Tag Archives: romance

Why Some Girls Like Mr. Darcy

Mr Darcy {{PD-US}}

Maybe this post should actually be called ‘why I like Mr. Darcy,’ but I flatter myself these reasons might be shared by other females.

Mr. Darcy gets a lot of flak from guys. He’s just some woman’s imagination of the perfect guy, no real guy acts like that, women in general should just grow up and settle for reality (etc., etc.) And, well, some reasons for liking him are a little flimsy. He’s good-looking? Well, he’s a literary character, so you get to imagine him as good-looking as you like (and while the novel does describe him as handsome, the bad boy of the book, Wickham, is called more handsome). You could point out he’s rich, or that he’s well-mannered, but run the risk of being called mercenary, or looking like you want every guy to throw his coat over a puddle for you. No, there’s several very good reasons for enjoying Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and I shall list them below.

He’s Bad at Talking to People

When I first read Pride and Prejudice, I really had no idea what it was about or what exactly was going to happen, but this part is what first gave me some fellow feeling for Mr. Darcy in the novel. Elizabeth is teasing him for being so quiet at the dance she first met him at (she accuses him of pride, which was partly the reason.) And he replies, “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess, of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

Oh, Mr. Darcy, you too? A man described as handsome and rich, who still fumbles around in conversations with strangers? Well, then, I feel a bit better at possessing this flaw myself. If you can’t think of anything to talk about, why should someone so much less interesting as myself, ever be good at it? You don’t know how many times I’ve stood across from someone for many long, awkward minutes, with my mind going a mile a minute and still not having a word to say. While everyone around me can strike up a conversation without any effort at all.

I’m afraid I come off rude sometimes too, without meaning to be. Hopefully I don’t come off as proud. That’s what everyone Elizabeth knows first thinks of Darcy.

Yes, Jane Austen gave me something to relate to in her hero, and this is one big reason I can get on board with the whole Pride and Prejudice fan bandwagon.

He Actually Makes a Move

Mr. Darcy does not wait around ninety percent of the book, too scared to find out what the heroine thinks of him (which too many romance novels do). Jane Austen is not fumbling around for some device to drag out her plot, and does not decide to make him get this close to saying something to Elizabeth, before being frustratingly interrupted. No, he actually gets up and walks over to where Elizabeth is staying, and asks her to marry him. (Okay, it’s be a bit strange if a guy who liked you just straight-up proposed to you nowadays, but at least Elizabeth isn’t in the dark about how he feels). And – take note of this, guys – he does get brutally shot down. But at least he took the risk. And the plot moves on!

When females try to explain to males what Mr. Darcy’s attraction is, they don’t often explain this, but I think it plays a role. None of this ‘secret admirer for years’ stuff. He’ll actually tell you to your face how he’s feeling.

He’s Flawed

This might be a point for the writer in me, but I love how Mr. Darcy is not a perfect paragon of virtue, and it is his very flaws that separate him from Elizabeth for most of the novel. They always tell writers that heroes that are too perfect are boring to read about. Yet, for some reason, romance novels still keep pulling out endlessly romantic and caring dudes with rippling abs. Even when the heroine gives the guy ample reason to throw in the towel! But no, this guy is sincere and loves the girl for who she is… blah, blah, blah.

Anyway, this point directly contradicts the charge that Mr. Darcy is “too unrealistic.” I’ll admit finding a good-looking, virtuous guy who also happens to be rich is stretching things a little far, but the fact he has flaws makes him more believable. He can’t quite take a joke, not even by the end of the novel. And he is proud. He tones it down a bit by the end, but he has pride in spades. This gets toned down a bit in the movie adaptions, I think (at least in the Keira Knightley one), but for a long time he was not ashamed at all for breaking up Jane and Bingley because he really thought Jane was beneath Bingley. He actually, while proposing to Elizabeth, spends a long chunk of time describing how he’s lowering himself to do so (you wonder why she shot him down, huh?) In his letter to her, he still insists he did right by Bingley. And by the end, he still can’t quite take all of Elizabeth’s teasing, as I mentioned before.

At least he’s consistent. “Love” doesn’t turn him into the opposite of everything he’d been throughout the book before – unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen in too many novels before too.

Anyway, there’s my two cents on that. Are there any more reasons you can add?

(This post contains affiliate links)

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Filed under Jane Austen, True Romance

Harder to Write Romance Than Criticize It

The Kiss

'The Kiss,' by Francesco Hayez

“If you think it’s so awful, why don’t you try to do it yourself?”

