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In What Ways can a Heroine live "Happily Ever After" without having kids/marriage? (1 Viewer)

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MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
What could a heroine possibly do with her life once her epic quest is over that doesn't involve her getting married and having kids? With my childhood consisting of heroines who mostly had a "Happily Ever After" of getting married and having kids once their quest was over, I'm inspired to write heroines serving the antithesis of that (but still "Happily Ever After" of course!). I'm very supportive of women in real life who don't need a man (or another woman) and kids to make herself and her life feel complete and happy.

I find it cliche how many authors these days get super lazy with their heroines and slap marriage and kids on them at the end of their story. I don't like how some authors seem to force motherhood down a heroine's throat; the #1 example of this is Katniss from The Hunger Games...the author of that series felt like she forced motherhood onto Katniss and it didn't make any sense for her character (Katniss basically had kids only because her man Peeta "wanted them"...doesn't necessarily mean she wanted them herself, she did it to keep her man). I was pretty upset with how Katniss was portrayed like that. Like...there are an infinite number of ways a woman can live her life that doesn't involve finding a man and having babies.

I would like some of you to list some examples of how a heroine could live her life "Happily Ever After" that doesn't involve any romance/marriage and doesn't involve her birthing/adopting kids at all. Could be an example you make up or, even better, a work of literature you've read that involves a heroine as I've described. One example I like is a heroine who serves/served in the military and she could be a teacher/trainer/role model to the next generation of men/women serving in the military. Reading something like that would put a smile on my face and feel happy for such a woman. Her life's calling is to serve and protect her country and reading her "Happily Ever After" like that would make me feel so good. A female military vet getting married and having kids after the war is over doesn't make that much sense to me...not for every woman. Maybe the female military vet wants a quiet, peaceful life after her mission is complete. There are so many ways you can write a heroine's ending and make the readers feel happy. I roll my eyes every time I read about a badass heroine and they almost always end up as wives and mothers after their adventures are over; I respect such endings to certain characters if it feels right, but it's not right for every single woman out there.

So yes...I'm trying to brainstorm up a few possibilities of where my heroine (along with some of her girl friends who aid in her quest) could go with her life after her epic quest is over without motherhood and marriage being in her future. Please help?
 

escorial

WF Veterans
What will make the readers happy might be dif from your heroine who might end up a happy drunk,functional drug user or weird loner...whatever angle you take it's prob been done before so I would suggest a suicide as so many vets do.
 

LadySilence

Senior Member
Sure, it is possible.


I'd like to read a heroin like that.
Happy with his life, without the moral obligation that society imposes: children and marriage. (unfortunately almost always between male and female.)
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Do author's still do a happily-ever-after? The author sets up problems to be resolved, and I think has a commitment to resolve them by the end of the book. But then most authors seem to consider themselves done. And then a few tack on something about what happens to the character in the future, but it usually seems tacked on.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Do author's still do a happily-ever-after? The author sets up problems to be resolved, and I think has a commitment to resolve them by the end of the book. But then most authors seem to consider themselves done. And then a few tack on something about what happens to the character in the future, but it usually seems tacked on.

I think the concept of happy-ever-after (HEA) is outdated because it's unrealistic. HFN (happy-for-now) is more popular because it's closer to our experiences in life. My goal is to get my characters into a good or at least stable condition at the end of the story.

Something I heard long ago, and strongly believe in, is that when a writer creates characters our goal is to make the reader care enough about them that after they read the final page they wonder what happened to them the next day. With that in mind HFN works.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
Happily Ever After kind of loses its believability after the readership exits the age for fairytales. Naturally a 5-year-old would like to go to bed believing that the bedtime story ends with the characters all safe and happy forever. Less likely to have nightmares that way.

And then life bites you right on the ass. If it doesn't do it sooner, it certainly does it later and pretty soon there's a readership that won't believe you if you try to sell them a happily ever after.

So it might be easier to think of it in terms of up-endings, down-endings, or ironic endings (both up and down at the same time). These are discussed in Robert McKee's excellent book "Story".

