Emily Henry says Happy Place is 'not the funny, light book' she set out to initially write
Get ready to have your hearts broken... but in a good way.
Emily Henry's latest novel, Happy Place, follows the story of two former fiancés (Harriet and Wyn) tasked with the challenge of pretending they are still together in front of their four closest friends. As Harriet and Wyn play the role of a loving engaged couple, the two are faced with why they broke up and reminded why the loved each other in the first place. What could possibly go wrong?
When asked where the idea for this story came from, Henry explained that "the idea of exes having to date more had to do with the fact that I was watching a lot of comedies of remarriages from the '40s." Henry goes on to explain she wanted to tell her own version of this story. "I loved that the basic premise was that these couples have already fallen in love once and you may or may not get to see that on screen," says Henry. "Getting you to root for a relationship that has already ended is a huge challenge, and that's how I choose my next book. I think the second chance of it all is what really drew me into the story." Henry tells EW that she's constantly looking for something "that she hasn't done before."
Henry says that Happy Place was anything but easy to write once she got into it. "I wrote a first draft fairly quickly, but it was one of the worst drafts I have ever written in my life and so it was very much a book that took every single draft to whip into shape," Henry explains. "It was kind of down to the wire — to where I was getting multiple existences for every revision."
"I set out with this concept thinking: Oh this is gonna be really funny and screwball. It's such a ridiculous scenario. It's gonna be so much fun," she says. But then Henry "got to know the characters better" and quickly realized it was more complex than she initially thought.
"There are these two characters and they love each other so we have to give them a really good reason to have broken up. It was just not the funny, light book that I set out to write," says Henry. "A lot of the revision was me trying to find the sense of the humor in the book and those screwballer, slapstick moments in this scenario that is kinda ridiculous. A lot of it was just trying to get the right mood and tone."
That tone Henry was searching for very clearly came when she wrote about Harriet's first morning in the Maine house. "The first morning where Harriet wakes up at the house — I felt like that was me slipping into the tone that I actually wanted to harness for the book," Henry explains. "And I think it was one of the first things that I wrote where I felt like: Okay. I get it. I got where this is going and I understand approximately where I need to put that line that they're riding between dealing with their past hurts/history, as well as having fun arguing with each other."
Aside from approaching the second chance romance and fake-dating tropes for the first time, Henry also decided to add one more challenge: working with a bigger cast.
"It was the first time I had worked with a bigger cast and I wanted every character to feel really important to the story," Henry tells EW. "I wanted every relationship between Harriet and one of her friends to feel lived in and real. A lot of it was trying to find that right balance."
Henry explains that because she wants her characters to feel "real" she does draw from her own life, but "nobody is an exact copy of one friend." "I pulled a bunch of pieces from people and kind of melded them together. Cleo is a farmer who has vegetable tattoos on her knuckles and I do have a friend who is a farmer with vegetable tattoos. There's definitely pieces of every single character that I could map to my life," says Henry.
"I'm a writer who tends to overwrite, which is trouble in the writing phase, but great as far as really knowing my characters. There are full scenes that were written into drafts that never made it into the book because it wasn't necessary for the main plot but it was really helpful in knowing the other characters," Henry says of her writing process. "There's a whole extended scene where Sabrina and Harriet visit Cleo's parents in New Orleans. It helped me understand her better, and there's a whole lot of that that just does not make it into the book."
In addition to the larger cast, there was one scene in particular that gave Henry some trouble. Without giving too much away, when Harriet and Wyn are at the climax of pretending they're still together, their friends suggest that they all go out to a bar. Harriet and Wyn quickly realize that if they were still together then this night would be filled with drinking, dancing, and some PDA. This leads the two to play into the facade, thinking how far is too far and how could this not be real?
"There were so many versions of that. I do think the first version was much sadder, so we thought, 'Well this needs to be more fun cause there's this premise that I'm promising the readers.' I'm writing fake-dating between exes so there has to be some fun there. The bar scene took so much choreographing in my mind, emotionally," explains Henry. "Understanding the characters better really helped with that and understanding what the tension would be between. That's why we love enemies-to-lovers. We love the idea of tension — these two people who are pulling in opposite directions and pushing against each other."
Although Harriet and Wyn have major tension between them like most enemies-to-lovers do, Henry wouldn't necessarily classify this story as that. "It's funny how I tend to do all of these stories that start out as enemies-to-lovers, but the enemies part of it never gets up off the ground because I'm just like 'I want them to like each other. I want them to respect each other,'" Henry says. "And really I think enemies-to-lovers is so hard to do well because you're looking for that believability that these people are really enemies, but also I, as a reader, have a hard time if they've crossed a line where there's been blatant disrespect. It's hard for me to then get on board with the romance. I think every time I write enemies-to-lovers, it pretty quickly leaves the territory of enemies."
At the end of the day, Happy Place is about accepting happiness. "I hope that [fans] really feel like they can take whatever path they actually want. When I was writing Happy Place I was really trying to give my readers permission for happiness," Henry says. "It's kind of a weird thing that we don't feel like we are allowed to be happy. We have to stick out whatever we start and I just hope that people who are ready for a change feel a little lighter and more empowered to choose whatever makes them happy."
Happy Place is available here.
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