Let’s Just Blame the Plot on Someone’s Sex Drive

The Problems with Leaving Romance up to “Overwhelming Attraction”

The Kiss

‘The Kiss,’ by Francesco Hayez

You know what I hate? I hate when romantic comedies or romance novels set up a perfectly good antagonistic relationship between two main characters (you know, where they take an instant dislike to each other, like in the beginning of Pride and Prejudice), and then easily overcome this obstacle by making them realize their mad attraction for each other. The characters go from screaming at each other from across the room, to climbing all over each other and unable to tear themselves away. Okay, I’m not going to argue it’s unrealistic. I know hormones can make people do crazy and unbelievable things (whether that’s a unjustifiable excuse for anything is another topic, but hey, I’m saying I know it happens). But I hate it when an author makes a sex drive over-rule everything that came before. The author spent half the book showing us how the characters can’t get along. And now we’re supposed to believe it’s all solved because the two had one make-out session in some deserted hallway or something?

I hate it because it’s lazy. I don’t care how realistic it is, it’s like the author realized they did their job a little too well and it seems impossible to justify that their two characters ever will get together. In Pride and Prejudice, it takes Elizabeth chapters and chapters for her to realize she’s misjudged Mr. Darcy. But if you don’t want to write chapters and chapters of someone’s internal thoughts, struggling to make them seem believable, you can just throw hormones into the mix, because isn’t that reality? I guess for me the problem is, in this case, that reality is unrealistic. And I want to read about how people process their changing opinions. Good fiction, for me, is opening a window into characters’ minds, not having characters jerked about by uncontrollable urges, random environmental events (like an earthquake from nowhere), or deus ex machinas. It just feels lazy. Real life doesn’t have a plot either, but fiction is pretty boring without one.

I guess it also doesn’t tell me anything about the characters, other than the fact they have a sex drive like everyone else. Part of the reason I enjoy well-written­ romance is because the interaction between two characters reveal more and more what the characters are like. For better or worse, they can’t hide who they are, and the other has to decide if they’re up for putting up with that or not. If you short-cut the process by throwing in “overwhelming attraction,” you end up with the kind of romance novels people laugh – cookie-cutter, cliché, with the main characters indistinguishable from the main characters of every cookie-cutter novel.

This is even worse in fanfiction. It’s shooting fish in a barrel to complain about fanfiction, because most writers are clearly amateur, but I have to bring it up anyway. (And yes, sometimes I do have to spend more time with characters after a book or movie is over, and passably written fanfiction is one way to do it. That, or write fanfiction myself – see my one-shots of Jane Austen). The basis of too much fanfiction is romantic relationships between characters that had no romantic relationship in the original work. So the antagonistic relationship, or even a lack of any relationship at all, is already set up for the would-be fanfiction writer. The problem now is to write the characters into an understanding. But what reason can you give to make enemies overcome their differences? Oh, just throw in a sex drive and everything will work itself out.

It’s even worse with characters that are supposed to be pretty emotionless already, like Sherlock Holmes or Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. I’m not saying you can’t write a pretty convincing story about them falling in love. It’s just going to take a lot of effort. A lot of believable plot events that make the characters re-evaluate everything they thought they knew about themselves. If Sherlock Holmes finds himself kissing Irene Adler or something, he’s not going to throw himself into a passionate relationship with her. He’s going to freak out. After all, Doctor Watson clearly says, “[Holmes] never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer — excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results.” Don’t you see – if such a thing were to happen, Sherlock Holmes would be in danger of no longer being Sherlock Holmes. It would throw his whole mental processes in doubt, and his mental processes are the basis of the Sherlock Holmes character.

And yes, I’ve read a few too many novels that have had this problem. Have you? Agree or disagree? Thoughts?

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5 Comments

Filed under Jane Austen, True Romance

5 responses to “Let’s Just Blame the Plot on Someone’s Sex Drive

  1. I think back to my high school days, and I’d say I had a fairly antagonistic relationship with one classmate. It only really went away the day we graduated and I knew I’d never have to see her again. Then again, knowing the inherent finality of “I may never see you again,” I didn’t want to leave on a bad note, so I respectively said something to the effect of “bye and have a nice life. No, seriously, have a great life.” Could we have been romantically interested in each other like people accused us of being? Not that the answer was “no,” but I didn’t see anything that would actually physically push us INTO a relationship. That’s what’s missing from so many of these romance stories: the actual catalyst (aside from sex drive) that pushes two people together instead of apart.

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    • Very true! Just because two people don’t like each other, doesn’t mean they could have a great romance together. Though if you watch enough movies, you might’ve thought so! Yes, there’s got to be something more to a novel than the characters just ignoring an initial dislike.

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  2. Alexia

    I feel like I have to defend fanfiction though. True, some of it is completely unbelievable when it comes to couples that only exist in the imagination of the fans ! But I have to say that sometimes the writing manages to make it believable and then it becomes interesting. I only read fanfiction about made-up couples actually. Cause if I want to read about the “real” couple, I can just pick up the book, you know ? And sometimes I find it very believable, it all depends on the writing. I hate when it’s starts with them realizing they’re hot for each other, I want the relationship to be complicated, cause even if it’s obvious for the writer that those two would make a cute couple, I need them to prove it to me, and not just by saying “Hum, why did I not notice it before ? I’m in love with this woman I hardly ever talk to” ^^

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    • I’m glad you’re defending fanfic! ‘Cuz I agree with you, when the writing manages to make it believable, then it can be a good story. Yes, the writer has to “prove” the relationship to me too, and it’s got to be a bit complicated. I suppose I should’ve been more clear in my post – not ALL fanfic has the problem I’m describing, but far too much of it does. But every once in a while you come across something that is good. 🙂

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  3. Pingback: Top Couples in Fiction, Breaking the Rules of Novel-Writing, Killing Off the Printed Book – All Discussed Here at Stories and Stuff in 2012! | Stories and Stuff

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