That’s the sort of thing you get thrown at you if you criticize something. No one’s said it specifically to me, even after going on and on about ‘The Trouble With Modern Romance,’ ‘Healthy Romance Makes Bad Novels,’ and ‘The Missing Ingredient in Too Many Romance Novels’ – but you may have been thinking it. Well, let me assure you that romance is one thing I write often, and it is harder to write than it looks.

Want to know if I’ve succeeded? Check out my latest short story, Johnnie’s Girl, on Amazon. Better yet – today it’s free! Let me know what you think.

Ps: You can also look at my work under the Stories tab at the top, but those are emphatically rough drafts, and they don’t come on your Kindle with a cool cover.

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Filed under On Writing

No Thanks, to the Guy Reciting Poetry Under My Balcony

Or, Romantic Reality vs. Fiction

What a Romantic!

The Gallant Officer, by F.Soulacroix. {{PD-US-not renewed}}

If some of the things that happen in romance novels happened to me in real life, I’d probably run the other way. It might make sense in the tightly structured, well-plotted world of the novel, but in the messy real world, not so much. After all, real life doesn’t have a plot, and it has far more dead ends and far less plot armour.

Take love at first sight. It never made sense to me that Romeo and Juliet could be madly in love after a few dances at a ball and a chat on a balcony – enough to run off and get married at the ripe old age of thirteen and twenty-ish, respectively. Here everyone is screaming at me that it’s fiction, and written by Shakespeare on top of that (and of course you have to be a literary genius yourself if you even dream of criticizing Shakespeare). But okay, I’ll go along with this story as long as I have a healthy suspension of disbelief. If, in real life, a guy proposed marriage the day after he met me, I’d freak out. (He doesn’t know anything about me yet! What crazy idea of me did he get into his head that convinced him I should be his partner for life?)

Then there’s the things the romantic hero does for the girl in these books. The worst example here is Twilight, of course. I’d never, ever, ever want a guy standing by my window watching me sleep, before I even had an inkling that he liked me. Yet somehow, because this is fiction, girls all over the world have called this ‘romantic.’ I disagree, but only by limiting such actions to a fictional world can anyone even make the argument that it is romantic. After all, in fiction the heroine can be reasonably sure the guy is actually ‘good,’ because up until that point he’s been hitting all the plot points that mark him out as the romantic hero. (In real life, you wouldn’t be waiting to see if he has a good heart or not, you’d be calling the police). Also, because she is the heroine, she can be reasonably sure he’s not going to murder her in her bed – that’s what I meant by ‘plot armour’ in the first paragraph. If it’s a tragedy, he could possibly murder her at the end, but considering this occurs halfway through the book, and the girl is our main character and point of view so far, it isn’t likely he’ll murder her now. So readers who enjoy this kind of thing can make the argument that in this particular fictional situation, these actions are ‘romantic.’

But my main point is this: some things that in books make me go awwwwwwww, would make me feel horribly uncomfortable and awkward in real life. And this is okay, as long as you recognize it – fiction is not real life, and awareness of the gap between the two is essential (otherwise you’ll be wishing to live in a dream world). And it’s good for authors to know this too. Some things that sound ridiculous if they were to happen to you today, may very well be the perfect addition to your story. Fiction, after all, is all about exaggeration.

In real life, I’d want a guy to do stuff that shows he thinks about me and cares about me, but not to go over the top. Not to do something crazy to prove to the whole world how WONDERFUL our relationship is, and how utterly devoted we are to each other. Fictional relationships are three-way relationships, with the couple mainly performing actions for the benefit of the reader. The characters have to exaggerate in fiction, to bang into the poor reader’s head that this is ‘true love.’ But in real life, I’d hope we wouldn’t have to put on a show for anyone. It’s enough that just me and the guy I like know.

Those are my thoughts on reality vs. fiction in romance – what’s yours?

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Filed under True Romance, Twilight

Top Ten of 2011: Ugly People, E-Publishing, and Limericks

Fireworks by Semnoz. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

OR, Why People Read Stories and Stuff

It’s Quotable Wednesday today, and since it’s coming up on a year since I started blogging regularly, what better way to celebrate than to quote myself? So here is a list of the Top Ten Most Viewed posts of 2011, brought to you by Stories and Stuff.

First up: The Case for Ugly Romantic Interests

I guess I wasn’t the only one who noticed how rare ugly romantic interests are. And strangely enough, I left Shrek off the list, though he’s one of the most obvious ones.

