It's all in the fall: Writing Romance with Dr. Banner and the Hulk

As a scientist, I'm much more comfortable with logic than love, so when I drew the straw to talk romance as a genre, I tried to devise a working formula for writing a great love story. But this was the best I could do:

    initial attraction
   denial of attraction         +    complications  (internal and external)  +/- misunderstandings
                                              or miscommunication (comical                                                                                                                      or otherwise)

                                                   --> resolution of differences through mutual acceptance and                                                                         understanding
                                                   -->  acknowledgement of love
                                                   --> commitment to that love =
                                                                happily ever after

It was, as you can see, by both scientific and literary considerations, a failed experiment.

At least it didn't involve gamma rays.

So I looked instead to a great YA love story for the answer. In John Green's The Fault in our Stars. Hazel says she "fell in love"with Augustus "the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."  Her words remind me that in the romance genre, it's the falling that counts for the reader. Every love story from Pride and Prejudice to Fangirl, after all, ends shortly with the couple's mutual acknowledgement of the love that's developed and their commitment to it. The narrative doesn't take the reader along for the mundane business of maintaining and sustaining that love once it's developed. That's because the pleasure in reading a romance lies in the reader's experiencing the pleasure of falling in love (vicariously). And as Hazel's line reminds us as writers, that experience has to happen slowly, over time.  The pleasure lies in the falling, not the landing, so you don't want to rush the reader through it.

As the Supremes warned us many years ago, you can't hurry love. Or a love story.

Yet many books - even popular ones - rush the romance that is supposed to be their offered pleasure. Maybe the writer already knows the characters and loves them and just wants to see them happy together so s/he makes that happen too quickly, but this cheats the reader out of much of the pleasure of reading a romance. We want to feel the characters fall in love - and we want to understand why they fall in love.  For me, instead of showing us how the characters fall, a "failed" romance novel simply announces to us that the characters are "in love." This kind of writerly mistake is so common it has a name - "instalove"- and it makes Hulk so angry I'm going to let him take over the post for a moment or risk him breaking up my laptop like a piece of melba toast:

HULK SMASH INSTALOVE. WRITERS, DON'T TELL HULK BOY LOVES GIRL. SHOW HULK THAT BOY LOVES HER. AND DON'T TELL HULK BOY IS "AWESOME". SHOW HULK HE IS AWESOME. HULK WANTS LOVE TO UNFOLD OVER THE PAGES, NOT ANNOUNCE ITSELF. MAKE HULK FEEL IT.

Rant aside, my greener, meaner half has a good point: The Fault in Our Stars works because the love between Hazel and Augustus unfolds.

From word one, strong voice and characterization pull us in so that we feel we "know" Hazel when she meets Augustus. We agree with her that he's a little too full of himself and share her mistrust of his attraction to her, but, like her, we're drawn to his humor and charm, albeit warily. We feel her teetering on the precipice, ready to fall, when Augustus calls Hazel in torment over the abrupt non-ending of An Imperial Affliction. And we recognize that his appreciation of the book marks his genuine appreciation of Hazel, her thoughts, her feelings - and not just because it's a long and difficult read. Augustus' embracing of this book shows that he "gets" Hazel. With this, he earns the right to love her, in a sense, and the love she's about to return to him. She's ready to fall for him, and by the time she gets on that plane to Amsterdam, we've fallen right along with her. And her fall strikes us as "right" - the "all at once part" of her falling in love - because we've gotten to know the her and Augustus so well, in part through some of the wittiest yet most "real" dialogue in YA fiction. In TFIOS, the fall takes its time, and when it happens, the reader knows not just that Hazel and Augustus fall in love, but why they do. It happens "slowly" enough for the reader to feel it, too. We feel the "rightness" of their love.

That's one of the great things about love: when it happens, it feels right. It has to feel right to your reader, too. It has to be earned. And that can't be rushed.

So if you're writing a romance, you no doubt are a little in love with your characters and you want us to love them, too. And we will, if you let us fall in love with them (and their love) "slowly", so that the "all at once" satisfies.

Until next month    
Banner (and Hulk) out



1 comment:

  1. I love this post! It put words to what I feel about romance writing all the time! Instalove just isn't satisfying. And when it's done I end up not liking or loving one of the characters in the relationship, because I don't know or trust them enough. I need some time "falling" to really trust that the characters in a love story are meant to be.
    Excellent post!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    Inklined

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