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View Full Version : Best way to break the Female Hero's "Happily Ever After" stigma???



ReySkywalker1
May 17th, 2020, 04:16 PM
These days, whenever I read a book that features a prominent female protagonist (could be the lead character or a main character) I have this ingrained picture or thought process that every female character...hero and villain...wants to have children in her lifetime as her "Happily Ever After"! Now I know in real life this obviously isn't true. But in media...books...film...whatever it seems to happen all the time. I want to write a book where this ideology that females "must" have children in order to fulfill her "life's purpose". It's a stigma that I'm definitely not a fan of. I am a big supporter of all my female friends who don't want children in their lifetime and I feel that demographic is vastly underrepresented in media today. When I read a book, I desire reading about a childfree woman who has a fire in her belly and very career-driven. I want my audience to make sure they know that. How should I do it?

RWK
May 17th, 2020, 04:23 PM
These days, whenever I read a book that features a prominent female protagonist (could be the lead character or a main character) I have this ingrained picture or thought process that every female character...hero and villain...wants to have children in her lifetime as her "Happily Ever After"! Now I know in real life this obviously isn't true. But in media...books...film...whatever it seems to happen all the time. I want to write a book where this ideology that females "must" have children in order to fulfill her "life's purpose". It's a stigma that I'm definitely not a fan of. I am a big supporter of all my female friends who don't want children in their lifetime and I feel that demographic is vastly underrepresented in media today. When I read a book, I desire reading about a childfree woman who has a fire in her belly and very career-driven. I want my audience to make sure they know that. How should I do it?


Same as any other book: start writing. Stop when you've got at least 80,000 words. Correct the typos, create a cover, write a blurb, and post it with the indie service of your choice.

indianroads
May 17th, 2020, 04:59 PM
In the romance genre I believe it's expected for a HEA (happy ever after) or HFN (happy for now) ending. Disclaimer: I don't write specifically write romance, that's just what I've read on-line. That's just perceived reader expectations though - maybe it's time for someone (you) to color outside of the lines.

If your genre is not specifically / predominately romance, then IMO all bets and expectations are off. Consider the 'Alien' movies (the first 2 that were actually good) - NOT a romance story, and therefore no expectations about kids etc., just a good strong and admirable female lead.

Ma'am
May 17th, 2020, 05:34 PM
Aside from the Romance genre (where readers expect HEA or HFN, as has been mentioned) I think a lot of that is just lazy writing. Sometimes I roll my eyes at the marriage/babies ending too because it's just so overdone. One way to avoid being tempted to resort to a cliche' ending is just to consider your endpoint all along.

indianroads
May 17th, 2020, 06:05 PM
IMO - regardless of genre, readers want the POV characters they've come to relate to and know to end up in a good place... so they can breathe a sigh of relief and smile as they set the book down. Does that have to mean marriage or children? Not just no, but hell no.

Using the 'Hero's Journey' as an example, novels often start with the character in a state of stasis, and they are tipped off that by the initial inciting event. They then fall into chaos, and (as my partner often puts it) zany adventures ensue. At the end, they emerged changed and stronger at the conclusion of the story. Now, that stronger/better person at the end may have found a satisfying connection with another, or they may have left that behind and have decided that they are better off on their own.

Ma'am
May 17th, 2020, 06:28 PM
Another reason the "marriage and babies, happily ever after" ending can annoy is that a 100% happy ending can come across as simplistic and syrupy.

For those who don't know, one way to look at endings is with two layers. The story problem is resolved at the end, either way. The MC either gets or does not get what they wanted. And what they wanted either is or is not all they'd hoped it would be.

So, a "yes/yes" like "marriage and babies yippee," is simpler and can come across as syrupy. A no/no ending can come across as so hopeless that the reader regrets spending their time reading something so depressing. A yes/no ending or a no/yes ending is a little more complex, which can be more satisfying: Either the MC gets what they wanted but sees it's not all it was cracked up to be. OR the MC does not get what they wanted but realizes that's got an unexpected good side.

1) yes/yes- The MC gets what they wanted and it's all rainbows, just like they thought it would be. (can seem syrupy, Disney-esque)

Ex. The story (or romantic sub-plot) ends with the FMC and her love interest in front of their new home, smiling and holding their new baby.