Essentially, then, characters have been trying to get/achieve/do something through the whole book. Characters want things and the story is about how they're attempting to bring their wants about. An up-ending would just be the successful resolution of what your character wants.

One thing that occurs to me with the character whom I suspect you're asking about quite a bit is that you're putting your attempts and her wants into a negative. She doesn't want to be tied down with a husband and babies, she will fight this, she will defy her family, she doesn't want something.

Ok, cool, but it seems like you need to turn this into what she does want. In fact in your post on this thread you asked:
"I would like some of you to list some examples of how a heroine could live her life..."
And that hits the problem right on. You need to find out what this character DOES want now that you've sort out what she doesn't want. Maybe her story is how she goes about figuring that out, I don't know.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I find it cliche how many authors these days get super lazy with their heroines and slap marriage and kids on them at the end of their story. I don't like how some authors seem to force motherhood down a heroine's throat; the #1 example of this is Katniss from The Hunger Games...the author of that series felt like she forced motherhood onto Katniss and it didn't make any sense for her character (Katniss basically had kids only because her man Peeta "wanted them"...doesn't necessarily mean she wanted them herself, she did it to keep her man). I was pretty upset with how Katniss was portrayed like that. Like...there are an infinite number of ways a woman can live her life that doesn't involve finding a man and having babies.


So yes...I'm trying to brainstorm up a few possibilities of where my heroine (along with some of her girl friends who aid in her quest) could go with her life after her epic quest is over without motherhood and marriage being in her future. Please help?

Totally agree! I just finished reading a corporate thriller where the FMC was a hard-nose stockbroker. She falls in love with an undercover FBI agent who is investigating her firm. Ok that part was fine. It had a pretty stock ending, all the characters worked together to entrap the bad guys. But then out of nowhere there is an epilogue in the form of a letter, addressed to the FMC from one of the other characters. She says in the letter: "Of course you must be excited about the arrival of the new baby." Gag!!

I am thinking about my favourite protagonists now, and they all do at some point have kids and/or a husband at the end or the potential for them. I found it very off-putting when Carrie ends up with Big in the end of SITC. The whole series was about her chasing after someone who was unobtainable...that was interesting, why destroy it in the end? But then I don't think Bushnell would have written it that way without the movie.

But I think we need to analyze why this is. Do authors feel the urge to include this because they want their audience to relate to their FMC. Do we believe that people who don't have children are inherently flawed in some way? Are are we just trying to appeal to the masses? Because whatever the reason, we would likely have to create an ending that captures the same sentiment. So things like charitable causes come to mind. Starting a foundation, or support group...but then that all sounds so cliche as well...yuk! I'm not helping I know...but I will be interested to see what other things people come up with in the responses to your post.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Totally agree! I just finished reading a corporate thriller where the FMC was a hard-nose stockbroker. She falls in love with an undercover FBI agent who is investigating her firm. Ok that part was fine. It had a pretty stock ending, all the characters worked together to entrap the bad guys. But then out of nowhere there is an epilogue in the form of a letter, addressed to the FMC from one of the other characters. She says in the letter: "Of course you must be excited about the arrival of the new baby." Gag!!

I am thinking about my favourite protagonists now, and they all do at some point have kids and/or a husband at the end or the potential for them. I found it very off-putting when Carrie ends up with Big in the end of SITC. The whole series was about her chasing after someone who was unobtainable...that was interesting, why destroy it in the end? But then I don't think Bushnell would have written it that way without the movie.

But I think we need to analyze why this is. Do authors feel the urge to include this because they want their audience to relate to their FMC. Do we believe that people who don't have children are inherently flawed in some way? Are are we just trying to appeal to the masses? Because whatever the reason, we would likely have to create an ending that captures the same sentiment. So things like charitable causes come to mind. Starting a foundation, or support group...but then that all sounds so cliche as well...yuk! I'm not helping I know...but I will be interested to see what other things people come up with in the responses to your post.

