History & Happily Ever After
I was thinking through a scene recently, toward the end of my current WIP, between the four major female characters. The scene will touch on their various plotlines and character arcs and where they the end of the book finds each woman. All four are ongoing characters in the series, but two are real, two fictional. Because it's a series, no one's plotline is neatly resolved in one book, and I don't think of my characters having nice, neat happily-every-after endings in any case. Yet in thinking about this scene, it occurred to me that already the two fictional characters have decidedly happier trajectories than the two real historical characters.
Which reminded me of why, much as I love to write about real historical characters and events, I prefer to have fictional central characters. I can create my own characters with their own personalities and story arcs. And part of that is that many fascinating real life historical figures not only did not have happily-ever-after lives, their stories could be called unhappy.
I admire Juliet's brilliant trilogy about Marie Antoinette for many reasons, one of which is that to write the books Juliet had to live for months with the French Queen's tragic life. Lauren and I have both written about Hortense Bonaparte, a favorite real life historical character of both of ours. Hortense was accomplished, clever, loyal, and seems to have been a genuinely nice, warm-hearted person. A devoted daughter, mother, and lover. Her story cries out for a happy ending. Instead she had a miserably unhappy marriage, lost one of her children to death and gave up another born out of wedlock, and ultimately lost the love of her life.
I'm looking forward to sharing fairy tales with my daughter (that's us above on Valentine's Day; I shamelessly still can't resist posting pictures of her). But I know that eventually we'll have to have a talk about how real life is more complicated than happily ever after. As I said, I like to think that my books show some of the complicated messiness of real life. Yet comparing my fictional and real characters, I wondered if the arcs I was creating for my fictional characters had more happily ever after in them than I realized. But I can't help but want the best for my characters, just as I do for my daughter (even if I put my characters through trials and adventures I certainly hope my daughter never encounters). And perhaps I like to think that real life can be, if not happily ever after, at least happier than not.
How much happily ever after do you like in novels, as a reader or a writer? When reading or writing about real historical characters does it bother you that their lives may have gone on to be less than idyllic? Do you sometimes wonder if fictional characters would go on to face some of the same challenges as their real life counterparts?