2) no/no- The MC doesn't get what they wanted and it's awful, just like they thought it would be. (can seem hopeless, depressing)

Ex. The story ends with the FMC alone, in a trashed apartment, looking a mess and gorging on ice cream. All is ruined, the end.


3) yes/no- The MC gets what they wanted but there's a downside they didn't know about (more satisfying/complex)

Ex. The story ends with the FMC at the altar. But his mother (who's been a problem throughout the story) is also dressed like a bride.


4) no/yes- The MC doesn't get what they wanted but there's an upside they didn't know about (more satisfying/complex)

Ex. The story ends with the FMC getting dumped by her man. But then the great guy who's been keeping his distance appears.
-------------

The same idea applies to endings of stories with no love story included.

ReySkywalker1
May 17th, 2020, 08:35 PM
Another reason the "marriage and babies, happily ever after" ending can annoy is that a 100% happy ending can come across as simplistic and syrupy.

For those who don't know, one way to look at endings is with two layers. The story problem is resolved at the end, either way. The MC either gets or does not get what they wanted. And what they wanted either is or is not all they'd hoped it would be.

So, a "yes/yes" like "marriage and babies yippee," is simpler and can come across as syrupy. A no/no ending can come across as so hopeless that the reader regrets spending their time reading something so depressing. A yes/no ending or a no/yes ending is a little more complex, which can be more satisfying: Either the MC gets what they wanted but sees it's not all it was cracked up to be. OR the MC does not get what they wanted but realizes that's got an unexpected good side.

1) yes/yes- The MC gets what they wanted and it's all rainbows, just like they thought it would be. (can seem syrupy, Disney-esque)

Ex. The story (or romantic sub-plot) ends with the FMC and her love interest in front of their new home, smiling and holding their new baby.


2) no/no- The MC doesn't get what they wanted and it's awful, just like they thought it would be. (can seem hopeless, depressing)

Ex. The story ends with the FMC alone, in a trashed apartment, looking a mess and gorging on ice cream. All is ruined, the end.


3) yes/no- The MC gets what they wanted but there's a downside they didn't know about (more satisfying/complex)

Ex. The story ends with the FMC at the altar. But his mother (who's been a problem throughout the story) is also dressed like a bride.


4) no/yes- The MC doesn't get what they wanted but there's an upside they didn't know about (more satisfying/complex)

Ex. The story ends with the FMC getting dumped by her man. But then the great guy who's been keeping his distance appears.
-------------

The same idea applies to endings of stories with no love story included.

Great points, thank you for that. I would like to write a female lead who can stand on her own, no love story involved. I want to prove with her that she doesn't need a man (or woman) to complete her life. She has a big chip on her shoulder and really needs to work on herself (self-love). According to studies, women who are single with no kids are the happiest. I don't feel that demographic is properly portrayed in movies and books these days. Would love to portray that demographic in a positive light via my female MC.

I was really disappointed in a book series like The Hunger Games. I absolutely LOVED Katniss as a character, but up until the atrocious epilogue. That was a very syrupy ending. No woman should ever think of having children if she suffers from depression or PTSD, I think having children would only make them feel worse because less time to take care of themselves (their mental health, their physical body, etc.). For Katniss, having children as a "Happily Ever After" after saying earlier in the series she'd never have kids...it just doesn't make sense.

Of course, for my female MC I want to give my readers a positive ending for her...and she doesn't want/need children or a boyfriend/girlfriend/etc. to make her happy. Maybe even something as loving herself again (because maybe she deals with depression/PTSD) is one of the ultimate take-aways for her after her mission/story is complete.

BornForBurning
May 17th, 2020, 09:59 PM
I mean, to put aside my own perspectives and misgivings regarding this trope, it seems like you have a highly specific character in mind. That's good, strong characters are the central axiom of all modern literature. I would recommend just writing. If you write, and you find the character dull, let the manuscript sit for awhile, then come back and reread with a fresh mind. Read it as a reader, not as an author. This will put you in the correct mindset for finding mistakes.

