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    Architect of Tension – Putting off the Happily Ever After by Chloe Neill
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  • Published: Jun 16th, 2009

chloe_neill_authorI”ll admit it. I am an obsessive fan of J.D. Robb’s “In Death” novels. I have every stand-alone book in the series, as well as the collections that include an “In Death” short story. They’re all on my bookshelf, arranged in tidy, chronological order.

Sometimes, gazing across that collection, I wonder–Is it wrong that my favorite books in the “In Death” series aren’t the ones in which Eve and Roarke (the hero and heroine) work happily together, solving crimes and basking in the glow of their love? Put another way, is it wrong that my favorite books are the ones where Eve and Roarke must face down something that threatens to tear their marriage apart?

Okay, maybe I’m being a smidge overdramatic, but my favorite part of the romance–be it series or single title–isn’t the Happily Ever After (“HEA”).  It’s the tension. It’s the fabulous exit, the biting phrase, the cold war.  That’s not to say I begrudge the hero and heroine a HEA; I’m thrilled if the tension can be overcome, if the hero (or heroine) finally comes to his (or her) senses.  That’s why I’m a reader of romance, because I enjoy reading about the entire cycle of the characters’ relationship, not just their HEA.  After all, if the characters started off in love, and there were no (internal) obstacles to keep them apart, romance novels would be pretty short. They’d be romance “pamphlets.”  🙂

Of course, the tension-to-HEA formula is a little muddier if you’re writing a series. If your heroine’s life extends beyond a single title, you have to consider not only the identity of the hero but also when, within the arc of the series, they’re going to get together.

A writer who wants to include a relationship element in his or her series has, I think, has three options: (1) put the couple together at the beginning; (2) put the couple together at the end and keep the heroine single in the meantime; and (3) put the couple together at the end, but let the heroine date in the meantime.

Although Eve and Roarke had a somewhat bumpy road initially, the “In Death” books generally follow option 1. Eve and Roarke are together, and the novels’ plots, although often featuring some relationship tension, are geared toward other things (i.e., solving murders). Rachel Caine’s “Weather Warden” books kinda follow (2), as the hero and heroine have a number of obstacles to overcome before, presumably, they can settle down and enjoy quiet evenings at home, sans drama. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books generally follow (3), as while we probably all have opinions about who Sookie should/will ultimately end up with, she’s exploring her options along the way.

Every author has a preference among these options, as do (so I’d imagine) agents and editors. It also depends on the heroine’s age and circumstances (is she ready to settle down?), the setting of the novel (is casual “dating” appropriate in the particular time period?), and the nature of the primary plot (is the relationship key, or is it tangential to a mystery plot?).  And, as these examples show, authors have been the architects of tension in their own novels in lots of ways; there’s generally no one “required” path to follow (although the genre in which you’re writing may “require” certain plot elements, including HEAs).

some_girls_bite_paranormalWith respect to my Chicagoland Vampires series, Merit doesn’t get a clear HEA in SOME GIRLS BITE.  She has promised a date to a certain vampire, but whether she and said vampire (or another) can build their relationship into an HEA remains to be seen. Beyond the fact that I enjoy building the tension between Merit and her potentials, this decision was also related to Merit’s circumstances: She’s just become a vampire in a world in which human-vampire tensions are about to spike.  Although she longs for companionship, now isn’t the time for her to get overly comfortable or become complacent. Her vampire suitors may be a little irritating, but they also keep her on her toes. For a girly newly in the midst of the Chicagoland Vampires, that’s a good thing. But rest assured–I have every intention of giving Merit and her beaux (who, notably, I’ve already selected) their happily ever after . . . Just not anytime soon. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and best of luck writing your own HEA (or not!)

Immediate gratification, or slow burn? Should a heroine get her HEA immediately, or after some trials and tribulations?


Get a sneak peak of the next book in the Chicagoland Vampire series Friday Nite Bites at Chloe’s Neill’s website

Four lucky random posters will receive from Chloe one of the following: a signed copy of Some Girls Bite,  a european-style “CH” bumper sticker, a Cadogan House bar coaster, or a Some Girls Bite magnet.

