The Love Genre

Romance Arc, Kate Carlisle, #amwriting

Also known as romance, the love genre has a core value of love vs. hate, and the core event in the love genre is proof of love for one character to another. I go over the romance plot structure in quite a bit more detail here, but in The Story Grid Shawn Coyne does introduce a few subplots within romance.

Courtship: Two people meet and either commit to one another or not. In addition to love vs. hate there tends to be some focus on independence/dependence, communication and misunderstanding, morality/immorality, togetherness/loneliness, and the fan favorite, societal approval/disapproval.

Marriage: Not simply a matter of ending with wedding bells, these stories go deeper into already committed relationships. These stories tend to deal in fidelity vs infidelity, truth and lies, betrayal, and valuing of the self over the family. Friday Night Lights does a great marriage subplot.

Obsession: Obsession stories tend to stray into horror. They go beyond courtship and tend to focus on desire, fear, and survival.

Further subgenera include ….

Erotica, which I’ve heard best described as a matter of lighting (i.e some romances fade to black, spicier romances may describe feelings and such but the “camera” (reader perspective) is mostly pointed at the face, and erotica is fully lit descriptions.

Gothic Romances, which also tend to delve into horror. Riverdale played with this subplot a good bit.

Regency, suspense, western, crime, thriller, horror, you name it.

Romance is a stand alone genre and it can pull any major genre in as a sub genre (like J.D Robb’s In Death series), but it is also the go-to sub plot. It’s difficult, incredibly difficult, to find a story that doesn’t feature a romance in some way, shape, or form.

 

 

Romances

In honor of Valentines, I’m reposting this blog for my writing on Wednesday feature.

Disney handles romance well.

That may be the most controversial sentence I’ve ever written. But when it comes to crafting romances from a plot perspective, they know what they’re doing.

The romantic plot arc is a simple one. That’s why it tends to run as a subplot. That doesn’t make it less important, it just means that the plot points of a romance line up with the plot points of the external conflict.

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Like it or not, this is the basic plot structure for every romance ever. “But what about–” you may protest. No, seriously. This is like the monomyth for romance. If a story has a romantic element in it at all, ever, it follows these points, maybe not in this order, but they’re there. Even if the author didn’t do it consciously.

Disney used to get to simplify the attraction stage. Boy sees girl, girl sees boy, boom. Expectations set. Because the early days of Ariel just happening to spot Prince Eric on the boat were done so well, they’ve become cliche. So lately they’ve been poking fun at that expectation with movies like Enchanted or Frozen. Oddly enough in doing so, they created the best example of the initial attraction yet in “Love is an Open Door” simply because they didn’t have the rest of the movie to develop it.

Love is an open door meets all the best requirements for the initial attraction. The characters don’t just connect on a physical level, they see each other. The name of the song has meaning to Anna in that this relationship embodies everything she’s been denied growing up. It’s simultaneously an escape and the thing she’s been missing from her life. Ignoring the whole marriage thing, by the end of the song the audience is rooting for this couple.

The next stage, conflict keeps them apart tends to be where the main plot line rears its ugly head. Ariel is a mermaid not a human, Aladdin is a street rat, not a prince, Anna is already engaged, the spell wears off at midnight, or my favorite, they disagree on fundamentally different levels. Best example of this, the absolute best version of Peter Pan ever made (not disney but included due to awesomeness).

Wendy loves him, she’s pretty sure he loves her, but fear and a fundamentally different outlook on life keep them apart. You’ll notice all my favorite examples come out of movies that did something different with the scenes. Like I said, they can be in different order or be used for a different purpose. Understanding the plot points that are being changed makes those choices stronger.

First kiss is often tied into the resolution of children’s movies and many YA books because  true love’s kiss has become a symbol of finding your one true love. Once you’ve established the characters are together, the tension for that subplot is gone. It’s no longer a building romance. But there are some examples of this. However there are no examples of first kiss coming before the discovery/growing closer stage and few in YA for obvious reasons so I’m gonna tie those together. My favorite example is Aladdin. Their initial attraction was when they were both in Aladdin’s hovel. Their initial conflict keeping them apart was a difference in station, resolving that conflict led to another when Aladdin just kept screwing up, and he finally fixed it by finding common ground in their growing closer scene which was the magic carper ride, which ended with their first kiss.

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Worsening conflict is Wendy being taken by Pirates, Aladdin almost drowning, Ursula impersonating Ariel, Kokoum getting shot, Anna discovering Hans betrayed her. In the children and YA romance structure, there’s almost no breathing room between worsening conflict and black moment, because one leads to another. Aladdin finds himself helpless, powerless and flung far from Jasmine, Ariel finds herself alone on a dock while she watches her love go off to marry another. Anna is freezing to death behind a locked door, Pocahontas hears her love sentenced to death. Pan falling out of the sky. It’s in these moments the characters find their inner strength or break completely. The dark moment leads straight to the climax because finally the characters have what they need to fight and in romance that strength comes from each other. The movie that handled this the best romance wise is Tangled. You think her darkest moment is when she thinks Flynn betrayed her, but that was just worsening conflict. She finds her inner core of strength “Did I mumble, Mother? Or should I even call you that?” But none of that matters when Flynn is stabbed. She breaks. She sacrifices her newfound backbone, her ability to fight to save him and she does it in a strong way. But what makes this scene great is that it’s not just her moment of strength. It’s his. He arcs. The selfish thief is every bit as willing to sacrifice his life to save hers as she is to save his. And for a romance, that’s pretty awesome.

