Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A little romance, anyone?

In lots of romance stories, two characters meet – no, sorry, more often they collide – and claim they dislike each other, while readers are expected to understand that love is simmering just below the surface. Is this premise truly believable or should we dismiss it as absolute tosh?
The main strand of the romance genre is the problem of why the two people think they couldn’t possibly be lovers. We know some of them very well. He’s too proud, she’s too prejudiced. Rhett Butler is no certainly gentleman, while Scarlett enters the story as a true ladylike southern belle. (Put in your own names and see if they match what I’m about to say.) What happens as the story progresses? We find that Scarlett has it in her to cheat, lie and steal in a way that makes Rhett look positively gentlemanly. Darcy proves he has the guts to see his faults and change his ways, while Lizzie recognizes with dismay how hasty and ill-judged her speedy character assessments were - not only of him, but also of Whickham.

Are they really the disparate characters first presented, or are they much closer to each other in tastes, habits and thought than we first realize? I think Darcy and Lizzie are alike in many ways. In fact, Darcy and Elizabeth admit as much, and the film Gone with the wind demonstrates how similar Rhett and Scarlett are in their courage and desperate will to survive and keep their dependents alive. Perhaps this is the true secret of the romance genre - that couples should share values and traits, however deeply they are hidden or obscured by initial impressions.
They’d have to have something to share, or their lives would be hell, wouldn’t they? But giving them a taste in the same sort of music isn’t exactly going to do it if one rides roughshod over his family’s feelings and the other can’t help her family enough. They’re always going to be disagreeing over something. We hear of couples in real life who divorce because one of them squeezed the toothpaste tube the wrong way. We laugh on hearing that, but we’re only hearing about the tip of the iceberg. What really drove the couple apart was that one of them couldn’t stand living in the constant chaos created by the other. The toothpaste tube was one fact among many.

I think what I’m saying is that however dissimilar the characters seem when the inciting incident brings them together, they have to have matching core values in order to have the happy ever after that is so necessary for the romance genre. Somewhere in the story we have to show them discovering these core values and coming together. Falling into bed and having wonderful sex doesn’t always do it. But it’s nice if it comes in the same package as the matching core values.


Lindsay Townsend said...

I agree, Jen!
There's a great site called Baggage Reclaim that talks about exactly that - core values, etc.
I agree that romance works best when it reflects those important points.

Pat Dale said...

You're onto something, Jen. I try to avoid the classic 'can't stand each other' shtick altogether because it doesn't jibe with my own experience. There are enough external conflicts for most couples at the beginning of their relationship.
I've been married for forty three years next week, and it is our friendship, not our romantic attraction for one another that has overcome powerful forces that would have separated us long since.
I prefer to write about that kind of pairing, because I know it's real.

Angela Britnell said...

That's spot on! I find no matter how opposite my characters may seem at first - to themselves and everyone else - it's the deep down values and morals they hold which draw them together.

Alix said...

When I was younger -to me- romance were fairy tale least that's the way they seemed. Mostly because of the couples I grew up around.

As I got older I realized I didn't care too much for the classic romances. I enjoyed the ones with the more realistic approach. They didn't exactly mimic reality but were close, which made them more believable to me and much more enjoyable.

I agree, I think you may be one onto something here.


Jen Black said...

Perhaps the forty three years are needed in order to see what really matters! Seventeen year olds seem to think its all about being cool and trendy. Maybe I did, at that age!

Savanna Kougar said...

Jen, excellent thoughts. My heroines, heroes always have core values in common, or they come to understand why each has their way of thinking, believing, feeling... and, thus, there is common ground for a long-lasting and loving relationship... also, in my case, a fiercely passionate Happily Ever After. Because that is the nature of my heroines and heroes. Yep, fantasy in a way, and in a way not. I truly believe that sex-passionate compatibility is one key to true happiness together. Given I'm older in age than you, I can say that.

BTW, you really need to make your name as author of the post more prominent.

The Pocketeers said...

I guess the central theme of the sort of boy meets girl, boy hates girl, boy loves girl type of romance is that people often make decisions about other people before they even know them. I think that is a universal truth and that's why those romances continue to be popular (from Cara Cooper)

Susan Bergen said...

So don't we believe in that old adage - "opposites attract"?

Maggi Andersen said...

Women can be attracted to the bad boys. And sometimes sex can blind a person to the others faults. An enduring relationship needs respect for one another and in a romance it's important too.

Jen Black said...

Opposites attract , yes; but is that attraction the only thing they have in common? If so, I don't give it more than six months....