Jeanne: Romance vs. Love Story

Matrix Analysis of Romance vs. Love Story

When I got The Demon Always Wins, the the first book in my Touched by a Demon series back from my editor, Karen Harris, she said my story didn’t know whether it was a romance or a love story.

I was mystified. A romance is a love story and vice versa, right?

Wrong.

Karen explained that romances always have happy endings, while love stories don’t.

As part of the general background she provided on how she analyzes story, she also explained that the issues keeping the couple apart in a romance might be internal to the characters, or their external circumstances. The same polarity exists in love stories.

Eight Lady Jilly and I spent the next couple of weeks puzzling over this and sending each other dozens of emails with examples, and where we thought those examples fell along the two continuums.

Then, of course, given my background in working alongside computer geeks and statisticians, it occurred to me that this conundrum really lends itself to a matrix analysis. If you make the vertical axis internal vs. external circumstances and the happy/unhappy ending the horizontal axis, you come up with a matrix like you see above.

Once I had the matrix set up, I plotted in a few well-known stories along the axes.

On the Happy Endings end of the scale, I plotted romances. At the top, where the issues keeping the lovers apart are primarily internal, I put a couple of books by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (It Had to be You and Nobody’s Baby But Mine) and Jenny Crusie (Bet Me).

As you move down the chart, external circumstances start to play a larger role. In Twilight, I treat Edward’s vampirism as an external circumstance–it was forced onto him from an outside agency. However, his controlling behavior and insistence that Bella can’t become a vampire, too, is an internal, character-based issue, and that plays a large role in why they can’t be together.

Most romantic suspense novels–think early Suzanne Brockman–fall into that bottom left quadrant–whatever creates the suspense serves to keep the couple apart, but generally, so do their own character flaws. At the very bottom of that axis, I put Princess Bride–Wesley and Buttercup would be perfectly happy to be together but circumstances force them apart.

Since happy endings are binary–they either are or they aren’t, there’s nothing in the middle of the diagram.

Over on the right, though, we have all the stories with unhappy endings. The issues keeping Rhett and Scarlet apart are internal (except when she’s married, and that never lasts long).

In Wuthering Heights, class-ism keeps Heathcliff and Cathy apart, but so does their wildness.

Still further down the axis, we find Brokeback Mountain. Ennis and Jack are held apart by the danger of being openly homosexual in a profoundly homophobic world, but also by Ennis’ commitment to his family.

At the bottom of the axis lies Romeo and Juliet,  another pair of teenagers kept apart by the world.

Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? If you write romance/love stories, where does you work fall on this matrix?

Jeanne: Getting to Know You

StilettosRecently here at Eight Ladies Writing, we talked about our cold start processes–how each of the Ladies gets herself going again on an existing project when she hasn’t written in a while. Michaeline wrote about what I’d call a “fresh start” process–how she gets started on a new project.

In mid-February I started work on the third book in my Touched by a Demon trilogy, The Demon Wore Stilettos. I’ve been looking forward to this one, because the she-demon Lilith, who has been a minor character in the previous two books, finally gets to take center stage.

I’ve had this book in the back of my mind for a while, so I knew the general premise: Megan Kincaid, a recent MFA graduate, sells her soul to Satan in exchange for making the New York Times bestseller list. Continue reading

Michaeline: Beetlejuice: Juggling the Ensemble

Betelgeuse in Orion: It takes a lot of stars to make a brilliant constellation. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, NASA Hubble photograph)

I love October! There’s a phrase in Japanese that goes “Reading Autumn” and I grew up reading all sorts of really great stories during the Halloween season. I haven’t had time for reading much lately, but made time to re-watch the 1988 film, Beetlejuice. (IMDb)

I think my Girls in the Basement were prompting me to do it, because afterward, I realized it had a very similar conflict structure to the story I’m working on.

From the beginning, Barbara and Adam Maitland show a lot of spunk, determination and love. There’s a hint of tragedy in the beginning, but all of their life is quickly overtaken by the fact that they wake up in their house after a car accident, and realize they didn’t survive the crash.

These are our main protagonists. In the first few minutes of the film, they fight a little with Barbara’s sister (who wants to sell their beloved house). They win the immediate battle by shutting her out, but lose the war when they die. The sister sells the house to Antagonists #2.

Antagonists #2 have a lot more going on than Barbara and Adam. Team Maitland basically speak and act with one heart and mind, often led by Barbara. But Charles and Delia Deetz? They have different goals entirely. Delia wants to be an important and influential artist. Charles initially just wants to recover his health from a nervous breakdown, but as he begins to feel better, his ambition to connect people to real estate returns. All that Team Deetz has in common is love, and even that is called into question. They support each others goals in the abstract, but are too busy with their own goals to actively help each other out. Delia wants to gut the house and turn it into a showcase, while Charles compromises by staking out one calm and peaceful room, and letting Delia turn the rest of the home into Continue reading

Michaeline: Multicasuality, My Word Of The Week

Nineteenth circus poster with a young lady taming several tigers and lions.

