Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Conflict in Romance Novels and Real-Life Relationships - Part Two

What is it about a relationship – fictional or not – that sustains it in the long-term? And can a conflict-ridden couple ever change their destructive pattern and live in peaceful co-existence?

In romance fiction, one of the most important elements of writing a great story is to create characters that somehow grow and develop as the story progresses. I wouldn’t want to read a story where the characters remained stagnant and had an inability to mature and change.

And in real life the same fundamental elements are necessary for a relationship to be ultimately satisfying.

The difficulty about romantic relationships, though, is that they contain… two people! Two people who come to the relationship with two sets of dreams, hopes, fears, hurts and histories. And somehow they have to find common ground, feel attraction, fall in love, and get along and understand each other to the point where they can start to plan a life together.

Internal conflict of some sort in each party is a given in any relationship, but how that conflict is managed can often mean the difference between a promising relationship, or a gone-off-the-rails-before-it-even-gets-started kind of experience.

So why do so many real-life romances derail within a few months?  Let’s look at romance novels to get a little guidance… Sometimes, when I’m reading a romance, and I observe the internal conflict that the hero and heroine are experiencing, I start to doubt that they’ll ever solve their problems and get together.

However, at the back of my mind, I have the comforting thought that there is an author behind the story whose duty it is to deliver a guaranteed HEA, so I sit back, relax and enjoy the read (or the ride depending on how caught up I am in the book). Misunderstandings, misperceptions, and miscreant behaviour are all sorted out by the author, and the HEA is ultimately reached.

But, if you think about it, in real life, there is no one behind the scenes manipulating our own love stories, and any misunderstandings or misperceptions about the person we’re romantically involved with are not automatically cleared up by some magic third-party author waving a relationship wand in the air.

And what makes it worse, is that during the infatuation stage of a relationship - when a host of crazy hormones are racing through our bodies - it’s very hard to remain calm and rational about a relationship, especially as people often arrive at different destinations along the relationship road at different times. This can create a host of problems that can make the most die-hard romantic throw up their hands in the air in despair. (Actually die-hard romantics often have the hardest time of all with relationships, as their expectations of romance are so high).

Sometimes a relationship that is full of conflict is simply not meant to work out, and it’s good to know when to let go of someone who just isn’t right for us. But sometimes, the problem isn’t so much with the other person, as much as it is with our own internal conflict.

So what can we do about how this affects our relationships? I can only speak from a female perspective in this regard, but I think a big problem that a lot of women have with relationships is that they’ve been disappointed by men in the past, and bring that negativity into their new relationship. When their new love interest disappoints them, they take all the accumulated disappointment of their past relationships and project that negativity on to the man they’re with, which is – let’s face it – not a recipe for a successful relationship with someone.

It’s all about the heroes and villains that exist not only in romance, but in our own imaginations… and in my next post, I’ll be elaborating on this theme.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Conflict in Romance Novels and Real-Life Relationships - Part One

Conflict is necessary in a romance novel to drive the story forward. If the hero and heroine of a book meet in the beginning of the novel, get on fabulously well, and decide straight away that they want to spend the rest of their lives together it would make for pretty dull reading. There’d be no conflict in the book driving it forward, and therefore no story. Conflict in a novel can be either external or internal, but usually it is a combination of both, and once the conflict has been satisfactorily resolved, the story comes to an end, and the inevitable HEA (Happily Ever After) is reached.

When I read Regency romance novels as a child, I longed to be the heroines of those stories. I dreamed of driving along in horse-drawn carriages, and twirling around candlelit ballrooms while having spirited discussions with my own dreamed up heroes. The thought of being a heroine in a novel thrilled me, and often was the time that I wished I’d been born in another era so that I could appear in my own Regency romance.

However, as I got older, I started to look at all the ordeals the Regency heroines had to go through on their paths to happiness, and I realised that they usually weren’t all that happy on their way to their HEAs. It was then that I came around to the way of thinking that a less conflict-ridden relationship in real life might actually be preferable to those drama-filled romantic tales, no matter how entertaining they were to read…

But, like it or not, there is always some external and internal conflict at the start of any real-life relationship. Guy meets girl, sparks fly, attraction is acknowledged, and the beginning of a relationship starts to unfold – sometimes unsteadily, sometimes more smoothly, but usually there are some bumps along the way.

Although conflict in relationships is inevitable, I wonder whether we don’t take this to the extreme, sometimes, and manufacture conflict in relationships where there needn’t be any. A single girl on the dating scene can usually recount far more dating horror stories to her friends than peaceful journeys on the way to love…

Have we, perhaps, been conditioned by romantic movies and books into thinking that unless there’s a lot of conflict in a real-life romantic relationship, then that relationship isn’t all that passionate and exciting? Do some people manufacture conflict that is unnecessary because they find the lack of drama in a relationship dull? Couples who fight, and then make up in a continuous cycle may find it thrilling, but is it really sustainable?

The interesting thing about the internal conflict a hero or heroine experiences in a romance novel is that unless it is resolved, then the HEA won’t be attained – or alternatively, the HEA may be attained, but it’s unclear whether the fictional couple would be able to sustain a long-term relationship beyond page 253 of a book, making the ending of the story unconvincing.

