Sunday, November 14, 2010


NOTE: This post contains possibly incorrect spoilers of the following, many of which I know nothing about:

--Queer as Folk (US TV series)
--Harry Potter (the whole series
--Lord of the Rings (okay and I've only seen the movies but I'm pretty sure either format works for the example I'm using)
--Twilight series (which I have not read, but know enough about to perhaps erroneously cite)
--The Boyfriend List series by E. Lockhart (only very minor spoilers)
--The Great Gatsby (also minor)
--The Stranger (ditto)

You have been warned.


One thing I rarely talk about on this blog is--aside from my cries in the night for more strong male characters--what I like to see in stories, and how I try to write my stories. But when my dear friend Scott Tracey suggested I blog about Queer as Folk, I realized that the show (which is possibly my favorite show ever) highlights a lot of elements that can make or break a story, in my mind.

And they're all about promises you make your reader.

One True Pairing. This is a concept rooted, I think, in fanfic. (which, TANGENT: I adore almost as much as Queer as Folk, and even more if the two are combined. Some writers get all up in arms--and, in my opinion, up in their own egos--about it. Use a pseudo, don't try to make money, and write on, bitches.)

The concept of One True Pairing is that there is a couple you are rooting through throughout the entire book--or, commonly, throughout the entire series. This doesn't mean the couple is always obvious, or together through the entire work. There are bumps. There should be bumps.

But they should end up together.

I know a lot of people are going to protest this. They're going to talk about how books should resemble the real world, and the real world isn't always fair, and couples break up all the time regardless of how much they love each other, and it isn't fair to promote some kind of fantasy in our books, blah blah blah.

To which I say: bullshit.

I am 100% pro happy endings--see the next heading! But I don't think my definition of a happy ending is the same as other people's. Most of my stories have an ending that is bittersweet, but goddamn it, the couple stays together.

This togetherness doesn't have to be very overt, even. In Queer as Folk, Brian and Justin are set up from episode 1 as the One True Pairing. For the entire first season, they're not officially a couple. They go episodes at a time without seeing much of each other. Brian doesn't even like Justin that much, despite bringing him home in the first ten minutes of the first episode.

By season 2, they're as official as they ever really get. Neither of them is into monogamy or serious relationships, at least not for a while, so they are happy and very much, even though Brian would never admit it, in love. They break up twice over the series, and it's painful to watch, even though you know they will get back together.

And they do. You know why? Because the whole fucking thing would suck if they didn't. A book I really love broke this rule, and it was absolutely crushing. They spent the whole book trying to get together, then together and deliriously happy, and then they broke up in the last 5 pages. It was so sad, and the book lost so many points with me for that.

I want payoff. I want hope. I want promises fulfilled, and the biggest promise a lot of books give you is that One True Pairing. Your readers are trusting you.

Queer as Folk ends with Brian and Justin calling off their engagement (more on that later) and separating when Justin moves to New York for a while to work on his art. For me, this ending was not open. I was a hundred percent satisfied. They're still together, they're just living in different cities for a while. A lot of people didn't agree with me. There are huge sections of the fan base convinced that they ended the series broken up.

To which I say, again, bullshit! And recently, someone did an interview with the two creators of the show, one of which said, "I have no idea why people think they broke up."

So HA. One True Pairings win again. And I never had any doubt, because I trusted the creators the way I trust authors. I trust the good guys to win and the right people to make out. You never REALLY think Bella's going to end up with Jacob. If you're paying any attention at all, you never REALLY think Harry's going to end up married to Hermione.

And, to extrapolate a little on this point--

Give me a goddamn happy ending.

I get it, realism realism blah blah blah. But to quote Seinfeld, "If I want a long, boring story with no point to it, I have my life."

Your book has a goal. Achieve it. The ring gets destroyed, guys. Voldemort doesn't win. Even if Harry had died, which many people think he should have (holla) it would have been a happy ending because evil would not have triumphed. Guys. Evil can't fucking triumph. Come on now.

I'm crazy about books that make me think about life and the universe and the world at large. And I don't even everything to work out peachy keen. Think The Great Gatsby. Think The Stranger. Those are some of my favorite books, and both of them have someone kicking it at the end.

But there is hope. There is spirit. Evil isn't winning.

No evil winning. Your characters don't have to be making out in the sunset, but they have to at least be holding hands in the wreckage.

You're fulfilling a promise you're giving the reader. Don't be that asshole who's trying to teach the reader there are no promises in real life. You're like the Grinch right now.