My heroine has more than one tiger to tame. I need to find out which one is the most important tiger of the bunch.

Stories aren’t always simple. In fact, although you sometimes meet a story that drives single-mindedly to its conclusion like a bowling ball dropped out of a fourth-story window, usually a story will have frills and complications. Much like our world today, many of the best stories, especially if they are long ones, have multiple causes that pile up and turn into a big, beautiful story.

When we were in class the first year, we spent a lot of time talking about main plots. There had to be one protagonist, one antagonist and one major conflict that drives the story. (-: More than once, I got the comment, “Pick a lane!” on my submissions.

We didn’t discuss sub-plots that much, and how they fit into the story, but sub-plots are mostly there to support and drive the main story even faster to its conclusion.

For example, in Pride and Prejudice we’re talking about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth wants a partner she can love and respect. Darcy thinks he wants a partner he can respect – she must be pretty, witty, kind, cultured and above all, a book reader who has shaped her mind into intelligent channels. Initially, Elizabeth sees a proud man who has no real reason, and Darcy sees a country bumpkin.

The subplots promote these initial views. Mrs. Bennet’s actions when searching for husbands for her daughters reinforce Darcy’s ideas that the neighborhood is provincial and not up to his standards. Darcy’s snubs of Mr. Wickham reinforce Continue reading

Nancy: Back to Basics: Conflict Lock, With Extras

conflict-lockSometimes basic is best. Getting back to basics. Basic black. Basic humanity.

And so it is with writing. Every now and then, often in one of the revision stages of a story, it’s time to get back to the basics – the point, the goal, and the conflict of a story. That means it’s time to reach into the writer’s basic toolbox and pull out some old favorites to identify festering plot holes, shore up weak conflicts, and fix leaky sinks. Okay, maybe not that last one.

This lesson presented itself to me when I recently found my Harrow’s Finest Five book 1 revision slowly circling the drain (what is it with me and sinks today?). I was dissatisfied with the story stakes. As I read the manuscript, they didn’t seem to be escalating, further complicating heroine Emme’s life, and leading her to an inevitable clash with consequences of her own making.

An author has options at such times. Crying. Chocolate. Booze. Cyring into chocolate and booze. But I’ve heard it can actually be more empowering to use TOOLS. Powerful, writerly tools. In this case, I opted for the tools and pulled the conflict box out of my toolbox to see why my revision had gotten stuck and my story felt flat. Continue reading

Nancy: Spending Halloween with the ‘Master of Suspense’

Can you spot the monster in this picture?  Image via Wikimedia Commons

Can you spot the monster in this picture?
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Time for a true confession on this October 31st. I’m not a big fan of Halloween. Never have been. Even as a kid, I wasn’t very motivated to go collect candy if it meant having to dress in a costume to do so.  And while, like Michaeline, I do enjoy the occasional monster story, in my case stories like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and some of the really clever iterations of vampires and zombies that have come out in recent years, I’m not into the non-stop gore fests that crop up on cable TV at this time of year. Other turnoffs: crazed clowns, possessed dolls, and anthropomorphic killer cars.

For me, the best scary stories are the ones where the monsters aren’t so obvious, the ones where they hide behind very human masks, when they look like clean-cut college kids, a worried husband, or the neighbor across the street whom you’ve never met. If any of these ‘monsters’ sound familiar to you, then you, too, might be a fan of Alfred Hitchcock movies. While Psycho is more likely to get airtime at this time of year, if I had to pick my three favorite Hitchcock films, I’d say Rope, Rear Window, and Vertigo. Continue reading

Michaeline: Secrets, Secrets Never Cease

Elizabeth Bennet with the scales of justice

In Pride and Prejudice, secrets are kept from the readers, but we have a friend and guide as Elizabeth Bennet discovers the secrets and weighs the characters of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not sure why, but my mind is still on secrets this week. Last week, we expressed indignation in the comments about writers who keep secrets from the readers, but I’ve been thinking about it a little more, and . . . isn’t that precisely what writers are supposed to do? The writer, by the third or fifth or fiftieth draft, knows exactly what’s going on and all the secrets in the book (in theory). The writer could reveal everything in the first paragraph and be done with it. The art and the skill comes in revealing the secrets bit by bit.

I think what we protest against is clumsiness in handling secrets. As Nancy mentioned, one way of handling it is that there must be clues, they have to make sense, and the reader shouldn’t feel duped when they discover what’s going on.

I’m re-reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen for the umpteenth time this week, and you’d think by now, I know all the secrets in that book so thoroughly that the story would fail to entertain. But it doesn’t . . . I still find it very hard to put the book down.

The big secret is Mr. Wickham’s true character. Continue reading