Tag Archives: plotting

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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The Missing Ingredient in Too Many Romance Novels

 

True medieval love

True medieval love.

The Over-stated Role of Attraction

There are a couple typical plots for romance novels, but most of them go something like this: Girl is frustrated at being single/sick of dating jerks/doesn’t have time for romance. Girl and Guy meet cute. Girl and Guy hate each other for some contrived reason (usually one of them is arrogant). Somehow they’re attracted anyway. They fall in love. Something happens to separate them (Lies! Misunderstandings! He’s actually a reporter in disguise! She spies him having dinner with a beautiful women who turns out to be his sister!) And once this simple barrier is overturned, after many, many pages of anguished heart-searching on the part of both of the Guy and the Girl, they realize that they are each other’s True Love and they get together. Forever, unless it’s a more modern, more cynical work.

My problem is that so often books skip over why they are attracted to each other in the first place.

Usually if they start by hating each other, the author explicitly points out that they are irrationally attracted to each other anyway, and at some point this irrational attraction overrules their better judgement and they get closer to each other. So, pretty much these romances are based on the fact that one character is a guy and one character is a girl, and thus they must be inherently attracted. The flaw in this plan, I think, is that not every girl and guy is attracted to each other. Especially if they’ve given each other good reason to hate each other. After all, I don’t fall in love with every arrogant jerk I run into. To me, using random irrational forces of attraction to get a couple together is a cop-out for the author. It was magic, I swear! 

I get the feeling that often the authors are not very committed to making their characters truly dislike each other. Because the author is pretty much in love with one character or another anyway, so of course their destined romantic partner will be too. Unfortunately, in real life, if you don’t like someone you usually need pretty strong evidence before you change your mind. Otherwise this dislike is merely a formality the romance novel has to get over – a puny little barrier that can be knocked over with one hand.

Honestly, I’ve read far too many books where once the ‘meet cute’ and ‘initial dislike’ is over, the plot grinds to a complete halt. I read one novel where the couple got together in the exact middle, and nothing else happened until the second-last chapter! Really, chapter after chapter of idyllic romantic scenes, when you haven’t given me any insight into what these two characters like about each other (other than ‘she’s beautiful,’ and he’s ‘confidant and handsome’), is less than enthralling.

So, tell me again why Romeo and Juliet like each other? Is it just because they can both make silly rhymes? (Says Romeo: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand/To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss. Quoth Juliet: Well, saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.) Or because it’s just thrilling that one is a Montague and the other is a Capulet? Sorry to harp on this particular couple so often, but they’ve been held up as the epitome of romantic love for so long, and I can’t understand why.

To beat another dead horse, in Pride and Prejudice both Darcy and Elizabeth find each other somewhat attractive at first (she is “tolerable,” and he is a “fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien”). Yet that does not prevent them from developing an intense dislike for each other – a dislike that takes the whole book to get over. That is character development. That is an obstacle to a romantic relationship that is not minimized by saying, “love conquers all,” (which is not true, anyway), but by treating it realistically.

Okay, so sometimes people are irrationally attracted, and sometimes they are stupid and get together with someone against their better judgement. Unfortunately, this usually ends in tragedy, not the run-of-the-mill happy endings applied to every romance novel.

 

Maybe I’ve just been reading really bad novels. Have you read any that were better than this?

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