Kay: Making Romance Real

marriedJust recently I had a setback with my WIP when a long-time critique partner said, after reading three chapters, that she didn’t know why my main characters were on the page. She didn’t see the attraction between my hero and heroine. She didn’t see any conflict.

I’ve struggled with this book, so I tried a new approach: I’ve been writing the turning points first and then filling in chapters as the mood struck. My plan is to write as quickly as possible and then revise until I’m happy. Her assessment of the romance in this book was disappointing, because I’ve been working hard to strengthen the execution of romance elements. My romance plots usually struggle to stay in front of my exterior plots, but in this case, I thought I’d done a pretty good job of keeping the romance hot and prominent.

However, I know I have a problem with it: my hero wants the heroine to move in with him, and she’s resisting until they’ve dated for a longer time and know each other better. That is, until her mother, not exactly a nemesis, but definitely a Troublesome Character, moves in with her. Then my heroine’s tempted to make the jump.

This setup is wrong, I know. If we want readers to believe that the hero and heroine are meant for each other, they can’t make their decisions based on expediency. They can’t even really make decisions based solely on emotion. We have to be able to show why and how these characters are meant for each other for the long haul. Lust alone doesn’t cut the mustard.

Who knew there’s a reality TV show about this very thing?

Married at First Sight, a cable show I’ve never seen, is produced by the FYI Network. In it, contestants (three couples in each season), strangers to each other at the start of the show, legally marry and move in with each other by episode two. Eek, right? However, Married at First Sight encourages lifelong commitment between partners. Just in front of a camera. And a million viewers.

What these cast members have going for them, according to some experts, is conscious decision making. Galena Rhoades, a research associate professor in the psychology department at the University of Denver, found that a marriage is more likely to fall apart if the decision to live together is “less about the quality of the relationship and the partners’ sense of the future and more about external factors.” Reality stars who are thrust into marriages by a show’s production team can’t be casual about their love lives. They have to focus on what they really want in a committed relationship.

So who are these contestant couples, and how do they get selected? Matchmaking experts—including a clinical psychologist, sociologist, and sexologist—pair up the couples (20,000 singles apply) and remain on call for the rest of the filming. Rhoades says that the reality format helps people talk about relationship dynamics. Jamie Otis, a contestant from the first season who is still married, says the footage she saw of her extremely awkward wedding forced her to reflect on her behavior. “I really didn’t think that I was that rude to Doug on our wedding day—I was just really scared,” she said. “If I didn’t have the opportunity to watch it back, I would have never known that I came off as such a snot.” Compare that with regular couples who seek help for their disputes: Most wait six years to seek any kind of professional help for problems in their relationship, and by then, it’s often too late.

And how did these arranged marriages work out? At last tally, one-third of the couples were still together (two of six marriages, both from the first season), somewhat less than the fifty-fifty success rate for “love” matches (one former contestant filed an order of protection against her husband). The couples have been married since July 2014.

So what’s my takeaway? Besides that I’ll never be a contestant on a reality wedding show, I mean. Well, I’ll have plenty of revisions to make on the WIP. First, ratchet up the conflict for my characters. Give them problems and have them work them out. Keep them talking! Make sure that if my heroine moves in with the hero, it’s not because her mother is taking up all the closet space (one reason for a split on Married at First Sight).

After all, it’s still only the first draft. But then—like the TV show, I’ll try to learn from my mistakes. And then, we’ll see.

7 thoughts on “Kay: Making Romance Real

  1. Is this the marriage of the future? Computerized matching, then some intensive counselling for the first six weeks? Hmmm.

    But, back to your main issue. I know this isn’t a common scenario in most romances, but it’s a big issue in a lot of real life romances. Is it time to commit? I had a long courtship, and I can’t even remember when we switched from “let’s get married someday” (very early — but I wanted to get some experiences under my belt first) to “let’s set the date and get married”. I do wonder if it’s genetic — apparently my grandparents took their sweet time getting married, and my grandfather said, according to my grandmother, something like “it’s time to get married, or get off the pot.” LOL. I was quite young when she said that, so the metaphor may not have been mixed when he said it. They had a very long and pretty good marriage, though.

    So, I think your basic conflict is great. The resolution may be a little iffy in fiction. It’s not as interesting to say, “I hate green eggs and ham!” and then try it and find out, “Say, I do like green eggs and ham.” Unless, of course, you perform some word-gymnastics to make it fantastic. (Which you are capable of doing, I know.)

    • It’s my impression, based entirely on anecdotal evidence, that our grandparents had longer engagements or courtships, and our parents had shorter—even lightning-fast ones—due almost entirely (in my ancestors’ case) with the exigencies of war. Peacetime=long courtships, but war (enlisting in and/or going off to) meant quick marriages. These days it seems for a lot of young people that we’re back to long courtships almost by default, because it takes so long to organize a big wedding. And so—back to the trenches for me!

  2. I saw this show once. It must have been the second episode of the season, because it was three weddings. One of the grooms got cold feet and chickened out. The bride took it pretty gracefully. Shudder.

    Good luck wiith your conflict! I know you can do it. The woman who wrote Zero Gravity Outcasts can do anything.

    • Ha! Thank you! And I have a hard time imagining those nice young people getting married after two meetings, or whatever it is. Wouldn’t be for me, that’s for sure. Sounds like there could be a book in there somewhere.😀

  3. I don’t see anything wrong with the heroine moving in with the hero courtesy of her mother’s arrival. It gives a great opportunity to explore their relationship. The interesting thing is what happens next. Does he think it’s nudged her into making a commitment, or does he know fine well she’s gun-shy but thinks it gives him a great opportunity to persuade her that they belong together? And how does he respond when things don’t go to plan?

    Maybe she finds any number of ways to establish barriers/boundaries – moves into the granny flat and insists on paying him rent? Refuses a key, ring the front door bell every time and insists on going ‘home’ after dinner? Brings an overnight bag but leaves the rest of her clothes at her apartment and has to go back to change every day? Or … I don’t know, but just because they’re in the same house, doesn’t mean everything between them is resolved. It could equally be a way to highlight the differences they still have to work through.

    Good luck! As Jeanne said, you can do it!

    • Love all these suggestions Jilly. They are not relevant to anything I’m writing now, but I’m going to file them away for later. I can’t decided whether ringing the doorbell or going back to the apartment to change clothes is my favorite. 🙂

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