I always find these types of threads confusing, because characters tend to come to my mind in a flash--I see an image, an action. Obviously, that initial vision is developed throughout the course of a story. I suspect that many people have the same kind of inspiration, but they muddle it by thinking too 'rationally,' if that makes any sense. Just go with what feels right. My first story that I wrote that I really enjoyed reading for myself was a cyberpunk story about a girl that rode a motorcycle, wielded a sword and listened to Judas Priest. Total schlock. But I went with my gut, I turned off my brain and really fell in love with the character and the world. When that happens, though, sometimes the character leads you down paths you didn't initially anticipate, or desire. And if that happens, you can't think 'how can I cram this character into a story without X happening?' You have to just realize that that thing was latent in the character to begin with, and if you don't want her to do X, you need to rework her. And in this context, reworking is best approached on a case-by-case basis. Ivana (chick from aforementioned story) ended up wanting a boyfriend. I can tell you, I did not see that coming when I first started writing her as a nineteen-year-old who thought Painkiller was the coolest thing ever. But I stuck with it, because it worked. Especially, it made the final act way more tense.

So this is a whole lot to say, I encourage you to just go at it, the way you'd go at driving a car or throwing a frisbee. But if it goes in a way you don't like, you rework your technique, not try to change the course of the frisbee in-flight. That's all.

I wonder, what's so bad about a girl wanting a husband and kids? Kids are wonderful. Relationships are wonderful. I would rather literature that encouraged relationship and family over Nietzschean individualism. But that's getting into my own perspective. Or at least, away from yours.

Annoying kid
May 18th, 2020, 01:07 AM
The way of the future - or the feminist thing to do is not have women justify why they don't want kids. It's not needed as men certainly don't. Maybe to their grandmothers they might, but not to wider society. Its nobody's business unless she wants it to be.

And even then, the reason doesn't need to make rational sense, for the same reason one can refuse sex for any reason. Its your body you do what you want with it.

If she has a chip on her shoulder about it and would argue about it - it depends on what you want to say about the character. There's rational and irrational reasons for not wanting a kid.

Example
Rational : Overpopulation.

Irrational: Whatever this is (warning, foul, violent language)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiHYWzuC6pc

Ideally whatever you do should have multiple functions in the story. Meaning if you have her harshly reject babies have her do it for a reason that leads to something. If you just have that argument in there just because you like a certain kind of female character, then it should be cut the same way most if not all red herring trivia should be cut.

BornForBurning
May 18th, 2020, 01:21 AM
Ideally whatever you do should have multiple functions in the story. Meaning if you have her harshly reject babies have her do it for a reason that leads to something
This is actually very good advice. Contextualizing your theoretical character within 'real life,' most people who strongly reject children have equally strong reasons for doing so. Trauma, career, etc. A decision like this is never arbitrary in real life, so it certainly shouldn't be in fiction. But I suspect that anyone who consciously rejects childbearing is inherently heading into very dark territory--that's both my Christian morality, and my artistic instinct talking. I could see it, at best, being portrayed as a deep tragedy. Someone who rejects the blessing of childbirth due to greater responsibilities that have been thrust upon her.

Sir-KP
May 18th, 2020, 02:28 AM
Make your female protagonist to do the opposite way at the end and why she refused it.

Outside of that, I agree the 'happily ever after with children' is an eye-roller, though I've seen adults still with the 'get married quickly, then have kids' as ultimate life goal nowadays.

ArrowInTheBowOfTheLord
May 18th, 2020, 05:54 AM
Wait, why is "happily ever after with children" an eye-roller? I understand the OP has a different kind of story in mind, which is fine, but what's wrong with the trope? It's there because it's, like, the most natural desire, ever, for women AND men.

epimetheus
May 18th, 2020, 10:42 AM
Wait, why is "happily ever after with children" an eye-roller? I understand the OP has a different kind of story in mind, which is fine, but what's wrong with the trope? It's there because it's, like, the most natural desire, ever, for women AND men.

Any trope is fine, until it is done to death, at which point eyes will roll.

Gotta say though, i can't remember anything i've read in the last year along these lines. Maybe it's just what i've been reading (sci-fi mostly). Actually, Excession by Iain Banks kind of had it, but my eyes didn't roll (they were dropping by the end though).

Is this perhaps a genre, and audience, specific trope?