25 Responses to “Architect of Tension – Putting off the Happily Ever After by Chloe Neill”

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  1. cyclops8
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 12:50 am

    I like reading books where the characters get their HEA after some trials and tribulations because it makes the story more interesting and makes the ending more satisfying.

  2. Donna S
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 1:03 am

    I like when the HEA comes after some trials and tribulations. It keeps the suspense up and the story moving but also gives you a nice feeling when the story ends. I love the In Death series, especially when Roarke and Eve disagree. Its great watching them come back together.

  3. Marisa
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 6:32 am

    Hi Chloe – so glad you could be with us today. OK “After all, if the characters started off in love, and there were no (internal) obstacles to keep them apart, romance novels would be pretty short. They’d be romance “pamphlets.” – I’m reticent to agree with you, but yes, you’re right, no tension would make for an awfully short romance. And yet, sometimes I have to admit I’m a woman who loves immediate gratification and if the tension goes on too long I get a bit miffed. On the other hand, tension can be oh so delicious. I’m a reader who straddles the fence when it comes to the ‘architecture’ of the HEA.

  4. PJ
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 8:42 am

    HI Chloe! Welcome to RNTV! I usually like the main characters to have to work for their hea but I typically want that hea to come at the end of one book. There are a few series out there where it’s okay to wait a few books for the hea but if it drags on too long I tend to lose interest. It’s a fine line that authors have to walk when they prolong the happy ending. Makes me happy to be on the reader side of the fence! 😉

  5. Chloe
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 9:42 am

    Good morning, all! Very glad to be here.

    @ Marisa – There’s definitely an optimal balance between tension and romance. Personally, “comedy of errors” type tension drives me crazy. That kind of suspense makes me jittery, and I’d gladly pass it over for a faster HEA.

  6. Maria Lokken
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 9:46 am

    Hi Chloe – So glad you’re with us today. You responded to Marisa :

    Personally, “comedy of errors” type tension drives me crazy

    And I couldn’t agree more- they make me batty. However, I will say that Eloisa James does a nice job in her Desperate Duchesses series…

  7. KatiDancy
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 10:17 am

    Good morning, Chloe! Welcome to RNTV!

    I agree with you about the In Death series. A friend of mine was in my room the other day and commented on my JD Robb shelves, all “OMG, that must be about $400 worth of books, are they worth it?” Me: “Totally.”

    One of my favorite In Deaths is Divided in Death, where Eve and Roarke are fighting pretty much the entire book. They are what’s divided. Their struggle and the denouement of that struggle is what make it one of my favorites.

    Like you, I’m all about the tension between the hero and the heroine. As a reader, I want to be mentally shouting, “Just DO it already!” It’s delicious. I really adore good tension. And I love the release of the tension, if it’s done correctly. There have been a couple of books I’ve read where I’ve been disappointed by the culmination of the tension, and I always end up thinking, “Wow, what a waste of all that delicious tension!” For my money, no one does sexual tension like Linda Howard. Her books feature tension that leaps off the page!

  8. Maria Lokken
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 10:22 am

    Kati – How do you feel about a book that’s part of a series where you’re not sure who the heroine will end up with. For example Janet Evanovich’s books?

  9. Chloe
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 10:50 am

    @ Maria – Your question to Kati wasn’t directly at me (obvs), but I’m going to offer my opinion anyway. 🙂

    I think the “comforting” element of Janet’s books is that you know (or presume) that Stephanie is going to end up either with Hero A or Hero B. There’s a certain danger to more open-ended series (Charlaine Harris? Kim Harrison?) in which is isn’t clear if there’s a frontrunner (or even a couple of frontrunners). That kind of open-endedness, IMO, creates a little more discomfort for readers, at least in terms of the romance plot.

