Monday, February 24, 2014

Why does the romance matter?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

I've always been a sucker for a good love story. I'm not sure it would even be possible for me to write a book without one. And fortunately romance is a genre that always sells well. While nuances of the genre boom at different times (Amish romance, paranormal romance, romantic suspense etc.) romance as a whole pretty much always sells.

But what is it that makes the romance storyline matter to the reader?

Why did we cheer for Matthew and Mary on Downton Abbey? Why are Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy so timeless? What is it about Flynn and Rapunzel that we love so much?

I think fictional couples are made great by the same thing that real-life couples are: They are better together than they are apart. As an individual, they are a whole, complete person. But that other person empowers them to be even better. And as a result, life is improved for all around them.

While the story of Gatsby and Daisy from The Great Gatsby has some romantic moments, as a couple they're a drain on their community. Same with Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. They're not healthy people as individuals, and their romance isn't healthy either. Fascinating to read about, maybe, but not something you want to model in your own life.

In contrast, Elizabeth Bennett is her own unique person in the opening of Pride and Prejudice. We like her. We want what's best for her. Mr. Darcy is also his own unique person in the beginning of the book. The reader understands that the two of them could go on as they are and still have a happy life. But as the story progresses, we see how Elizabeth brings out the best in Mr. Darcy and how Mr. Darcy (eventually) brings out the best in Elizabeth. They are made more fully themselves by being together. 

Darcy and Elizabeth early in the story

I've been listening to the audio recording of a class by Michael Hauge and Christopher Vogler. In the class, Michael Hauge said something about romance stories that really struck me. He talked about how all characters have a way that they perceive themselves, an armor of identity that they wear. But inside, they also have an "essence." Who they are when everything else is stripped away. Michael shared that in a love story, the hero and heroine are in conflict with each other's armor or identity. They're not able to be at peace with each other until they can each live in their essence.

I instantly saw the truth in that statement, and the value in applying it to the romance threads in my story. When falling in love is part of the character's growth, that's when the romance matters most.

What "armor" does your main character wear? How do they hope others perceive them?


25 comments:

  1. My protagonist thinks that she's a slick city fashionista. That's her armor. Eventually, everybody sees that her city-girl act is really just an outer covering, and inside she's a girl who could be so much more. She gradually becomes more than her passion for fashion as her true colors have to be brought out in the face of danger.

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  2. Hmmm...well Elizabeth's armor is that she doesn't want to loose someone she loves so it is very hard to get close to her. It's not that she doesn't care it is just that she refuses to let people get too close to her. Very, very gradually Cam (the eventual love interest) manages to get through that.

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    1. Oh also she hopes other perceive her as capable and strong.

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    2. Good one! Lots of potential for misunderstanding.

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  3. I, too, am a sucker for romance. I never thought about it this way before, though. The MC in my current WIP essentially cuts everyone off from communication with her, especially in the second book. There's a huge event at the end of the first book and after that Rani (the MC) starts taking all her anger out on everyone around her, especially Hardy (The MMC and love interest). That's what I would consider to be her armour. Hardy, on the other hand, has always had this pressure to preform. He was expected to always be happy and not really have a whole lot of other emotions, so he almost always wears a plastic smile. We was also expected to perform in other ways, intellectually and physically. They both have these armours and they need each other to get through those.

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    1. So well thought out, Hadley Grace. Nice work!

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  4. A' Mercy my MC, has lost both her parents then her grandfather. All of them, including others who didn't die, lied to her some sort of way, so she doesn't want to build anything more than a loose friendship with anyone. But, the MMC, Tarn, is working on that, and she finds herself getting closer to Tarn.

    I love romances.

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    1. Me too :) Sounds like you have the makings of a great one!

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  5. Great post Stephanie! Thank you! =)*I'm a big sucker for romance--but only the back then stuff* =)

    TW Wright
    ravensandwriting.blogspot.com

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  6. Hmm, my MC's armor is that she wants people to think of her as strong and I guess tough. She is a tomboy who lives in a time when a girl was supposed to act like a lady at all times. Only her best friend (who is also her eventual love interest) ever sees another side of her. He likes that she is not prissy like the other girls and can go fishing without being afraid of getting her ribbons mussed. She plays strong but she can be quite emotional when there is a reason.

    HP

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    1. I love characters like that, HP. Sounds like a fun story :)

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  7. Cool post! I don't have romance in my story, but my character's armor is probably a little bit like Mr. Darcy's. He acts aloof, I guess you might say. And he's a bit sarcastic, too.

    Alexa Skrywer
    alexaskrywer.blogspot.com

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  8. My MC's armor is tough and independent. She wants others to see her as strong and okay with being on her own. She doesn't want pity for her situation. Inside, though, she longs for someone to reach out to her. She's lonely.

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    1. That's a great one. And it's something that we've all experienced, so it's easy for readers to relate to. Nice work!

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  9. My MC's armor is that she thinks she's nothing special. To be quite honest, at the beginning of the story, she doesn't realize everything she's capable of and hates standing out in a crowd. She is actually a genius, but she hides it because she's scared she won't live up to other expectations because she doesn't really think she's that great. The love interest in my book shows her that she's capable of doing more and that she is special.

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    1. The pressure of meeting others expectations it's a GREAT struggle for your character. Sounds promising!

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  10. Great post, Steph! I loved this: "They are better together than they are apart. As an individual, they are a whole, complete person. But that other person empowers them to be even better. And as a result, life is improved for all around them."

    This is what I tell my kids and the teens in our youth group. This is what love is all about.

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    1. I don't know about you, but more and more I'm amazed by how good and bad marriages impact those outside of the relationship. We think of romance being something that exists just between the two people, but that's only a part of it. The drama/anger/conflict of an unhealthy marriage is a drain on everyone close to the couple.

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    2. I just wrote a long and detailed reply about my eleven year old MC's crush on Prince Not Very Charming/ her parents' marriage being in trouble and how it led to her running away and faking her own death by letting her dragon eat her clothes so her mother would not be so harsh on her father for chasing after plants(namely, dragons' bane) on quests. For a precocious child, she can be really stupid sometimes...

      But when I hit publish, something went wrong and it all disappeared. Gah. Well, it was probably too long to be readable anyway. I've been forced to make it very concise in the paragraph above, so I'll try to look at this malfunction as an exercise in summarizing and a blessing in disguise...

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    3. Edit: Reading over that, it is not mentioned at all that she was running away to save her dragon' (a.k.a best friend's) life, and happened to see the faking her own death possibility as a way to solve the problems of her parents' relationship. She thinks it all boils down to them quarreling over her father not being home because he is on a quest for dragon's bane, and that her mother not objecting to the dragon's bane part would fix all that. Like I said, she can be really stupid at times. But not nearly as overdramatic as I made her sound above.

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  11. Stephanie, you've articulated why I love romances...thanks for that. :)

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  12. Loved this post and thought it good. I just wanted to add the reasons why I don't care for much romance in books. Romance is usually overrated and dramatized. Real romance takes hard work to maintain. Any author that writes what real romance looks like is great in my opinion, because not many know the real meaning of that word.

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