I recently received a link to this You Tube video by Overly Sarcastic Productions that I enjoyed watching.
Thanks to Rami Ungar for sending this my way!
This video was hilarious. The person who made this has a great sense of humor. What made me laugh most of the way through the video is how many writers of movies and TV shows seem to think all you need is for the characters to give each other “the look” to know they’re in love, and as soon as they kiss/have sex, they are automatically set for life. That’s it. The end. Happily ever after.
Now, as most of you know, my books often feature couples who get married before they fall in love. I love the marriage of convenience, arranged marriage, and mail order bride plots. I’ve done other plots, of course, but I most enjoy watching a couple fall in love after they marry. So for me, the first kiss/having sex situation is often the beginning of the romance journey.
I’m sure there are a variety of ways to explore romance, but today, I’m going to talk about the way I approach romance. Each writer is different, so my approach isn’t for everyone. And I’m not sure if this post can even be considered a primer on writing romance. If it helps, great. If not, that’s fine. Just take what you can use and toss the rest out.
Romance ultimately boils down to service.
I know that sounds weird. But stay with me on this. Often in my culture (I live in the United States), the emphasis is on, “What can someone do for me?” The culture is pretty much a self-absorbed thing in which people want what they want as soon as they want it. Having to wait for anything often frustrates people, and I believe this is largely based on how fast technology has allowed us to get things. We have gotten spoiled. And yes, I have, too. I have been just as impatient as anyone else. So I’m not pointing any fingers here. If anything, I’m a good example of this.
But this has crossed over into how we look at romance. It’s affected how we look at marriage. I think the tendency is to ask ourselves, “What can this person do for me?” Why do we fall in love with someone? Is it to get something from them? Even if we aren’t thinking of being selfish, I think there’s a trap to end up that way. For example, “Why doesn’t my husband pick up his socks off the floor? Why doesn’t he treat me out to a nice, relaxing dinner?” Likewise, the husband might think, “Why doesn’t my wife make anything but sloppy joe sandwiches? Why doesn’t she wear a dress once in a while instead of those frumpy sweat pants?”
Of course, this isn’t limited to marriages. I just happened to give those examples because I’ve been married for almost 18 years now, and these are the kinds of things that have popped up during the course of my marriage. These are little, insignificant things. They’re not deal breakers. (A deal breaker is something like abuse and infidelity.) I’m not talking about a deal breaker. I’m talking about the tendency of people to get wrapped up in themselves to the point where they stop serving the significant other in their lives.
Romance, at its core, is doing what is best for the other person. (Yes, this can extend to friendships, too, but for this post, we’re looking specifically at romance.) Sometimes when you do what is best for the other person, you have to sacrifice something. For example, a wife might have to sacrifice watching TV to make her husband’s favorite dinner. Maybe the husband sacrifices watching TV so he can do a load of laundry. These are acts of service. These are little things, but they can add up to bigger things in the long run. Real life is not like a movie. We don’t have this great big climatic scene where it’s a life or death situation where the hero gives up everything to save the heroine. Most of the time, it’ll never come to that. But these little things are romantic.
Granted, if you’re writing a book, you want to do more than show the characters doing things for each other around the house. You want to think more like the movies where there are high stakes involved. So put the hero in a situation where he has to give up something important to him for the sake of the heroine. Or, have the heroine give up something important for the sake of the hero.
I’m reminded of a story my mom told me about love. It went something like this: There was a couple who was poor, but they wanted to give each other something for Christmas. The woman had long hair that was gorgeous. She decided to get it cut off and sold it to someone who wanted to make a wig. With that money, she bought her husband an easel and paints since he loved to paint. The man, meanwhile, sold his paint brush so he could buy his wife a comb because he knew she loved her hair. That is what real romance, the sacrificial kind, is all about.
Romance is also about friendship.
If you can’t be friends with the person you’re with, then why are you with them? Romance can’t survive alone on physical attraction. There has to be a heart connection, too. There has to be that emotional component. And at this core is friendship. You should enjoy being with the person. My husband is the funniest guy I know. When we were dating, I loved his sense of humor. To this day, he can still make me laugh. He likes the fact that I have a level head and can keep things organized around the house.