    On the other hand, I’ve heard complaints that the romance thread in Janet’s books are “repetitive” because Stephanie can only jump between Hero A and Hero B. Personally, I enjoy (read: buy first editions of) this more “reined in” approach.

    It’s like driving a convertible, but wearing a seatbelt–a little more restricting, but comforting just the same. 🙂

  10. Maria Lokken
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 11:05 am

    Chloe – I agree with you. When I read “Storm Born” by Richelle Mead I was left to wonder who she’d end up with. I’ll admit I was a bit surprised when I got to the end of the book and discovered there would be no clear cut ‘winner’. However, she did give me a choice… So in that respect, when I’m presented with a clear cut choice it gives me hope and makes me want to read the next in the series.

    Interestingly enough, I’m also the kind of person who watches tv shows that have a continuing line. I’m not one for proceedurals. So why would I insist on an immediate HEA for the characters in the romance I read? Hmm… a question I’ve pondered before.

  11. LizBeth
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 11:16 am

    Hi Chole, you’ve got me thinking. Hmmm… when you talk about the In Death Series, (and Kati I’m right there with you, I wouldn’t miss an adventure with Eve and Roarke), I’m all about the relationship, good bad or indifferent. I like knowing the ins and outs of how they navigate the every day stuff. This tells me that I’m not all that much into tension. Yet, when I’m reading a series where the Heroine is not attached to any one hero at the end of a book, I’m very excited about reading the next one to see what will happen.

    I’ve personally given up on the Stephanie Plum series. Just couldn’t take it any more.
    Where as after reading the first of Jeanine Frost’s series I was so pissed that Cat walked away from Bones I promised no more for me. It was not an HEA IMO. Did I buy the next book? Oh yes. I just needed to know if they were going to get back together. Was I happy that they did? Oh yes. Did I buy the third book? Oh yes.

    I guess what I’m trying to say, in a long drawn out way. is that I’ll abide the tension and all the mishaps and even perhaps a long delay of the HEA, IF and only IF, the characters pull me along.

  12. CaitlinG
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 11:28 am

    An HEA is an HEA is an HEA. Right? How they get there? Well that’s the crux of why I read certain authors and don’t read others. Love is messy and not always drawn in a straight line. I like the authors who draw outside the lines. I like to read characters that go all the way to the edge and sometimes take a flying leap. I have to admit at first I was a bit uncomfortable when I read my first ‘to be continued’ HEA. I was a bit shocked, it was not what I expected. Now I’m definitely along for the ride. I enjoy an author who can sustain that kind of magic over several books. Like Kati, the more tension the better, make it last over several books and I’m even happier.

  13. Josie
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 12:30 pm

    Hi Chole. Interesting question. I guess I’m all about the tension. Love it when the H&H have to fight to be together.

    I’m wondering, as an author, when you already know who you’re heroine will end up with, how do you keep yourself surprised? Once you’ve made the decision is it easier to keep the tension alive?

  14. Marisa
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 12:33 pm

    Chloe – say it again sister – comedy of errors drives me up a wall. I’m not fond of it in the movies, on TV or in books. Most of the time I just want to shout – “everyone stop! take a breath and stand still for a moment – it’s all there in front of you”.

    Delicious tension is the kind that you weren’t expecting and takes thought and patience to overcome – at least for me.

  15. Sunny
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 12:46 pm

    Hi Chloe, I really loved Some Girls Bite! And Merit is such a great heroine. I wonder how you can keep who she’ll end up with all to yourself. Don’t you long to tell the world? After I read it, I rushed to your website to find out when the next book is coming. OCT! Well, I’ll be there because I have to know. Or will I have to wait until the third or fourth book? Just tell me now so I can prepare myself.

    As for comedy of errors, I just have two words to say, Grant and Hepburn or what about Tracy and Hepburn or even Grant and Russell. I mean those were some great comedy of error movies. I could watch them all the time. The banter, the timing, the physicality of it. Its like watching a brilliant pas de duex in a classical ballet. I’m just saying.