2.) The E-Publishing Experiment

E-publishing is an extremely hot topic among writers at the moment, so I guess this isn’t a surprise. Once my experiment is a little more under way, I may update on how the journey went sometime.

3.) Do You Need to be Younger than 40 to Write Great Novels?

I have no idea why this one is so popular, since I never thought about this question till I read the article about it. Still, the question is intriguing when you think about it.

4.) Frustration

This one was a surprise for me also, but I guess frustration is a very common human emotion. This post was on the frustration of not being able to find time to write while being in school.

5.) Fanfiction: For Geeks Only?

I never realized quite how popular fanfiction actually was, till I wrote posts about it. I kept it quite a secret for a long time that I wrote fanfiction at all. This post was about how useful writing fanfiction can be for a writer.

The last 5 posts will be my fiction posts, since it makes sense to me to list them separately. The fiction and non-fiction were all mixed together in my stats lists, which again surprised me, because I thought less people would read fiction online than blog posts. Anyway:

1.) Chapter 1: On the Train to Hogwarts (Unexpected Situations)

Yes, my fanfiction beats out all my original works. Oh well, Harry Potter is very popular, so this makes sense.

2.) Limerick

Really? My poetry comes in a number 2? Or do people really search “limerick” that often, and click on whatever pops up? I can’t say this is an especially good limerick. 

3.) Thoughts of Mr. Knightley, A Missing Chapter from Emma

I’m glad people appreciate Emma as much as I do.

4.) Of Long Noses and Light Feet: Chapter 1 (Why Polly?)

Good, my most recent story is well up there. Introducing Polly, and how she begins to get into scrapes with princesses, enchanters, and dangerous magical creatures…

 

Okay, I could put one more fiction example, but I want to put two commonly searched terms in the last spot instead. One term is “abolish the monarchy.” Apparently my post on The Royal Wedding – Will We Abolish the Monarchy? hit a chord with anti-monarchists. And the other term is “Edith Tolkien.” I had no idea she was so popular.

What was your favourite post of the year?

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The Top Literary Couples as Bad Examples

Juliet Awakes {PD-US}

Healthy Romance Makes Bad Novels, Part II

Last week, I argued that healthy, functioning romances (which we’d probably all enjoy in real life) have trouble generating the kind of conflict that drives romance novels. Logically, the next step would be for me to look at some famous literary romances and see if they were healthy or not. Here goes:

 Romeo and Juliet

First of all, they’re teenagers. Juliet is thirteen. Teenagers aren’t exactly known for being clear-headed, or having well-thought-out romances with each other. Besides that, the two of them get married after knowing each other for a day. A day, and they’re supposed to be desperately in love with each other. Let’s examine their conversation before they tie the knot:

– a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet

– Oh no, you’re a Capulet/Montague!

– Parting is such a sweet sorrow

Does Juliet know Romeo’s strategy for dealing with a crisis is to bawl his eyes out in the friar’s cell? Or run through her cousin with a sword? Wouldn’t you kind of want to know how your husband acts in a tough spot before you marry him?

She doesn’t know him well enough to realize he’ll lose his head if he thinks she’s actually dead, and agrees to a plan where absolutely everything can (and does) go wrong. Which is why the story ends in tragedy.

 Wuthering Heights

Yeah, I’m kicking a book when it’s down here, because NO ONE’s going to argue Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship is healthy. But their destructive conflict certainly drives the plot. On one hand, Catherine marries another man because to marry the one she loves would be ‘degrading.’ In other words, pride trumps treating another person well. Of course, Catherine claims she’s marrying for money in order to better Heathcliff’s life, not bothering to think maybe it’d be downright humiliating to be rescued by the husband of the girl you love. On the other, Heathcliff marries another woman to spite her, holds a grudge, and gets revenge any way he can. In other words, he doesn’t exactly follow the “keep no record of wrongs” part of loving… Well, that’s enough about that.

 Gone With the Wind

Scarlett O’Hara is selfish and pretty blind (it takes her till Chapter 63 of a sixty-three chapter book for her to realize she loves Rhett, and she’d been married to him since Chapter 47!) Of course, Rhett never tells her he loves her until he’s quit loving her… that lack of communication again. The central problem is that she is so self-absorbed that if he’d told her, she would have cast him away like an old rag. But in spite of it all, he’s the old who sees her as she really is – “hard and greedy and unscrupulous, like me.” This dysfunctional romance is truly a result of two self-centered people loving each other.

