I’ve often thought it would be interesting to interview characters from my favorite romance novels at different points in their stories. (And I’ve used this as a technique for my writing when I get stuck.) One of the things that stands out to me is, how at varying stages, if the character asked me what I thought about their relationship, I would probably tell them to get the hell out of there. That’s certainly not true about every romance novel, but there is something about putting two people who are so different into a story and having them fall in love. Their ability to overcome obstacles is part of what makes the story so thrilling and their inevitable (but nail biting!) HEA so rewarding. And while external conflict needs to be worked out, it is the internal conflict, to me, that should be equally, if not more compelling.
But having a lot of conflict between characters is one of the differences between relationships in Romancelandia vs Real Life. In real life, relationships shouldn’t be that difficult, particularly at the beginning of a relationship. That’s the easy part, when everyone puts in a lot of effort, both in terms of manners and appearance, among other aspects of just getting to know someone. Early stages of dating (courtship) should be fun and exciting, not angsty. But who wants to read about that?
And that’s the issue I’ve been chewing over the past two weeks since I write fiction and not a relationship how-to: conflict that is both exciting and realistic (mostly). I don’t want to write about Real Life, or write some sort of “this is how healthy relationships should look” book. Although, to be fair, I believe that the genre can be particularly empowering in terms of showing healthy, communicative, respectful, sexually gratifying, etc. relationships.
What I began worrying about in my own writing was that I wasn’t going to allow my characters to be that bad to each other. As I mull over certain scenes between my hero and heroine, I’d find myself pulling back on what I’d let them do or say to each other. In essence, behaving like a helicopter-mom. (A term I detest, btw.) Though one could discuss the parallels between parenting and writing, I know that my job as a writer is to drop-kick my characters into conflict. Boom. Fly out of the nest. And when it comes to internal conflict as it relates to the romantic relationship, that is HARD for me as I write, for a few reasons.
It is funny that characters in Romancelandia fight falling in love more than anyone would in Real Life. They go to great lengths of avoidance and denial to prevent something that lots of people would run towards. That is one quality that has tripped me up as I explore (and create) the internal conflict between my characters.
What I also started to realize, strangely, is that I am afraid of what I’ll put out there, between them. I’ve given myself and my characters a set of parameters that might just be too narrow. Maybe it’s a struggle for likability and that has me worrying that my heroine is too nice. It may also be because I want to create some ideal, so my hero is too perfect. Ack! Who wants to read a story about that couple? I’ll be okay if they get there in the end, but not through the whole story.
Another aspect I’ve been staring down in my WIP, is the idea that I want to put something out there–conflict, resolution, character growth–that doesn’t make me say “Oh, dear, no. Absolutely, not.” More than just “that’s terrible,” I am worrying, a bit, that some underlying message in my own writing will make me recoil. I am scratching my head trying to remember if I’ve ever had that reaction to someone else’s work. I don’t really think so. So, again, I’m finding that my Inner Editor can be pre-emptively judgy and fear has had me stuck at a certain wordcount.
Perhaps it is inexperience or inadequately developed characters that has me stuck? So much to learn. Again, I’ve come back to the idea of making authorial decisions, putting them out there, stepping back, and making revisions. Sigh. Kind of obvious, but clearly I believe in an examined life.
Those are the ideas that I wrestle with as I close in on the final few (some at the middle and some at the end) chapters to write.
Here’s to first drafts, exciting scenes, and loads of conflict. And, yes, I am comforting myself with the plan that whatever trouble my characters get into, they’ll be able to get themselves out of.
What are your thoughts about dating in Real Life vs Romancelandia?