The importance of payoff

Recently I had cause to contemplate the value of romantic fulfilment in a romance novel. It seems obvious to say a romance novel should contain romance, but it appears that not all romances are created equal. Two books could have a similar romantic approach, similar intensity, similar execution…yet one will seem vastly more romantic than the other. One will bring tears to the readers eye and a painful lump deep in their throat and leave them sitting there emotionally spent as they close the book and the other will have them pleasantly smiling and enjoying a very gentle warm glow and send them off to garden for a bit.

Why is it so? I’m glad you asked… (Sorry, mixing my childhood science-show metaphors there)

Not all loves are created equal, it seems. Context is a big part of what makes the romance between two people really press the right reader buttons and I’m starting to realise that there is a direct correlation between the amount of angst that an author puts their characters through and the level of anticipated romantic fulfillment at the end of the book. I sat down to develop a mathematical equation to explain it…

divide X, the level of angst your hero experiences, by Y, the angst of your heroine and multiply the square-root of the result by the number of pages of turmoil in the book…

…and then I remembered there’s a reason I work with words and not numbers. So I found an easier way to explain it.

If you put your characters–and your reader–through the wringer, you’d better make sure there’s a HEA worthy of the wringing. The bigger the emotional stakes, the more impressive the payoff has to be. It’s expected. Readers probably don’t know they expect it but there has to be a just reward for putting yourself through the emotional roller-coaster for four or five hours.

Pay off.

It’s not enough that cowboy Destiny and lawyer Kismet find their way to love in the end. There needs to be dramatic utterances, there needs to be public exposure, there needs to be breath-stealing declarations. Blood, sweat and romantic tears! It may feel corny as all hell to write it but the reader needs and expects a resolution as high on the Richter scale as the drama that preceded it.

Would you agree? Have you read a book where the romantic conclusion has seemed a little tepid compared to the emotional punch of the story? Or conversely, where the angst in the HEA was disproportionate to the drama in the rest of the book and left you feeling it was all a bit over-the-top? Let’s not name names (to protect the innocent and particularly if that happens to be me) but let’s name scenarios. Does it irk you as a reader if there is no satisfactory payoff after five hours of intense emotional connection? What is your definition of decent payoff?

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