Thursday, July 21, 2011

Verisimilitude: Natural Romance

Reading thuRsday

Some years ago I attended a panel where Tracy and Laura Hickman, Lynn Kurland, Julie Wright, Stacy Whitman, Leslie Muir Lytle discussed romance.

I was particularly interested in their answers to the question, "How do you make a romance feel natural?"

Leslie Muir Lytle: Any setting and character can be romantic. If you know your characters, you'll know what will attract them.

Within the overall qualification of the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs (i.e.,  a couple probably won't worry about working out the nuances of their relationship during a gun battle), romance can blossom anywhere. Even though everyone laughs, the moment in The Empire Strikes Back right before Han is frozen in carbonite when Leia professes her love and Han says, "I know," is deeply romantic if you think about it from the perspective of two character who may never see each other again.

On the other hand, the accoutrements of romance--food, wine, music, low lights are likely to produce unnatural romance where the couple play their parts but their hearts aren't in it because, at best, they are in love with being in love.

Like the force, natural romance flows from the characters, not from the setting.

Stacy Whitman: Give your protagonists flaws, but don't make them superficial.

Perfect people are as unnatural as a perfectly romantic setting. Need I say more?

Stacy Whitman: If the romance is a subplot, it needs to have bearing on the story.

Romance isn't a condiment that you can add to a story to spice it up. Use sex for that--everyone else does--but, as Tracy Hickman observes below, don't mistake sex for romance.

Julie Wright: Tension/chemistry--the discovery of each other; getting to know one another; how to cope with each other; all the games they play to get to know each other (the mating dance).

Natural romance is a growing, dynamic thing. It's not an all or nothing affair. While there are certainly people who are like volatile chemicals together, swinging between the extremes of love and hatred because of the intensity of their passions, very few of those couples achieve a happily-ever-after (which, by definition, is a stable, committed relationship). Which is not to say couples developing a natural romance won't have their ups and downs, but that their overall trajectory is to grow closer over time.

Leslie Muir Lytle: Men are compartmentalized; Women related everything to everything else, creating emotional ties between things that men would never recognize as related.
Laura Hickman: Give equal time to both viewpoints

There are important, if sometimes subtle differences between the genders. A crucial part of coming together is learning to live with someone who can at times make you doubt the fact that you are members of the same species. Put another way, if your hero and heroine think and act exactly alike, you don't have a romance, you have a duet of narcissism.

Tracy Hickman: Romance isn't about sex--everything but the act of sex tells us about us as humans and about the characters.

Our biological imperative to mate could be satisfied with the first healthy, willing, and able member of the opposite sex we find. Unlike many mammals who breed when the female is in estrous (i.e., "heat"), that's not how we work. The complex process by which we select a partner from among available mates is informed by concerns that span Maslow's hierarchy from basic sexual drives through family, culture, and society, to abstract notions of beauty, love, and truth. Because of that, the way our characters approach romance speaks volumes about who and what they are.

Rhyme and Reason

The bottom line is that natural romance has rhyme and reason. The rhythm may not be apparent to the characters (or the readers) in the midst of the process, but even in the moments that seem most irrational, it's still there. As with many other aspects, a romance has verisimilitude when the reader believes there are reasons for what's happening.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /

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