Friday, August 20, 2010

Dangerous love

Well, all this talk of protective heroes makes me want to talk about danger.

The edge in romance, the edge that makes it erotic, I think is danger-- not necessarily danger from the outside, but danger from the romantic character. That is, falling in love should be like playing with fire somehow. It's not just a nice peaceful benevolent experience, but somehow dangerous to the self. It can END up being all supportive, but if it's that way all the way through the book, if love is always safe, it's likely to be boring because there's no conflict.

What is the danger of love? Well, the first is always-- you must give up yourself or part of yourself to love someone. No arguments, please. It's true. Sure, you gain too, etc. But when you are standing on that cliff, looking at love, jumping is scary. Why? Because you might lose yourself.

You can't know, when you start to fall in love, that this is going to be wonderful. Maybe it won't. Maybe it'll lead to murder. Maybe you'll give up your desire to become a singer so that you can follow him on his mission trip to Rwanda. Maybe you'll be swallowed up by her intrusive family. Maybe his hazardous lifestyle will keep you in a constant state of terror. Maybe your values are opposed and it means you give up what you really want-- children, adventure, ambition, a job, your closeness with friends, I don't know-- in order to be with him.

Love is scary. And it's scary even if this is going to turn out to be The One. In fact, it might be more scary then, because there's no turning back. You're probably going to end up caring for this person more than you care for yourself... and that's really scary.

Anyway, while love can be supportive and might end up enhancing your life, if it seems that way all the way through the book (all together now), there won't be much romantic conflict. Love really is dangerous-- this isn't something made up by romance writers-- and (this is really important), it is dangerous even when or especially when it's the Right Love. "Loving is giving hostage to fortune," remember? When your happiness is dependent on another, you can be unhappy a whole lot.

So... how can a potential lover be dangerous? If you have a romantic relationship in your story, what would you say is the danger posed by one to the other?

Denny and I were talking about this, and I said I thought her hero's danger to the heroine was specifically that he held the key to the past she doesn't want to remember. If they become intimate, he might inexorably lead her to discoveries about that past-- bad stuff.

Buffy and Spike-- well, her danger to him is that she makes him want to be good, and that makes him feel bad. (Well, he IS bad, but he's never felt bad about it before. :) She is dangerous to him because she tempts him into giving up what he thinks is fun, great, all that.

His danger to her is more subtle. He loves all of her and doesn't see The Slayer as separate from the woman. She wants to believe that this killing machine part of her isn't really PART of her, that she -- the real her-- is still innocent within her, and will still be there when she's done being the slayer, that slaying is just a job. From the very start, Spike sees her as the slayer, and loves her as the woman who is the slayer. To accept his love would mean she has to love the part of her that she secretly hates.

Darcy and Elizabeth, since Theresa brought them up. Darcy is dangerous to Elizabeth because he disapproves of her family and is a constant reminder that she can leave her family. She wants to love her family in a pretty uncomplicated way and not see their faults. Darcy is partly wrong about the family-- he IS a snob-- but he's partly right too, and she really doesn't want to see the family plainly.

Elizabeth is dangerous to him because she continually taunts him into a loss of control. He is quite controlled and thinks he has to be as a young nobleman of good intent. He can't give into his anger and passion, so he has always taken refuge in his hyperresponsibility and his class-oriented repression. As a not-quite-respectable miss, she taunts him into realizing what he has given up for the repression-- and teases him into uncontrolled displays of emotion. She makes him FEEL, and feeling is dangerous to him as it is uncontrolled.

Other examples? Your own?


Wes said...

Great post!!! And the concept transcends genre and gender. I stumbled onto this concept by blind luck and tried to use it. I don't know if I pulled it off. I guess the services your new business will provide will be my first indication. My intent was to have my MC's love interest gnaw at his values, destroy his soul, then after he redeems himself, she knocks him down again. She was a fun character to write.

C.L. Gray said...

I'm going to give an example from my favorite romance. Gone With the Wind.

Rhett Butler is dangerous to Scarlett for two reasons. The first is to love him would be to let go of her understanding of her place in the world of Southern society. He challenged that place and dragged out of her bit-by-bit her own dissatisfaction with the cage that society kept her in.