The last few lines in the entire Queer as Folk series:

So the thumpa thumpa continues. It always will. No matter what happens. No matter who is president. As our lady of Disco, the divine Ms Gloria Gaynor has sung to us: We will survive.

Excuse me while I wipe my eyes a little.

But before we get all sappy, we have one more promise you make your reader, and it's one that Queer as Folk very badly fucks up.

Character consistency. On a larger scale, this is valid more in a series than in a stand alone, though it's valid as hell either way.

When you introduce a character with a certain set of traits and abilities, you make a promise to your reader. And that promise is--if this character is changing from this thing I've set up from you, you will know.

By all means, your characters should develop and morph throughout the story. But the reader needs to see it happening. They need to understand why and how, or they're going to feel like they're looking at a different character at the end of the work than they were at the beginning. And that's not good.

E. Lockhart's The Boyfriend List series does a fantastic job of this. Roo is Roo, through all of them. Yes, you can see her growing and maturing and learning new skills to cope with her ridiculous life, but she is still very consistently Roo.

Now. Queer as Folk.

In case you missed it in the OTP heading, Brian fucking proposes.

What the fuck is that shit? We get that they love each other. We know. We've got it. We don't need to hear Brian say it, or see him fucking plan a wedding. It completely destroys the image we have of who Brian and Justin are. If they'd both just started quietly wearing wedding rings, that would have been one thing. But the last season of Queer as Folk turned Brian into some kind of domesticated animal, and a looooot of people are unhappy about it. He sent out fucking wedding announcements. He bought a house. What is this shit? This is not the Brian we were promised.

So if you want the reader to follow through with reading your whole book, you have some things you need to do to deserve that. Or to make sure, if they do finish it, that they don't end up throwing it at a wall.

There are of course a million ways to do all the things I've mentioned and still write a wall-throwing-worthy book. And there are ways to ignore everything I've said (except maybe the consistent character one...but you never know) and write something phenomenal. And in all honesty, if you're writing something you want analyzed in English class, you're probably going to need a less happy ending.

But, looking back, there are very few endings I've read that I've read that I would consider altogether too depressing. The only ones that I think really fit the bill are ones where the One True Pairing fails.

So guys. Less realism, more making out. End scene.


Abby Minard said...

When I read a book, I want to escape. I think that's why I read pretty much only fantasy (YA at that). I don't want the depressing real world where no one's romance works out, and there aren't happy endings. I can watch the news for that. I want to escape for a couple hours in an adventure where good triumphs over evil and the girl (who is fiercly independent and strong) gets the guy (who is extremely loyal yet loves that she's independent). So I completely agree- I want a good happy ending. I want a relationship where they stay together. I want everything wrapped up in a pretty package because life doesn't normally give us that (okay maybe I'm being too negative about life, and mine is pretty much a pretty package, but other people aren't so lucky).

hannah said...

Abby--exactly. And I don't need everything wrapped up, and I like my endings tinged with some bad luck and, yeah, some realism, but I want to feel better upon closing the book than I did before. I want at least one big thing to be better.

Karla Nellenbach said...

Ha! I LOVE QAF, and wholeheartedly agree about Brian and Justin being the destined lovers of the series, but for me the main couple was actually Brian and Micheal. Best friends who are complete opposites but are there for each other through thick and thin. Their relationship had some serious ups and downs, but I always always ALWAYS wanted them to remain together. Yeah, I agree with the way they had Brian whipped in that last season...seriously disappointing.

Okay...whew...mega tangent there :) I read to leave reality for however long it takes...but when I write, my endings are never "and they lived happily ever after." I guess I'm more like you. My ending are "And so they lived." :)

hannah said...

Booooooooo Michael.

hannah said...

Sorry, I got very distracted by my Michael hate. "And then they lived." That is SUCH a great way of putting it.

Melissa Dominic said...


Colene Murphy said...

I agree with all of this! especially the last bit.

I really hope my crit. partners and friends love me enough to tell me if my ending makes them want to throw the book. Or burn it. I think those writer's friends aren't very good to not say something.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

You know, the Friends series always bummed me in the end...probably because they ignored the One True Pairing thing with Rachel and Ross.

And Gillmore Girls? Sure, she shouldn't have ended up with that pompous jerk but no Jess in the end? That's just wrong.

I'm a total happy endings girl neat bows needed but hopeful is a must.

Disappointing YA this way? Sweethearts and The Feed...though I loved everything about both of those except the endings.

hannah said...

Jennifer--what are you talking about?? Ross and Rachel ended up together!

All Adither said...

Funny, the first thing that came to my mind was Rachel and Ross, too. I'm clearly a Gen X'er. I love, love, love this post. And I agree completely. Happy realism.