I find it useful to consider a character's primary motive. The notion of having the standard family unit that includes kids is often programmed into kids by watching their parents. Many of us become our parents - for better or worse. The idea that every woman wants to grow a human and have it crawl screaming out of her genitals is just crazy... as is that of a man that wants a wife, kids, and a mundane house in suburbia.

When writing, I do my best to look beyond societal programming concerning what characters SHOULD want, and instead look at what drives them. Sometimes that is suburbia and kids, but other times not.

In my WIP, the FMC was adopted and raised in a foster family - and subsequently abused there. The absolute last thing she wants is that sort of environment. Instead, her primary driver for all her decisions is fear. She was abused, and so wants to be safe. She was dominated, and so dominates others in return, she was abused and so becomes an abuser herself.

In that same work, the MMC was raised in a forced labor camp. As a child he saw he father pinned beneath a boulder, and the guards made bets on how long it would take him to die. This characters driver is anger. He has no compassion for those in authority, and earns money killing them - in especially brutal ways.

So, break everything down and consider what core emotion drives their decisions?
 

MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
Totally agree! I just finished reading a corporate thriller where the FMC was a hard-nose stockbroker. She falls in love with an undercover FBI agent who is investigating her firm. Ok that part was fine. It had a pretty stock ending, all the characters worked together to entrap the bad guys. But then out of nowhere there is an epilogue in the form of a letter, addressed to the FMC from one of the other characters. She says in the letter: "Of course you must be excited about the arrival of the new baby." Gag!!

I am thinking about my favourite protagonists now, and they all do at some point have kids and/or a husband at the end or the potential for them. I found it very off-putting when Carrie ends up with Big in the end of SITC. The whole series was about her chasing after someone who was unobtainable...that was interesting, why destroy it in the end? But then I don't think Bushnell would have written it that way without the movie.

But I think we need to analyze why this is. Do authors feel the urge to include this because they want their audience to relate to their FMC. Do we believe that people who don't have children are inherently flawed in some way? Are are we just trying to appeal to the masses? Because whatever the reason, we would likely have to create an ending that captures the same sentiment. So things like charitable causes come to mind. Starting a foundation, or support group...but then that all sounds so cliche as well...yuk! I'm not helping I know...but I will be interested to see what other things people come up with in the responses to your post.

I feel that the authors who write such ending for FMC's is because they are trying to appeal to the masses since the majority of humans on this planet have children. It's pretty dumb in my opinion. I feel bad for the women who are childfree and yet their family and friends try to shove motherhood down their throats. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a childfree woman; from my experience, the childfree women in my life actually have the biggest hearts, the hardest-working, and healthiest and happiest people I know. Childfree women also have more self-love and more body positivity than their parental counterparts; they're more confident in their own skin.

I find it cliche how most FMC's I've read end up having kids and it feels SO FORCED. Ugh...my main heroine...I think her "Happily Ever After" would be living a nice and peaceful quiet life on an island or something. No kids of course. I would imagine my readers should feel happy for her, after how crazy her story is and how much hell she's been through.
 
You mention a "nice peaceful quiet life on an island" ... so I believe you've answered your own question. However, if you want more ideas, here's some thoughts:

First, Happily Ever After vs. Happy For Now. I agree that if your goal is to imitate the primary world (what we call 'real life'), I agree that Happy For Now is more realistic. However, there are aspects of reality that we might think of as ideal or mythical reality or (in my view) spiritual or ultimate reality. If what you're writing is meant to be more of a myth (as in a metanarrative, think Star Wars, Narnia, etc.) then a Happily Ever After ending is not only acceptable but, in some cases, necessary. Bottom line is, both HEA and HFN work, in different contexts.

Now, the reason why many stories' Happily Ever After involves "married with children" may be because high-action, high-adventure stories involve a desire for safety and security. The characters (male or female) endure the trial of physical conflict and when they arrive at the end, having a family demonstrates they feel safe enough to create new life -- and also suggests a happy future beyond that of the protagonists' lifetime. However, maybe you're asking what other ways there are to show that.