The happily ever after in most romances is true loves kiss, wedding bells in the future, and a happy resolution on all plot points. But sometimes that’s not the case. Peter Pan has Wendy growing up while Peter stays behind and her knowing a part of her will always be with him. UP’s romance ends with the knowledge that Ellie (symbolically the house) is waiting for Carl in paradise and he’ll always miss her but he still has things to live for. Pocahontas ends with John Smith sailing away. Sometimes the best romances are bittersweet.

The ending is never, should never feel like a given. That’s what makes a great romance.

For Real Friday: Unrealistic Relationships

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I remember the day when I figured out that I would hate every single character I was in love with if I met them in real life. The soulmate trope is often accompanied by love/hate the love/hate relationship trope until the two characters mutually agree they’re in love, at which point they become sappy, uninteresting, and obsessed with one another. I knew I didn’t have the patience or the inclination to get involved with a love/hate relationship. If I hate someone, I hate them. There’s no romantic tension, no hidden attraction. They have done something that makes them unattractive to me on that level until they either drastically change or enough time passes by without them around that I forget why I hate them. That may just be me though. I don’t know.

The love/hate thing is actually kind of dangerous, because it often plays into the aggression is sexy myth and it teaches women to ignore their instincts. Even if a guy isn’t actually dangerous, if you don’t like him, can’t stand to be around him, and do nothing but argue if you’re near each other, chances are your relationship won’t be a happy one. I was very careful with this in my books. Persephone and Hades snark at each other a good bit when they meet, but I was very, very, very careful to keep it about circumstance. Once she got to know Hades, she liked him. The circumstances under which they met sucked. But personality wise they were never incompatible.

I was a lot older when I figured out that the other side of the coin was equally unrealistic. All the romances I’d read or watched featured this unbelievably romantic guy who would go to the ends of the earth for his significant other. He’d be obsessed and didn’t actually appear to have a life outside of who they’re interested in beyond the basic trappings that were used to show what an amazing guy he was for that particular girl  (his job showed he was stable/creative/whatever, his family showed he cared about people, and sometimes he’d have a pet). Whatever personality he had when the love/hate trope was going on vanished into the relationship once he got the girl. It wasn’t until I started dating that I realized that, while romantic, this trope is every bit as damaging as the love/hate trope.

When you are in a relationship with another person, you are in a relationship with another entire person. Even if they’re your soulmate. Trust me, I married my high school sweetheart. I met him, we clicked, and lived happily ever after. If soulmates are a thing, I found mine and we knew it instantly. But he’s a complete person with or without me. He has a life and if I wasn’t in it, maybe it wouldn’t be as awesome, but he wouldn’t wither away to nothingness because he’s a healthy human. You want your significant other to have a life outside of you.

There have been a few points since I met my husband where for some reason or another we were all we had. We’d just moved to a new place where we knew no one, a job change took one of us away from everyone in our social circle, random emotional stuff like say, giving birth and all the chemicals that come with that that make you feel like nothing outside of your little family matters. We celebrated when those moments ended because while we love each other lots and lots it gets super super frustrating to be the only person in a relationship with a life outside of it if you ever say, want to hang out with your friends, enjoy your hobby, or just be away from that other person for a minute. We’re always there to lean on, but your significant other shouldn’t be all you have. That’s not healthy. Which is another thing I was careful to convey in Persephone. She and Hades have full lives outside of one another. They have friends and family and hobbies and purposes that don’t revolve around their relationship.

As for the last part of the trope. It’s cool to be with someone who wants to move the moon and stars for you, but they should never have to. Gender reverse that particular expectation and consider how uncomfortable it makes you. There’s a reason for that. If someone loves you, they shouldn’t expect you to give up some major thing that makes you you for the sake of your relationship. If someone loves you, they shouldn’t want you to sacrifice something that makes you happy so you can prove how much you love them. If someone loves you, they shouldn’t want you to do something impossible, frustrating, or difficult just to make them happy. It means a lot when they do, but it shouldn’t be an expectation. That is why I didn’t set up my series as Persephone having to choose between the living realm and Hades. She at a certain point had to choose between having a normal life and being a goddess, but it wasn’t actually a choice and Hades was never part of that equation. He was a given no matter which life she stuck with. I also never had them make massive, life changing decisions because of each other. They influenced each other’s choices, sure. That’s pretty typical of all relationships, but if you look closely, there were never choices they made because it was the only way they would work. Every character in the third book made the assumption that Hades was willing to destroy everything to save Persephone but he outright explained that wasn’t the case. He wanted to save her, and acknowledged she was worth paying that price but he also explained the lengths he was willing to go to had more to do with saving the living realm and the Underworld from Zeus. Remember, he can’t lie.

I love reading romances. I like watching romances. I love the love/hate dynamic and the extreme love dynamic. Just know it’s not a realistic expectation to bring to your own relationships. If you did find that exact relationship you read about, you’d hate it because those models work in fiction but in real life they aren’t healthy. So read, enjoy, but know you deserve a relationship that’s better than fiction.