Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why Won't They Just Talk?

Writers are readers. Huge readers. I started reading romances by nicking my Grandmother's Nora Roberts and LaVyrle Spencer books. Probably younger then I should've, but there were worse ways I could have been spending my childhood, rather than curled up with a good book. Now I'm writing them, isn't that a plot twist?

Ironically enough, the book I'm working on now is the sort of book that drove me batty as a prepubescent, never-been-kissed, reader.

Character A assumes a thing, Character B is hurt, then angst, angst, angst. I remember getting so irritated they wouldn't just act like adults and talk. Pouty sulking was immature.

But as Kipling says: There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right.

There's far more than sixty-nine (hehe) different sources of personal conflict and drama in romance novels.

So I'm going to narrow my focus down to the the type of romance novel when the main conflict between the characters is based on a simple misunderstanding.

Something that could be cleared up with a little honest discussion.

But that discussion cannot happen easily.

For romance, there's a Main Character and an obvious (or not so obvious) Love Interest (or more than one). As a reader, you know after roughly two hundredish pages, they're going to kiss, have some epic sex, and live happily ever after.

Because that's what romance is. That's the promise made to you when you pick up the book. You will wade through the trials and tribulations of these characters and eventually, they'll find True Love and you'll get a happy wobbly feeling when they admit how they care about each other and throw themselves into each others arms.

But wait, but wait, why don't they just do that from the beginning? Since they're so obviously meant for each other? Two halves of a single soul, and all the other sickeningly sweet cliches.

There has to be a reason they don't boink (or boink with tender loving feelings sprinkled on top) until after most of the book has happened, otherwise it's just a casual hook-up without an emotional angle, unless one character is using the casual hook-up to avoid intimacy and-- and I'm going off target. Ahem.

After Main Character and Love Interest meet, but before Main Character and Love Interest do the beast with two backs, stuff has to happen. Important stuff. Plot stuff. Character stuff. Because there has to be a reason these two (or more) people dance around each other and hold off the boinking until the end of the book.

If their eyes meet and they run toward each other while At Last plays over the loudspeaker, and then commence violating public nudity laws, it's interesting, but it's not long enough to make a book. Something has to keep the climax (harhar) from happening. 

For dramatic reasons. But there's a fine line between drama and melodrama.

So if the reason they aren't together is because of a smallish misunderstanding that could be sorted out with a brief conversation over some caramel lattes on a sleepy Saturday afternoon, then that conversation has to be danced around like negotiations with North Korea over taking some chill pills and developing a national hobby that doesn't involve Geiger counters.

Get me? It has to be a huge thing, with some element of danger or apprehension surrounding it. An 'I might die if I say this right now' sort of atmosphere. There has to be trepidation. There has to be a solid reason the conversation absolutely could not happen in the course of the casual 'getting to know you' chatter amid the heated glances and magnetic pull they feel toward each other.

How tedious and unfulfilling would it be if they met, had a misunderstanding, then retired to some trendy cafe to work things out by the end of the first chapter?

'Oh, I made an incorrect assumption about your life/job/values/personality/relationship status/family. Allow me to kiss away your hurt feelings.' Then nothing else happens except sex in every possible position for the next twelve chapters?

If you've been reading romance novels any length of time, you've read lots and lots of sex scenes, and you know they're not nearly as rewarding when the characters haven't bled, sweated, and wept copious amounts of tears to get to the emotional climax, not just the physical climax.

You want them to work for it. You want them to clench their hands, bite their lips, and take deep, shuddering breaths while they force the words out with their eyes squeezed shut because they can't bear to watch the reaction to whatever they're struggling to say.

The conversation to clear up the simple misunderstanding has to be radioactive. It has to be enormous. It has to be a giant, world-view shifting moment that causes stress, anxiety, fear, nerves and running through it all has to be the faint, thin shred of hope that maybe it might work out after all.

This is when character motivation becomes vital. You have to know exactly why your characters would flee to the ends of the earth rather then have that particular conversation. Then you can make a simple misunderstanding work to keep them apart for 70k+.

So go forth and obfuscate.

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