Some possibilities:
- the MC becoming a mentor/trainer (you mentioned this); for example, a story about a novice swordswoman could end with her becoming a master and selecting her own pupil. A story about the leader of a revolution could end with her sitting in her home in their new nation, telling others war stories.
- some symbol of security or new life -- your island home could be something like this. The seeds in Mad Max Fury Road played a similar role.
- the MC creates a lasting work of some kind: writes down her story, plants a garden, builds a town, founds a nation or society, etc etc

Now, maybe you're asking something different: maybe you're asking about ways to create closure other than security or new life. In that case, there are as many ways as there are good things in the world -- things your MC may be seeking. Maybe she's seeking acceptance, and her Happily Ever After is the friend she's always wanted. Maybe she's seeking a sense of worth or importance, and her Happily Ever After is honor or a legacy. Maybe, her Happily Ever After is right back where she started but with a greater sense of peace, and the wrongs of the world righted (that's your classic 'ride off into the sunset' ending).

Some endings I've done or plan to do:
- Seeing God. I'm a Christian, so I think this is the happiest ever after you can get.
- A meeting of the magical and ordinary worlds. I write some surreal stories where there's the tension of two realms of reality, and the closure at the end involves their interaction -- essentially: no, the protagonist isn't dreaming or crazy, but the ordinary world is validated, too.
- Freedom (from illusion, for example. I have a story that ends with a character waking up from a false dream-world).
- Finding a home.
- Redemption or becoming a better person.

Hopefully this gets your gears turning, if you still need the help!
 
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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
I just asked my wife about the female detective in Nora Robert's (J. D. Robb's) "In Death" series. It's into the 40's now in count, and I don't have good news for you. Her lead got married in book three, and my wife reports that Roberts has said when the detective gets pregnant it will signal the end of the series.

It strikes me this is not a "heroine only" question. For every married heroine with kids, there's likely her male protagonist who is in partnership with the situation.

By age 40, only 15% of women in the USA are childless (per 2018 data). I would assume that in some of the 15%, infertility either for the woman, or in the relationship, is a reason. I couldn't find information about what the percentage is "by choice".

The impetus to have children is not simply a pressure of society. As much reason as we achieve, we are still biologically a high form of animal, and not all instinct or biological influence is removed.

So, you have to write to the minority percentage who don't have children because they choose not to (or not to marry). So few stories actually end anymore (I again reference "In Death" with 40+ novels), that it seems entirely acceptable to kick that can down the road.
 
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ehbowen

Senior Member
I'm going to take the opposite view here. Marriage and family is such a common ideal because the human race is, by definition, hard-wired to perpetuate itself. And that means kids. Why, if the best and the brightest among us weren't motivated to pass on their genes, we would find ourselves living in a situation like Idiocracy....

Uh...

Nevermind. Forget I said anything.
 

apocalypsegal

Senior Member
Depends on the genre. In Romance, the couple gets the HEA or HFN, whether it's marriage or children, they are together.

In other genres, HEA isn't a necessity, so however you see her story going on is up to you. It should relate to the plot and the tone of the story, though.
 
Depends on the genre. In Romance, the couple gets the HEA or HFN, whether it's marriage or children, they are together.
.

Oh, yeah. That's a thought. To the OP: Are you reading a lot of YA? That may be why you're encountering a lot of married-with-children endings. Because many YA books have a romance element, and the natural happy conclusion of a romance is marriage with children.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
Give her a career, friends, a loving community. Have people recognize her awesome achievements. Maybe have her get married. Who says marriage requires children to be happy? Have her fix society if that's her goal and let her reap the (positive) consequences.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
The term "Happily Ever After" is in and of itself unrealistic. Whoever wrote that could not have been married. Marriage is a working partnership that continues to be work as long as the couple is together. And kids, they are a lifelong project (hopefully).

