So I just saw this movie, Once. It's been getting all kinds of good buzz, & if you haven't seen it I highly recommend it. It's about a heartbroken Irish musician whose life is stuck & the woman, an amazing musician in her own right, who gets him unstuck.
I don't think I've ever seen a movie quite like it. The Commitments comes to mind, but only because it's another music movie set in Dublin featuring a cast of more musicians than actors. Once was a lot smaller, more intimate. It was about the way these two lonely, broken people found a way to fit their gifts & their hurts together to make something far larger than the sum of its parts. There was an incandescent chemistry at work, something powerful & special, something beyond the music. It was a visible connection of souls, a meshing of visions, & it was thrilling.
I won't give away the ending, but I will say that while it was completely satisfying, it was also completely unexpected. I was looking for the traditional happy ever after: the boy gets the girl & they ride off into the sunset & make beautiful music together for the rest of their lives. What I got was happy ever after, but with a twist. Nothing worked out the way I thought it would & yet I felt really, really good about it.
It got me thinking about expectations. As romance novelists, we have a contract with our readers: the boy is going to get the girl, there will be a happy ever after. It's why people read romance novels. If we writers violate that contract, the reader is (rightfully) angry, takes out her big black Sharpie & writes our name on her Do Not Buy list. And we'd deserve it.
But is there still room within that contract to surprise? When you know the ending already, where's the tension? Is it in how the hero & heroine overcome insurmountable odds? Is it in leading the reader to expect one sort of happy ending & serving up another? How far can an author stray from the traditional expectations of the romance genre without risking the big black Sharpie?
So tell us: What's your favorite non-traditional romance? Your most beloved anti-hero, your most cherished not-quite-happy ending? Which authors do you come back to again & again because they consistently serve up a fresh take on traditional expectations? Have you ever gotten exactly what you didn't want, only to find it was somehow what you wanted all along?