  16. KatiDancy
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 2:45 pm

    Marisa – OK, I’m back, sorry stupid work gets in the way!

    I don’t mind a love triangle if I know for sure there will be a decision made in the end. As in the Gardellas. I was OK with waiting five books to get my HEA (and what an HEA it was!). But if it’s just open ended, I find it frustrating (ie: LKH’s Anita Blake series, although at this point she’s got a harem of men).

  17. KUG
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 4:26 pm

    I ended up loving Some Girls Bite simply because it didn’t give me that conclusion at the end, as so many books tend to do. The drama and tension of not knowing how Merit will end up is one of the compelling reasons to read the next book in the series (and however many come after that)! I also like the added complexity in the character of Merit caused by know knowing her destiny – it makes her more realistic, accessible and fun that she does not have a fated ending (or at least one that anyone other than Chloe Neill knows about).

  18. Marial
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 5:24 pm

    I like a HEA after a little conflict and tension. For me, I need a little angst and uncertainty.

  19. Chloe
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 9:23 pm

    Thanks, everyone, for dropping by!

    @Josie – That I have a good idea of who Merit will end up with (98% chance) doesn’t diminish the tension. The relationship must still evolve over time, and I’ll be throwing plenty of roadblocks in their path along the way. 🙂

    @Sunny – Merit will have romantic encounters along the way, but my current plan is that Merit will get her HEA in the final CV book, whatever that may be. (The story arc is planned through her HEA, at which point a new heroine would take over).

    @KUG – Thanks!!

  20. orannia
    on Jun 16th, 2009
    @ 10:57 pm

    HI Chloe *waves*

    Very interesting. For me, the best part of the journey is seeing how strong the relationship is during times of stress, when the hero and heroine end up on opposite sides, whether by choice of circumstance. It’s seeing whether they are able to weather the storm, accept that they will no doubt disagree at some point and if their relationship can grow in spite of the tension. And whether they are able to work together to do so 🙂

    And I’m keeping an eye out for Some Girls Bite as it sounds amazing! All the best for its release 🙂

  21. Maria Lokken
    on Jun 17th, 2009
    @ 10:01 am

    Four lucky posters have won

    Congratulations to Sunny, Donna, cyclops8, and Jesscia.

    Please send your snail mail address to and we’ll forward the information to Chloe who will be mailing out your winnings.

  22. orannia
    on Jun 17th, 2009
    @ 8:35 pm

    Congrats Sunny, Donna, cyclops8, and Jesscia! Enjoy! And thank you Chloe!

  23. Jessica
    on Jun 17th, 2009
    @ 9:00 pm

    I kind of follow the “you get your HEA after fighting for it” kind of thing. With my writing, I want to be a writer someday soon, 1 year left of college! Yea! My characters, go through some intense situations. But eventually, they’ll all get their HEA. I like it better that way too. If things end HEA after the first book, what’s next? What will happen? So that’s why I, along with a lot of the authors I read, don’t have a HEA at the end of book 1. It wouldn’t really be much of series either if things are okey-dokey right after the introductions.

  24. cyclops8
    on Jun 18th, 2009
    @ 12:31 am

    Thank you. Congrats to the other winners.

  25. romantic idiot
    on Jul 9th, 2009
    @ 2:06 pm

    I agree with you about the tension being more fun, but for me, I have found an HEA to be important, because tension is usually, not that much fun for the characters. Tension is work, it is conflict, and while building up to the climax itself is important, and forms the core of the book, a satisfying ending is just as important, to me. Towards the end of any romance, I have laughed, cried, raged, worried – I want this effort to mean something, to me, and for these characters that I now love.

    That’s why I am usually not happy with an ending that teases too much, or is all our sad. It makes me feel it was all for nothing.

    Having said that, I adore J.D. Robb – whenever someone talks about how Moonlight lost all chemistry after Willis and Sheperd(?) got together, I show them Eve and Roarke.

    I look forward to reading your book and hope you have a very successful series ahead.

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