As for marriage and children as the finale of story, they are signposts for adulthood and domestic peace. Of course, if a person doesn't like the idea of marriage and prefers to be single for the rest of their lives, that's up to them, but you can't deny the social implications of married with children and what it means to the vast majority of human societies.

It's kind of a shorthand for inner and outer peace, a final transformation of a character's growth that manifests as the ability to maintain a healthy relationship with another person.


And I paired and baby'd up my female main character in my last manuscript. So yeah, there's that.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
Can't you just resolve the main conflict in some way that suggests the possibility or likelihood of a happy ending or finding contentment etc? Then people can use their imaginations...
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
It might also be worth looking beyond the things that she doesn't want (dealing with kids, having the marks of pregnancy on her body, whatever other horrors she's making of this) and really past the whole process of marriage/babies to where that leads to having a family.

If someone doesn't want to build a family the "traditional" way that doesn't necessarily mean that they don't want satisfying relationships (unless we're talking about a hermit or other hard-core loner) so perhaps an up-ending might be the promise that she's got people who are with her. A crew, a squad, compatriots, call them what you will.

Also, it might bear mentioning that this whole 'childfree' idea might have been super edgy in the 50's but it won't be now except for a very few.
 

Newman

Senior Member
What could a heroine possibly do with her life once her epic quest is over that doesn't involve her getting married and having kids? With my childhood consisting of heroines who mostly had a "Happily Ever After" of getting married and having kids once their quest was over, I'm inspired to write heroines serving the antithesis of that (but still "Happily Ever After" of course!). I'm very supportive of women in real life who don't need a man (or another woman) and kids to make herself and her life feel complete and happy.

I find it cliche how many authors these days get super lazy with their heroines and slap marriage and kids on them at the end of their story. I don't like how some authors seem to force motherhood down a heroine's throat; the #1 example of this is Katniss from The Hunger Games...the author of that series felt like she forced motherhood onto Katniss and it didn't make any sense for her character (Katniss basically had kids only because her man Peeta "wanted them"...doesn't necessarily mean she wanted them herself, she did it to keep her man). I was pretty upset with how Katniss was portrayed like that. Like...there are an infinite number of ways a woman can live her life that doesn't involve finding a man and having babies.

I would like some of you to list some examples of how a heroine could live her life "Happily Ever After" that doesn't involve any romance/marriage and doesn't involve her birthing/adopting kids at all. Could be an example you make up or, even better, a work of literature you've read that involves a heroine as I've described. One example I like is a heroine who serves/served in the military and she could be a teacher/trainer/role model to the next generation of men/women serving in the military. Reading something like that would put a smile on my face and feel happy for such a woman. Her life's calling is to serve and protect her country and reading her "Happily Ever After" like that would make me feel so good. A female military vet getting married and having kids after the war is over doesn't make that much sense to me...not for every woman. Maybe the female military vet wants a quiet, peaceful life after her mission is complete. There are so many ways you can write a heroine's ending and make the readers feel happy. I roll my eyes every time I read about a badass heroine and they almost always end up as wives and mothers after their adventures are over; I respect such endings to certain characters if it feels right, but it's not right for every single woman out there.

So yes...I'm trying to brainstorm up a few possibilities of where my heroine (along with some of her girl friends who aid in her quest) could go with her life after her epic quest is over without motherhood and marriage being in her future. Please help?


The "marriage/kids" thing is a function of healing, basically symbolic of some damage being repaired. The root is to heal the damage to make whole again. It's gender independent.
 

BornForBurning

Senior Member
What bothers me about this question is how presumptuous it seems regarding one's own protagonist. The lead gets the end she deserves. Some girls get kissed, married, and pregnant. That's the logical end point of their arc. Other girls don't. You might know at the beginning what ending works, and you might not. It's not particularly important. What's important is that you write the ending that works for the protagonist you've chosen. If you're having trouble visualizing your protagonist in a 'childfree' marriage, that's probably because your protagonist isn't supposed to be childfree.
 
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