CyberWar
May 18th, 2020, 11:13 AM
"Happily-ever-after" is probably a thing because people want to read about things they wanted to have themselves, as opposed to what they actually got - a dysfunctional marriage growing ever closer to divorce every year, an overworked and unhappy spouse constantly complaining about a lack of attention and likely having an affair because of it, a couple bratty and misbehaving kids constantly causing trouble at school, a shit-ton of bills and debts to pay, the financial burden of a having family increasing with every passing year despite one already working overtime, and no end in sight for it all.

So I think the easiest way to deny a female protagonist her happy ending is to just write the "ever-after" part that usually gets omitted in such stories. Depending on the character, she can then either figure out that family life is not for her, be consumed by it and become another miserable housewife stuck with a family and life that she hates, or merit from the experience and grow stronger and more mature, realizing that the "ever-after" is far from being all bunnies and roses and finding her "happy" part in doing so.

apocalypsegal
May 18th, 2020, 01:07 PM
I would like to write a female lead who can stand on her own, no love story involved.

Then write that story. You have no control over what others write, and really don't know what their reasoning was for the ending they chose. It could be that's what they like, or that's the only ending they could think of, or in the case of a Romance genre book it was the ending expected of the genre.

Foxee
May 18th, 2020, 03:42 PM
There is a certain imperative to biology that each person (and each character) has as part of their physical (and mental) makeup. Consider hormones at the very least. Humanity is made with a certain amount of desire to reproduce, that's nature. To completely toss out any reference to this for a character who we're reading for the length of a novel would be to risk reducing their humanity.

Similarly, relationships are necessary to some extent for each person. The entire opposite, isolation, is considered a terrible punishment or an ascetic discipline.

Every human is a whole world of drives, beliefs, desires, mistakes. As writers we can focus on any part of these, any mixture.

Ripley (Alien) is a strong, admirable female character. So is Sarah Connor (Terminator) who not only loses nothing by motherhood but gains a gigantic motivation.

Male characters aren't all unattached loners. Think of Jack Ryan (not the Amazon thing, ugh) in Tom Clancy's books. Fatherhood is not where the plot typically focuses (though his family figured hugely in Patriot Games) but it is a part of who he is and part of his drive and passion for what he does.

How does your character view marriage and family for others? This is another part of being a whole person. There are many people who don't desire to create a family themselves but put a high value on other people who do so. Frankly, if I see a character, male or female, who hate marriage and family in general it makes me wary of them. It skews more to what I think of as dangerous-villain than dangerous-hero. I think because I view heroes as valuing life. If you have a hero who doesn't value life you can still make it work but they'd be some kind of antihero (Riddick).

So, sure, I don't think your female lead has to long for family and kids but what DOES she long for? If she's content as she is and doesn't want anything you've got not a female problem but a character problem because every character wants something (and often mis-wants or believes a lie). If they don't, you don't have a story.

Who does your character put value on? Some relationships that matter to them. Someone who, if threatened, that is like touching the hero's eyeball. Without this you might create a 'strong' character but I think you get more out of one with some vulnerabilities.

Consider Rizzoli & Isles (If you've never read/seen you might enjoy) whose friendship is unlikely at the beginning and unfolds through the series. Both are entirely focused on their jobs but also have personal relationships that add a push-pull to the story and who they are as people.

What I'm saying is that if you're creating the character who doesn't want to create a family that negative shouldn't be their defining characteristic. Sure they can hold that view but what DO they want, what and who DO they value?

bdcharles
May 18th, 2020, 04:16 PM
How should I do it?

I generally start with a character, or even a line of dialogue or description pertaining to them. You clearly have a theme in mind so give some thought also to your first line and your plot / your novel's end-state; what, in essence, do you want to happen?

If it helps I am writing such a book. If it helps more, I'm also looking for beta readers...

EmmaSohan
May 19th, 2020, 11:08 PM
I'm guessing you don't even want to raise issues about what happens to a character, unless that relates to your story.

In a book, there is usually a big hook, and when that gets resolved (climax), you don't quit the story. But that's because you probably have a lot of loose threads. So you have to resolve those. But beyond that is questionable. So if having children was an issue in your story, you might or probably will resolve that. But if not, it would be odd to bring that up.