Friends balance each other out. I think people are often attracted to each other based on strengths and weaknesses. And I don’t mean this for only romantic relationships. I mean this for all relationship types. We naturally attract certain people. I think it has to do with our personalities. A good friend is one who knows all of your strengths and weaknesses and accepts you just the way you are. They don’t demand you go around changing something about yourself. They’re always there when you need someone to talk to.
Sometimes they’ll tell you the truth when it hurts, but when they do that, they do it in a kind way. You can tell they’re not trying to hurt you, but they want to protect you from something harmful you might be doing without realizing it. For example, there was a time when I was getting arrogant, and a good friend pointed out that I was letting pride get in my way. You see, that is a good friend. She helped me see what I was doing, and because of her, I changed my course. (That wasn’t easy for me to admit in a blog post, but I can’t think of a better example of when it is hard to tell a friend the truth. Just make sure you do it in a nice way.) Likewise, in romance, there should be honesty between the couple. The honesty is not to be used to criticize or put the other person down. It should be to help and encourage. It should have the end goal of lifting the other person up. It’s all in the motivation. A person can tell if you’re telling them something to be mean or if you’re trying to help.
Romance is also about gratitude.
I think there’s a tendency to take the other person for granted. This is especially true in marriage. It’s easy to look at what someone is NOT doing instead of what they ARE doing. When we look at what is not going right, we miss the things that are going right. When we focus on the negative, we end up complaining. When we complain, we aren’t able to experience gratitude. Gratitude is looking at the wonderful traits of the other person, looking at the sacrifices that person made for us, and looking at the ways that person is making our life better. Focusing on gratitude makes you love the person even more. It advances the romance.
Of course, in romance books, there has to be conflict. When I do conflict, I often do it from outside the relationship. But if there is conflict in the relationship, I try to keep in mind that it’s something that can be resolved pretty quickly and easily because in real life, people should be able to sit down and have a conversation that takes care of the issue they’re facing. If a hero is looking at the heroine and thinking of everything that’s wrong with her (or vice versa), that’s not romance. Sure, people argue. But they shouldn’t be cutting each other down and calling each other names when they’re doing it. You can argue in a way that doesn’t attack the other person. And gratitude is where this comes in. When you are grateful for this other person, you’re more likely to focus on the actual issue.
In my opinion, romance books are best when three things are at work. And ultimately, it all comes down to putting the needs of the other person before yourself. It is treating the other person the way you’d want to be treated. If that is done, how can the couple not help but fall in love?
You should subscribe to their other videos. They make some really entertaining and educational stuff (i highly recommend their examination of the King Arthur mythos, the trilogy about Dante’s Divine Comedy, and their overview of Paradise Lost).
And you’re right: romance is about helping the other person out rather than being helped out, being their friend when they need it, and being grateful for their presence. If that’s not part of the story, then what is it?
I’ll check out more of their videos. I’ve read both King Arthur and Dante’s Divine Comedy, so I’ll start with those.
The elements that make for a good romance also make for great friendships, and I think those make for the best stories in any genre. I’m often more compelled by the way characters relate to each other during the course of the story than the actual genre the story takes place in.
I can dig that.
Great thoughts on romance Ruth! Still learning how to serve better, develop a better friendship and to be grateful, even after 30 years of marriage to my hubby 🙂 It’s probably something each of us continues to learn everyday. Thanks for writing about the topic of romance Ruth! Your post helped me gain greater clarity on why I love writing romance 🙂
Congratulations on 30 years! That’s wonderful!! I’m still learning how to do these things, too. I guess this is an area we never stop learning in.
Romance is the best genre to write in. Of course, I’m biased when I say that.
Romance = service. I like that! My husband is so good at this. Just when I think he isn’t listening, he comes up with something I really need and want. And he does so many big and little things for me. Love that man!
You have an awesome husband. You got to hold onto one that voluntarily cleans up around the house. That’s one of the traits that make for a perfect hero. 🙂