 

So that’s that for three of the most famous literary romances I can think of. Any other novels you want to throw out there?

By the way, yes, I did run out of quotes to post this Wednesday.

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Filed under Gone With the Wind, Romeo and Juliet, True Romance, Wuthering Heights

Healthy Romance Makes Bad Novels

Teen Romance, by Oteo. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

What’s a Novelist to Do?

 I come up against this problem all the time when I try to write a romance about two healthy, well-adjusted people – what on earth should come between them and prevent happily ever after? This is related to ‘The Trouble with Modern Romance.’ In the good old days, the couple could be threatened with disinheritance by an evil old uncle. Nowadays, that’s a stupid reason not to marry someone.

This probably relates to the fact that my idea of real-life “healthy” romance is rather prosaic and matter-of-fact. The guy likes a girl? He tells her so. She says yes if she likes him, and no if she doesn’t. Sensibly, either they connect and it should work, or they don’t and it doesn’t. I’m not in favour of prolonging drama if it’s never going to work. Not much of a story there.

Romance novels irritate me to no end when the guy and the girl spend the whole time staring at each other and worrying, and refuse to take the risk of actually communicating (one mark of “healthy” romance). She’s jealous of the girl she saw him sitting with in the coffee-shop the other day? Why doesn’t she just ask him who it was (and find out it was his sister, or something equally cliché), instead of giving him the silent treatment, making him think she doesn’t like him, making him ask out her best friend in order to get close to her…

Sigh.

So I concluded conflict in romance novels should come from internal forces, not external ones, in ‘The Trouble with Modern Romance.’ Logically, authors could assume unbalanced people create more conflict, and thus more drama. Which may make for better books, but it might get to the point where pop culture doesn’t know what a functioning relationship looks like anymore.

To finish, here are two ideas that relate to my idea of “true love” in real life (true love between all people, not just romantic love). I haven’t quite managed to work these ideas into a novel yet, but I have to admit, novels are not a perfect mirror of real life. Authors can only hope to connect to something in other people’s experience.

 

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 

Stay tuned – next week I’ll look at literary examples. What are your thoughts on healthy romance, love and conflict?

 

Go to Healthy Romance Makes Bad Novels, Part 2

 

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Filed under On Writing, True Romance

The Trouble With Modern Romance

Romantic SunSet by Yusri Abd Halim. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

The trouble with modern romance novels is that our culture sees no reason for two people who are in love not to be together. This significantly cuts down on the potential for conflict in the novel. In comparison, Jane Austen had it easy.

I’m going to use Jane Austen as an example for a second, since pretty much everybody knows she wrote romance novels in the 1800s, and I can hardly be blamed for “spoiling the ending” of any of her novels (if a book’s been around for two hundred years, its ending is fair game for discussion – proven by the fact most classic novels are prefaced by an essay by some English professor or another, in which every single plot point of the novel is discussed. Seriously, if you don’t want the novel spoiled, skip those essays. You might want to skip the next two paragraphs of this post too).

Anyway, let’s start with Jane Austen’s most famous – Pride and Prejudice. Central conflict at the end: Lydia runs off with the dastardly Wickham, and Elizabeth thinks Darcy will never want to be seen with her family again because of the shame. Nowadays most guys couldn’t care less who your sister runs off with, so not a major conflict. Also, a major obstacle between Darcy and Elizabeth is that they’re in different classes. In real life, of course, class still effects relationships, but most of us would prefer to pretend we live in a world that doesn’t emphasize social standing anymore – making class struggle a touchy thing to handle in the dream-world of romance novels.

Then take Sense and Sensibility. Central conflict: the man Elinor is in love with is secretly engaged to someone else. Goodness, think of a reason that would cause someone nowadays to keep an engagement secret for four years (far longer than the guy was in love with the girl, too). I used to wonder why there were no modern versions of Sense and Sensibility, like there are of Pride and Prejudice, until I realized how hard the plot would be to update. And then take Northanger Abbey – the hero’s father forbids the match and throws the heroine out of his house. In Persuasion, Captain Wentworth is considered too lowly for Anne Elliot, and she’s persuaded to drop him by her father and her friend. Parents nowadays only wish they had that much influence over their children!!!

