Love and Romance: Do You Believe in Magic?

Before I get onto this, a few things:

  • Hush Money is featured today at Indie Books Blog
  • It’s doing really well. It broke into the Kindle top 1000 early last week and though it’s fallen out a few times, it’s been holding position fairly well (it’s at #888 while I’m writing this).
  • Coming up, I’m going to have a post on getting to the top 1000 within the first 8 weeks of release, talking about some things I did that I think helped and a series of posts that concentrates on those things in a bit more detail.
  • Still have the Help Me Find My Dylan contest going.
  • You know the paperback is out, right?

And now, on to the post…

When it comes to Love and Romance, I absolutely believe in magic. Here are some things I believe in:

  • Love at first sight
  • True love
  • Fate
  • The idea that there is a perfect mate for every person
  • The idea that you can fall in love in a week, in a day, in a moment

And I’m going to cut that list off there before the sweetness of it gives us all cavities.

For me, these, and similar notions found in romance lit, are true possibilities in our world. Even if some of them haven’t happened for me, I can still believe in them in the same way I can take your word for it that things are made up of molecules, or that the Earth orbits the Sun.

  • I don’t have to experience everything in the world in order for it to be true for someone out there.
  • I know that people experience different things, and experience the same things differently.
  • I WANT to believe.

And so do other people. For a lot of them, that’s why they read romance.

Some people absolutely do not believe. These things haven’t happened for them, or, if they have, they didn’t see it that way. After all, love and romance, like anything good in life, require effort, work. And when you frame love as something purely mystical (which I don’t think it is), it confuses the issue for some people. It’s doesn’t make sense for their somewhat more practical take on matters.

In fiction, a disconnect between author and reader often comes about when the story falls too close to one end of this magic to pragmatic continuum.

You have that story where two characters meet, they feel this immediate, overwhelming attraction, connection, and even things like devotion and intimacy, which possibly should grow and evolve out of what they experience with each other, just kind of magically exist between them. This kind of romantic setup will be accepted by readers far at the magical end of that spectrum, but you won’t go far along the line before readers are finding this weak, thinking the author was a bit lazy in supporting the romantic elements, and the pragmatists are throwing the book at the wall and using words like “tripe.”

For me, the incredibly logical characters can be just as maddening. These are characters who are SO practical, who need everything proven to them, everything spelled out. They can be so unwilling to just feel. To take leaps of faith. Isn’t love worth taking a leap? Sometimes they come across, to magical me, as so ungrateful of the gift they’re being offered in the story. They’re so unwilling to allow themselves to feel within a context that (to me) is supposed to be about feeling.

Just because there are two people with relationship potential, doesn’t make it a romance.

What I’m getting at here, is that there’s a middle ground. A good romance finds it, finds a way to please the widest range of readers. Showing the evolution of a relationship, supporting the True Love and Fate angles with moments that allow the readers to say “this is when she fell for him” (and “oops, I just fell for him too”), deepens the experience of the romance even for the reader who would have accepted the magic of it. Allowing the characters to just feel things because they feel them, even if they need to question those feelings, allowing them to sometimes act on things they don’t quite understand yet, and to just go with the flow once in a while, can create and ebb and flow of tension, rather than frustration for the reader. It can make the characters seem more real, since sometimes people have unguarded moments, sometimes they do take chances, just because they want to, even if it doesn’t make sense.

Romantic elements, unsupported, can seem ridiculous. Characters who approach love like Mr. Spock can be maddeningly unromantic and frustrating.

But in the middle ground, between the ridiculously love-struck and the frustratingly logical, there’s room to create something special, something more than just magical.

Romance.

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13 Comments

Filed under books, characters, love, romance, tips, what not to do, writing

13 responses to “Love and Romance: Do You Believe in Magic?

  1. Kait Nolan

    Sigh. The fact that you do this so well is part of why I love you. Of course I’m on the magical end of the spectrum in what I read and totally the pragmatist in real life, which is probably why a lot of my heroines are more practical on this level and the heroes are more likely to take the leap.

    • I think that there has been so much unsupported fated love in the genre, it has turned off so many people, and given romance a bad name. Sort of in the same way that the lit classes we take in school turn people off of concepts like “theme.” In reaction to that, we’ve had a lot of characters, heroines especially, I think, who are so afraid of being the silly, flighty, romantic girl, that they come across so hard and cold we’re left wondering why this great guy is working so hard.

      Or maybe that’s just me.