Karla Calalang said...

This is an amazing post. I agree with you on all counts. It especially counts with my YA romance novels because romance NEEDS a HEA, Happily Ever After. I can't get enough of the warm bubblies in my stomach when reading a good book with an amazing ending. Makes me even more determined to write something as awesome as that.

hannah said...

Thanks, All Adither and Karla!

Emily White said...

I COMPLETELY agree. I just finished reading a book yesterday that broke the One True Pairing rule. The whole thing was about these two not being allowed to be together, they fight through it, end up together, and then he dies. She doesn't even get to say "I love you" before he dies. She says it RIGHT AFTER. I'm still feeling a little depressed and very cheated by it.

I mean, even THE HUNGER GAMES had the One True Pairing end up together in the end and that series is probably the most depressing YA series I've ever read. It wasn't a perfect pairing, but at least I could close the book and know they were together.

Good post, Hannah! :D

Christina Auret said...

For me the happily ever after does not have to be all that happy, but I do need the main characters to be better off at the end than they were at the beginning.

Why they are better off also does not matter as long as it is better for the characters involved. Richer in hope, understanding, liberty, actual riches ... does not matter.

That said, I have to agree that there is a time and a place for the romantic HEA of the one true pairing, and that place is almost everywhere.

Anonymous said...

The novel that influenced me most as a kid was The Outsiders, and though I never thought about it this way before, I think it stood out to me because it follows the rules you cited above.

I remember how devestated I was when Johnny died, and how relieved I was once Dally died as well, because they were somewhere together. One True Pairing?

A happy ending? Yes - at least from my perspective there was. I grew up very similar to how Ponyboy did, and all we wanted as kids was for anyone to hear our stories and recognize that we mattered.

And last but not least, a long overdue Thank you from me to you, Hannah.

When I first started my novel I began to research what publishing entailed, the role of an agent and so on. More than once I read how in today's YA market there is no audience for a strong male POV character.

My novel is written from the POV of an incredibly strong teenage boy. In fact, the four supporting characters are a BF, older brother, father and grandfather. To say I was devastated is an understatement. I actually put the novel aside and stopped writing.

Then I picked up your blog when you had a post about male voices, and literally cried. I started the novel again, and I've been working on it ever since.

My novel may never see the light of day, and I'm ok with that, because I know I had the courage to write the story that has lived inside me for years. No apologies.

Thank you again, Hannah


Liz Czukas said...

Oh Hannah, every time you open your mouth, I want to hug you. You're so right. Bring me the happy ending, damn it!

And Ross and Rachel totally did end up together! Come on! BTW, I'm totally convinced the One True Pairing on The Office is Dwight and Angela. Jim and Pam were a given--I'm rooting for Dwight and Angela.

- Liz

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Excellent post! I've had a lot of discussion about this topic since I released my book that has a supposedly unhappy ending. To me it's hopeful, the right people win, the right people lose, things are wrapped up.

I don't think books need to be happy as much as satisfying, which is essentially what you say here. :)

Angie said...

AWesome post Hannah! I like the one true pairing bit, it reminds me of the original 90210, which you're probably too young to remember, but they had Brandon and Kelly going together as a couple for so long and then Wham! on their wedding day they decided they worked better as just friends. I was like, WTF??? I like my happy endings too and like you said they don't have to be "happy" happy. I haven't watched QAF, but it sounds like a good show!

hannah said...

Heidi--Dally and Johnny are a GREAT OTP! Well said.

Aaaaaand your comment made me tear up. Thank you so much.

And thank you everyone :)

Erin said...

Great post!

This made me laugh: "Use a pseudo, don't try to make money, and write on, bitches." Yay, FanFic! =)

Anonymous said...

Hi Hannah, interesting post as ever. I'm not sure how qualified I am to compare US QAF with the UK Original - I've only seen the first series of the US show, as that's all that was shown on UK TV. (The rest of it did come out on DVD though.) One big difference is that the UK show is one eight-part miniseries followed by a two-parter - what I saw of the US show is a model on how to tweak a finite story so that it becomes an ongoing series. I also thought the lesbian characters were much less underwritten than they are in QAF UK.

Anyway, in the UK series the One True Pairing is Stuart and Vince (the originals of Brian and Michael?). By the time we get to QAF2, Nathan (the original of Justin) has become a secondary character and his storyline is more or less separate to the will-they-won't-they Stuart and Vince storyline.

hannah said...

Gary--yep, and I think they were originally intending to go that way with US, but people responded WAY better to the b/j chemistry. That's a rumor I heard, at least.