Jane Austen got her pick between secret engagements, class struggles, lack of fortune, parental disapproval… all valid reasons in Jane Austen’s day, but harder to make plausible now. A couple in a book or movie can meet cute, hang out, start kissing, and spent the night together before the end of a scene… and where does the story go from that? An “unexplained past” is the cliché solution, though the secret is never shocking enough to deserve being kept secret (because, of course, if the secret past is truly horrible, how will the main character ever be sympathetic? Seriously, the hero’s secret in the last novel I read was that once he’d illustrated romance novels in his spare time.) The other solution is jealousy of past girlfriends/boyfriends, co-workers, etc., which is tiresome and either makes one character look insecure, or makes the other look like a cad.

Which possibly is the reason for the multitudes of anemic chick flicks or novels where the whole plot could be solved in five minutes if the guy and the girl just talked to each other! No other option for conflict, so let’s just make them not talk. Which makes absolutely no sense – if the basis of a good relationship is good communication, how is the reader supposed to believe this couple’s going to last five minutes after “The End,” when they spent the whole time not communicating?

So in modern romance, where’s the conflict? No one’s stopping the couple from getting drunk and running to Vegas, except the couple themselves.

 Maybe that’s the key – the couple themselves. My guess is that romance novels have shifted from external conflict imposed by society, parents, lack of finances and so on, to internal conflict created by the people in the relationship. Certain aspects of character WILL create conflict, and make a good novel. Certain values of hero/heroine may delay progress of relationship, or past experiences may affect it. But a novel needs incredibly strong characterization to pull this off.

No wonder so many romance novels fail then – characterization is a tough thing to pull off. I’m not sure I succeed at it either. But it’s something to aim for.

What do you think – have changes in society made it harder to write romances, or easier?

 

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Filed under Jane Austen, On Writing, True Romance

Woman-Haters and the Challenge of Unconquerable Males

An Unrepentant Old Bachelor? Never!

Sherlock Holmes, by Sidney Paget. Via Wikimedia Commons

 A romantic subplot is a necessity for almost every book/film/play whatever, but every once in a while you come across a character that just doesn’t get one. You can’t figure out it when he (I’m going to look at male characters for this post) has a magnetizing personality and women obviously find him attractive, yet either he doesn’t notice women, or he views them as a distraction, or he despises them. Or some combination of all three.

The most obvious of these is Sherlock Holmes. Never married, never courting (unless it’s a ploy to gain information), making disparaging remarks about the “softer passions” – he is unapologetically a bachelor. And fans can’t stand it. They can’t imagine that he’s never met a that was able to change his mind, that he could resist all female charms and stick to his claim of being happy without a woman by his side. Enter wild stories about secret affairs with Irene Adler, or periods of marriage after falling off Reichenbach Falls. Sherlock Holmes without a romance? Never!

I wonder, sometimes, if female readers are so insistent on this point because it feels like an offense to our sex to find a male the author claims is unconquerable by us. I know my first reaction is to view it as a challenge – what kind of women would get under this guy’s skin? How would she go about it? Could I write a believable character that does? And thus wild theories are born, fanfiction get written, and fake videos of the character’s romance goes up on Youtube.

Though this is just a guess on my part. There’s probably more reasons why people get a kick out of pairing up the “unattainable male.”

Another example: Henry Higgins in the original version of My Fair Lady (actually entitled ‘Pygmalion’ before it was a musical). He was an unrepentant old bachelor, and while Eliza might entertain ideas of him “making love” to her, he never would bend to her (the play has her go off and marry Freddie). If you’ve seen the movie, you know they’ve changed the ending. There’s a possibility Henry Higgins will be won over – in fact, he practically admits it himself when he says he’s grown “accustomed to her face.” There is no way he can remain immune to Eliza’s charms.

Until recently, I was going to include Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory in this category. As Leonard declares, Sheldon “doesn’t have a deal.” Which, of course, mean every Big Bang Theory fanfiction on the planet tries to pair him up with someone, usually with Penny. But the current season of the show itself has been toying with the romantic possibilities of this character, so it will be very interesting to see what category he ends up in…

The temptation to play around with such pairings is obvious: tension between “normal” characters and strangely “romantically resistant” ones. Wouldn’t that make a great story? Sparks flying, tension growing, both trying to win without giving in… yeah, it’s almost a missed opportunity when the author/creator resists the idea. (Of course, they usually don’t go there because they’re trying to include other themes in their work besides romance.)

What about you? Are there any characters out there you’d love to see get paired up?

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Filed under Misc. Books, Pygmalion