Love Stories

I don’t write love stories. I like breaking up characters much more than letting them get together. I like when characters realise that they’re over that ex they’ve been obsessing over (like Danielle and Mark in Memories), or when they hook up with a friend and then realise it’s just made things more complicated (like Emily and Barry in Good Girls Don’t. Or Emily and, um, everyone). I like when characters like someone who ends up with their best friend (Abi, Shane, and Sarah in Stereotype), or when they have an unfortunate crush on someone who’s never going to like them back (Lynn and Neil in Every Summer). I like people who get involved in relationships for all the wrong reasons (Chloe in Every Summer). I love writing about crushes and obsessions, but they’re not all I write about – there are many flavours of angst to play with – so maybe that’s why having a romantic happy ending isn’t always that important to me.

The exception is That Girl, and if I had to pick a Fictional Boyfriend it would be Michael. (He is gossipy, argues with her about music, is good at birthday presents, and thinks coffee cures everything. Apparently these are qualities I find appealing.) But most of the time I’m sceptical about romantic happy endings. I’m sceptical of the whole idea of soulmates, and finding True Love, and love-at-first-sight. On more cynical days I am sceptical about Romantic Love, full stop.

But. All of my characters can’t be cynical grumpy types, in the same way that they can’t be hopeless romantics, either. I’ve just finished the first draft of a book about a romantic. In some ways she is like me. And in other ways she is not, not at all. This is the same with most characters, really – you need to get inside their head, and part of that is about them having a trait that either is an exaggerated version of part of yourself, or something that just fascinates you. But you also need to distance yourself from them – because you’re not writing a memoir, you’re writing fiction. My main character in that book says things I do not agree with. And from the very beginning, my cynical side stepped in and argued with me over the ending. She wanted the miserable ending, the one where instead of things ending up happily, not happily-ever-after but happily-now, things go horribly wrong and it doesn’t work out and the main character’s learned a valuable lesson and grown terribly jaded. “That’s much more realistic,” said my cynical side, smugly tapping her fingers on the desk. I think she is right, to a certain extent, and one of the things I’m going to be looking carefully at when I start revising is how to balance the romance with realism. But my cynical side needs to remember that this is not an author’s manifesto. It’s a book about a particular character, and the way she thinks, and the way she lives her life. It’s a love story. Much as my natural inclination is to write about things going dreadfully wrong, a couple of happy endings aren’t going to kill me. Probably.

About clairehennessy

Writer (mostly YA fiction), creative writing teacher, tea drinker, book junkie. View all posts by clairehennessy

14 responses to “Love Stories

  • Hazel Katherine Larkin


    Tell your cynical side that an unhappy ending is not necessarily more realistic than a happy one. Tell your cynical side that sadness is not more real than happiness.

    Tell your cynical side to go and have coffee while you get on with the job of earning the money to pay for that coffee. 🙂


    • clairehennessy

      My cynical side is rolling her eyes, she’s like that. Mind you, my romantic non-pessimist side thinks you’re dead right – she just doesn’t get to talk very often! 🙂

      (Wow, starting to feel slightly dissociative-identity-disorder-ish…) 😉

  • laurajanecassidy

    I cannot wait to read this book!!!!

  • RFLong

    I love a happy ending (the romantic me), but that said so long as an ending it emotionally satisfying, that works for me too. Doesn’t necessarily have to be happy. Look at all those Irish legends.

    • clairehennessy

      I love them too, I just can’t seem to write them all that often! Think you’re right though, it’s about what’s emotionally satisfying, and sometimes what’s going to work for the character is realising that they need to move on, or let go, or sort out their personal issues themselves… not necessarily skipping off into the sunset with Mr Right! (Or Ms Right as the case may be.)

  • Margaret

    I think I like your cynical side’s attitude. I’m not a great lover of happily-ever-after love stories. I love sad or ambivalent endings. As RFLong mentioned Irish legends, I absolutely loved “Deirdre of the Sorrows” when I was a child.

    Plus it seems unrealistic to me when young adult novels pair up ALL the characters in really serious, long-term relationships. I don’t think teenager can’t have serious relationships, but when EVERYBODY seems to have met their one true love by the age of 16, it seems like overkill. So I liked your characters having crushes on people who didn’t end up loving them back or turned out to be wrong for them.

    • clairehennessy

      Oh, those angsty Irish legends! Yeah, think there’s definitely an element of being aware of what’s realistic for teenagers – some people do meet their ‘true love’ (whatever that means, anyway) in their teens, and the book I just finished has minor grown-up characters for whom that was the case, but most don’t. That being said, I think it’s possible to write about characters who *believe* that they’ve met their true-love-for-now without confirming that they’ll be together forever. Or more accurately, ’til they die. Reminded of Margaret Atwood’s ‘Happy Endings’ now —

      • Margaret

        Yeah, I was mostly thinking of books where they pretty much confirm it’s a forever thing, like the epilogue in Harry Potter where the three main characters are with the people they started dating at 16 or Sweet Valley, where Elizabeth and Todd are friends at 7, dating at 12 and madly in love at 16. It’s possible, but it seems to happen a whole lot more in fiction than in real life.

        That link seems interesting. I only took a quick look through it. I’ll read it in more detail when I get a chance. It sounds like it’s kind of related to the reason why I love ambivalent endings; because nothing really is ended until the characters die. I like it when a story gives the impression of life continuing afterwards and not just everything being perfect (or everything being a complete disaster) from then on.

        • clairehennessy

          I can sort-of see how the Harry Potter ones work (even though I would love for a little more randomness there) – the wizarding world is so small and we see throughout the series the extent to which connections made at Hogwarts really matter. But, yeah, Sweet Valley love connections are crazy…

          Definitely worth reading the Atwood piece if you get a chance!

  • Elizabeth


    Okay, just to make this comment actually relevant: I love Emily, even though she is so unlike me. But I suppose I also like Lynn because she is. And things were kind of happy for Emily in the end, at least I like to think they were, so I think it just depends how happy your happy ending is. I’m much more likely to appreciate ones that are realistically happy as opposed to “and they lived happily ever after and had a huge wedding and got married took a year-long honeymoon in France and had lots of babies.”

    • clairehennessy


      Yeah, it’s a tough one because having characters getting together at the end doesn’t necessarily imply that they will stay together forever, even if they think they will. But at the same time too much of the ‘they think they will’ can suggest that’s how it’ll work out… and too much of the ‘of course, this may not work out, but let’s give it a shot anyway!’ can suggest that it’s *not* a happy ending.

      I suppose the thing is that stories can end wherever you like, but real life always ends at the same place. Oooh, cheerful.

  • Eimear

    Fair play to you girl! Can’t wait to read it. 😉 I’m not against happy endings, but I’m slightly wary of books that end in get-togethers … the story’s only starting!

    • clairehennessy

      Yep – y’know, when I think about it, most of the get-together endings I like are ones where the characters have sort-of got together already and then fate’s stepped in and messed things up and it’s not ’til the end that everything gets sorted out. Which is probably closer to the standard romance plotline than ‘oh you like me too, yay, let’s hook up’ stuff.

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