the RWA-NYC April Keynotes. One of the cardinal rules of romance is that a story has to end with a happily ever after. But does that mean a couple has to say, “I love you,” at the end of every romance? Maybe not.
It’s a question I asked myself when I wrote “Seduction in the Snow”. The story unfolds over a week at a ski resort. Both Evan and Lydia tell themselves that their sexy hot tub encounters are just a vacation fling. Lydia is particularly tough to sell on the idea of love. Having seen relationship after relationship fall apart after a few short months, she’s scared of the big “L” word.
Of course, this is a romance so we all know where the story’s heading—for the happily ever after—but given Lydia’s resistance to the very idea of love, I didn’t feel that a big, “I love you,” exchange at the end of the novella would be fitting with her character. Instead, I decided that Lydia and Evan should show us their deep commitment and potential for future happiness in a different way.
As authors we have a responsibility to really get to know our characters. What are their fears? How can we push them out of their comfort zones? Would they actually say the words that we’re writing on the page? While “I love you,” is the backbone of many happily ever afters, it doesn’t have to be if it doesn’t fit with your character’s personality.
Another thing to consider is your book’s timeline. Romance authors tell stories that unfold over decades, months, weeks, days. There’s such vast variation in the timelines in our genre that a one-size-fits-all approach to the happily ever doesn’t always work. If a character is more in touch with their emotions and open to the idea of falling in love, the, “I love you,” exchange rings true. But we know our heroes and heroines will continue to grow after our stories are complete. If that’s the case, “I love you,” may realistically take them longer to get to.
Whether you decide to have your hero and heroine say, “I love you,” or not, the most important thing to remember is that it’s our job as authors to write a convincing love story. That means you’re not just telling the reader that the hero and heroine love each other. You’re showing their deep commitment through the actions and emotions. Write your story with that in mind, and you’ll have your readers falling in love.