It is often the story after the HEA that is the most intriguing. Have you ever wondered about how Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy fared after she moved to Pemberley, or whether Jane ever fought with Mr. Rochester after they got married? What is it about a relationship – fictional or not – that sustains it in the long-term? Can a conflict-ridden couple ever change their destructive pattern and live in peaceful co-existence? Does internal conflict ever completely resolve itself in the story of life? I’ll be examining these questions in Part Two…

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

TSTL Heroines in Romance Novels

In the romance reading community there’s an acronym for a certain kind of heroine – the heroine who is described as TSTL (Too Stupid To Live). Every romance reader has probably encountered her within the pages of a novel, and she can engender such frustration in you that you literally want to throw the book against a wall. (Books like these are often described as “wallbangers”).

You all know this kind of heroine – she’s the one who purposefully walks into danger, or never believes anything the kind, sensible hero says. She’ll interrupt him when he’s giving his point of view, disappear in a huff, without resolving the conflict between them, and act like an annoying, immature child.

I’ve come across a number of these heroines in romance novels, which makes me wonder why any sane author would create such a poor example of womanhood. It’s quite bizarre. Perhaps it has something to do with traditional views of femininity and masculinity? In order for a hero to be masculine and “rescue” the distressed damsel, she needs to behave stupidly in order to get his attention?

However, I must admit, that in order to create a fun, exciting story (particularly if you’re writing an historical novel) sometimes it’s necessary to create situations where the heroine is rescued by the hero. However, for it not to be annoying, it’s important to at least show that the heroine has valid reasons for her behaviour. I tried to do this in The Dashing Debutante, my first novel, where Alexandra, the impetuous heroine, often falls into scrapes, but not to extent that the reader thinks her brain has gone into hibernation.

Writers of TSTL heroines often describe the heroine as clever or intelligent, and then, in order to create a certain plot device, the heroine suddenly suspends all rational thought and does something really stupid, which makes you want to pull your hair out in frustration!

I once read a book where I actually disliked the heroine so much, that I didn’t care what happened to her. If she had died, I wouldn’t have minded, which made me wonder whether I wasn’t a terrible person – a character murderer if you will. And that’s the crux of the matter. Romance fiction is escapist fiction, and readers want to laugh, cry, smile and nod their heads in satisfaction as they read these books. But when a character behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense, or is inconsistent or just plain stupid, the story dies for the reader, to the point where they might just put the book down, never to pick it up again. Or alternatively throw it against a wall.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Write what you know, but how?

Today romance writer Gina Rossi is a guest poster on my blog. Gina's second novel, Life After 6 Tequilas, has just been released by ThornBerry Publishing. Gina's debut novel, The Wild Heart, was nominated for the 2012 Joan Hessayon Award. Welcome Gina!

Hello Alissa, and thanks so much for inviting me to talk today about writing and my new brand-new release Life After 6 Tequilas.
Here’s a question: How many times have you finished a book with a satisfied sigh and thought, I could never, in a million years, have written this book, because I don’t know all that STUFF?
Aspiring writers are told, over and over, to ‘write what you know’. How, when you don’t know anything? I’m in awe of people who write fantasy.
Have you ever been stuck under the Polar ice cap with Mr. Universe in a nuclear submarine that’s about to explode? Or run for President, married a sheik or won the Grand Prix? Have you led barefoot men into battle, built an aeroplane out of coconut shells, dived on a wreck of a Spanish galleon, or performed brain surgery? No? Me either. Note to self:  Must. Get. Out. More.
As with so much in life, writing what you know starts with the little things. In my brand new book, Life After 6 Tequilas - just released by Thornberry Publishing on 4th March 2013, details at bottom of page – I portray some of the conflicts and stresses of ordinary life,  and hastily add that the realistic issues faced by my characters are – I hope – lightened with a chick lit angle and accompanying, essential dash of humour.
I placed the book in a familiar setting, casting my heroine as a regular middle-class young working woman in London, so similar to many I know. My heroine, Beth, juggles single motherhood with full-time work. Her son, Jacob, is nine months old as was my grandson, Sam, at the time of writing. They are peas in a pod –  the most pleasurable research I’ve undertaken to date, particularly the swimming lessons.
The story’s set in 2011, so I used true, current and traditional events to mark the passage of time. This backfired because I soon realised I had to wait until the end of the year before I could finish the book – otherwise I’d be writing what I definitely didn’t know!
The reference Armistice Day, apart from being relevant to the story, is a tribute to the British armed forces, past and present who gave, and continue to give, their lives for our freedom.
 Moving on to calmer subjects, like furniture (LOL, as they say), Beth’s boss has an antique partner desk similar to one my father had when I was a child. He did all his writing there and unfortunately sold it when he moved – it’s gone out of the family but it’s there, forever, in my book.
Plants in Beth’s tiny garden are pulled, gasping, from my own repertoire of long-suffering hydrangeas, hellebores and dead clematii.
A piece of jewellery is similar to some my daughters own, and Beth’s painted plates and green-stemmed wine glasses are the ones I coveted years ago in Italy, and still regret not buying.
In conclusion, like your characters, each event and object has a past life, present impact and, possibly, future repercussions. If you add what you know about them, then you add rich, colourful, personal detail to your story. Old hat and I-never-go-anywhere to you, but fresh and interesting to your reader.
As for the new cafe called ‘Cupcake’ in Wandworth, I wish such a place existed!
It’s been great to be here, Alissa. Thanks so much for inviting me. I’d love to hear other writers’ comments on the task of writing what you know. Readers are most welcome to join me on:
Pinterest http://pinterest.com/ginarossiwriter/#

Life After 6 Tequilas by Gina Rossi is available in ebook format from Amazon. Paperback coming soon.