Just 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.