By now, I think every romance reader knows to expect a happily-ever-after. And if they don't get it, they know how to punish you for it in the reviews. Lol. Even HFNs ('happy for now' endings) often meet with scathing criticism or sad face emojis: 'I want to see the wedding!' 'I want to see the baby!' Hey, I get it. As a writer, I fall in love with couples too, and want to see them happy. I don't need every detail, but I do like some foreshadowing that they will have a happy future.
But y'know what I've been wondering lately? What if they broke up?
I know how subversive that is, believe me. But I do wonder. I read a novel recently that worked backward. The action begins with the breakup and the book is a retrospective on how the relationship came to that place. It's been done before in film. See for instance, an oldie---I'm a big old movie fan, especially of angsty seventies stuff---called 'Too Far To Go' with the amazing Blythe Danner. It starts with a couple in divorce court, about to have their final divorce decree handed down and the entire film is them looking back until it finally ends with the scene once again in court, moments before they are officially divorced. In the very final shot, just as the judge announces the final decree, they lean in, just as they had before being pronounced man and wife, and share one last poignant kiss.
That moment was, for me, one of the most profoundly "romantic" moments I've ever watched on film. Because it speaks to the complexity of love, and a reality that we who write romance novels don't always want to face---that sometimes the most loving thing is to let someone go.
Okay, that's a lot of big talk, but like the killing of characters thing, I don't know for sure I would be able to do that, but what if? What if I did?
I like messy, complicated love stories. The ones that leave people changed and sometimes even bruised (though only figuratively) from the experience. And what's more bruising than a breakup when the love is still there? If you think about it, romance writers already know this intuitively. Almost every romance novel has the inevitable moment of peril about 75% in, when our hearts are in our throats and the writer teases us with a hopefully believable fear that the couple will not make it. The really skilled writers amplify that fear so that even though you know what genre you're reading and what ending you're likely to get, you for a while earnestly fear that the breakup will be permanent. Or if the writer is really skilled, they make you wonder whether maybe, after all, they should break up.
I'm not saying I'm such a writer, but still ... what if I gave it a shot? What if they broke up?