      But I think there’s a lot of writers writing for themselves just now, in the sense that it’s about what their story seems (to them) to want, where their characters want to take them, and, related to this discussion, the kind of relationship that makes sense to them (although when you look at real life relationships, they often make little sense at all). They’re not so much thinking in terms of the possibility of crafting a story to appeal to multiple viewpoints. So the point of the post was sort of to say hey, I think that can be done, while maintaining the integrity of your personal point of view, and it can also make a deeper experience for the readers, which should be the point.

      Obviously been thinking too much instead of working too much this morning.

  2. You make a good point, Susan. I think everyone likes some wish fullfillment in reading, and that “magic” connection between couples in love does that. It’s what happens between the fall and the landing that makes love frightening, beautiful, and myesterious. 🙂

  3. I’m the opposite. I need a reason for people to be in love beyond magic — it always seems lazy to me, and the idea of “one true mate” just sits funny. I know everyone’s different about it though… I guess I am a very pragmatic person. I like a hint of mysticism, a little “falling in love against one’s own wishes” but not the destiny element.

    Err, I’m rambling. I’ll be quiet. 😛

    • No, you’re not rambling at all, that’s just what I mean. Just because I happen to believe in the magic, doesn’t mean I can just leave it at that when I write. Or I would lose you. And I would have deserved that because it would have been lazy on my part (or short-sighted at least). The best of both worlds makes better reading for all, I think. And even I don’t really like a purely fated romance, I can just put up with it longer than some.

  4. Lauralynn Elliott

    So just how long does it take someone to fall in love? I think it’s totally different for everyone. You even mentioned love at first site. I had a reader slam one of my books and one of the things she complained about was that they fell in love too fast. In whose opinion? I’ve fallen fast and hard in the past (not always a good thing, LOL). It’s all subjective.

    • It is, and I don’t think I could help but be annoyed at someone taking on the role of the love police and telling me how soon is too soon. On the other hand, I think if you have a story in which the characters do fall hard and fast, one way to make that more believable would be to show them as very conflicted and uncertain about it, at least in moments. Like: I feel this but hey, reality check, this is crazy right? But I can’t seem to turn it off. So that even though they fall fast, they don’t necessarily settle in and accept as fast. That gets to take more time and satisfy some of those pickier readers? But then, you know that some people are just never happy and want stuff to fuss about.

      • Lauralynn Elliott

        I felt like the characters were pretty conflicted about it. (it’s sort of a triangle). But you’re right. Some people are never happy.

  5. I loved this post, Susan. 🙂

    I struggle with this a lot, in the way I view other people’s work, and in how I write my own. I’m very odd when it comes to romance. I love writing it, but in my stories thus far, the romances are not The Point. The romances support The Point, and are sometimes very present, but they aren’t the primary focus (or at least, they haven’t been so far). This is mainly because I don’t write Romance, the genre. I write Fantasy, the genre, and there is romance in it — and again, sometimes very prominently, depending on the project — but it’s primarily about something else. Often, I shy away from focusing on the romance, because the pragmatist in me thinks such things trivial. I think this stems from the fact that I’m not very experienced in such things in Real Life, and the experiences I do have are pretty…not good. So I have a hard time believing in Fate, soulmates, magical love, etc. I have a hard time looking at the ideas of love and romance with a lot of hope. And I generally turn up my nose at the swoony, silly girls who do, whether that’s in real life or in movies or in books, whatever. (Generally. A small, scared part of me yearns for this swoony silliness, deeply.)

    This is why I’ve never gotten into Romance, the genre. This is why part of me hesitates to write the “icky love stuff” even while the other part of me melts inside every time I let my guard down to write a character letting his or her guard down.

    I’m rambling. Quel surprise, eh?

    Anyway, I love what you’re saying because you’re right — it’s so important to achieve that balance for your reader. I don’t want to read Disneyfied fluff, but I don’t want to read something totally devoid of love and passion and, yes, romance, either. It’s a hard line to tread as a writer, and an even harder line for me to tread personally, as a reader and a person.

    Very tricky. Very tricky, indeed. I think writing a believable (read: neither clichéd nor unrealistic, and also deeply flawed and yet still magical) romance is right up there with being truly funny. Funny is hard. So is love.

    • Definitely not easy, and something I think a lot of us struggle with. Because I know my weakness, I tend to think in terms of ways to show stuff rather than just expect the reader to accept it because I say so. I call these the “I can’t help falling in love with you” moments, or “ICHFILWY” in Pot/Kettle speak.

  6. Wow very Interesting ! I think that there has been so much unsupported fated love in the genre, it has turned off so many people, and given romance a bad name.

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