Thursday, June 23, 2011

Verisimilitude: Romance - R E S P E C T

Reading thuRsday

An artist, a banker, and an engineer were discussing wives and mistresses over lunch.

"I will never marry," the artist declared. "The passion, the longing, and the mystery of an affair--this is what powers my work."

The banker shook his head. "Nonsense. Stability, not to mention the tax advantages, make a wife the best choice."

"I always have both," the engineer said.

"How can this be?" the artist cried.

The banker frowned. "What about the risk?"

The engineer shrugged. "As long as each of them thinks I'm with the other I can go to the lab and get something done."


* * *

As a confessed engineer, you may think I lack not only the credentials but even the aptitude to discuss romance. You may be right, at least in terms of how we commonly approach the topic, but I can't help observing that even romance has structural principles.

Character is the foundation for romance. How else do you choose among eligible mates?

And the most critical aspect of character for the couple is respect.

Lynn Kurland, speaking at LTUE 2008, argued that for a romance to work the hero and the heroine--even if they spar--must never lose each other's respect; they must never lose sight of the lovable in the other.

Consider the canon (Pride and Prejudice): Darcy might be haughty and disdainful, but he's always respectable. Some of that is simply a consequence of his station in the social structure, but the greater part of his respectability flows from the way he navigates his circumstances. Even when he's working against Elizabeth by undermining Jane's relationship with Bingley he does so for respectable reasons (i.e., concern for his friend's welfare).

Here are some additional tips from Lynn about the structural elements of romance:
  • Never make either of your protagonists unlikable. The hero has to be some one the heroine can look up to. The heroine must be someone the hero can trust.
  • Never make your protagonists look stupid. The hero and heroine can spar, but they must never undermine each other; they must retain an underlying core of admirability--something redeeming about them--that the other can see.
  • If you have a conflict between the hero and the heroine that could be resolved by a conversation between them, you don't have enough of a conflict to carry the book. To be a book, the characters must butt heads.
  • Delay the boy-gets-girl/happily-ever-after until the end. Don't have much of a gap between them becoming a couple and the happily-ever-after (otherwise you just frustrate your readers).


Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net