The other reason has to do with Ashley Wilkes. She held on to her "love" for Ashley as an escape: first as the subject of many teenage fantasies, then Ashley became an escape from the cruelty of war, and then Ashley was an escape from the harshness of Reconstruction. After she marries Rhett, she holds on to her love for Ashley even when she realizes (on the day of the birthday party) that something has changed in the relationship, and the change has occured on her part. Of course, this revelation won't come to full fruition until Melanie's death and, by then, it is too late. Rhett is gone.

Scarlett is dangerous to Rhett because he enjoys being the rebel and thumbing his nose at a soceity that cast him out. But to love... At first he isn't ready. During the war, he would try to go away to forget Scarlett, but he always came back to Atlanta.

He protects her during the fall of Atlanta, but during the flight from Atlanta he learns something about himself. He may hate Southern society, but he doesn't hate the South. He's watching it die, and he leaves her to go fight. I love that. That's why Rhett Butler is my favorte literary character (followed closely by Sidney Carton, another romantic hero). At his core, Rhett's a good, good man, though he would like to pretend he's not.

His protection of Scarlett is subtle at times (freeing her from mourning), to the practical (staying in Atlanta in the late summer of 1864) just in case she needed rescuing, to hurrying to her side to make sure she got the tax money (after she visited him in jail dressed in the dress from Ellen's curtains).

He fought against Ashely Wilkes. Not the Ashley that has been shattered by the war, but against Scarlett's fantasy of Ashley. Fought hard and thought that if could make Scarlett feel safe, she would love him.

But the one thing he would not do is tell her that he loved her. Until he no longer did. Only then did he feel safe enough to confess the truth.

It's a great story.

Jami Gold said...

Alicia said: falling in love should be like playing with fire must give up yourself or part of yourself to love someone

Yes! *caramel popcorn and Raisinets go flying as I bounce on the sofa* This is what the relationships of my stories center around. This is the inherent conflict behind virtually every falling-in-love story (real and fiction). This idea of losing yourself is danger and conflict and romance and sexiness all rolled into one package.

There are an infinite number of ways to express this conflict: giving up self-concept, giving up accomplishments or dreams, giving up feeling of security/self-sufficiency, giving up fear of the past, etc. It is this idea that leads to the concept of "and the two shall become one". The idea that if you really-and-truly fall in love, even if the relationship doesn't work out, you will never be the same again. You can't go back to the way you were because you've fundamentally changed and consciously realized something about yourself that you didn't know before (a re-prioritization of your life or whatnot).

To your Buffy/Spike example (god, I miss them), I'd add that especially after Buffy returns from heaven, Spike is dangerous to her because he makes her care and face what she's become. She comes back a virtual zombie and I think a part of her is still hoping that the magic will wear off and she'll get back to heaven somehow. She keeps herself distant from everyone in preparation for that possibility. But when she connects with Spike, those strings tying her to earth start tangling around her tighter, making the prospect of leaving again more and more distant.

(Sorry, Thomas, the food references had nothing to do with imagining the heroes and everything to do with the entertainment factor of this educational throw-down. That and the fact that we've made ourselves at home here. LOL! *proceeds to clean up the mess I made on the floor*)

alicia said...

Good thoughts! And thanks for tidying up, Jami. Really, I was just ready to get around to that. :)

Leona said...

*Squeals I love this part LOL
Jumps off couch to avoid the ambulatory raisinets.

Okay, Jami, I'm waiting for my grammar geek badge because I'm as bad as you. Maybe poor Thomas didn't catch the entertainment value because he doesn't get an accelerated heart beat at grammar and structure like us nerds. As I said in previous posts, people, especially my husband roll their eyes and laugh when I tell them how excited I am because of ___ fill in the blank. LOL.

I think the trick is getting others to "see" the danger the characters are in and feel it even stronger. I'm still working on it :)

*sheepishly bends down to hold dustpan for Jami.*

Jami Gold said...

*waves Alicia back to her spot* No, no, my mess, I'll get it, don't worry. :)


Yes, I have the danger to my heroines very obvious: risking family, death, you-name-it. *takes dustpan and dumps it before I start talking with my hands and make an even bigger mess*

But with my heroes, for some reason, it always turns out to be more subtle. Maybe it goes along with their tortured past or whatnot. It's harder to pinpoint the danger, less tangible, but it's still there: risking losing their faith in God if things don't work out, risking discovering that they're like their father in all the wrong ways, etc.

Hmm, now that I think about it, my heroes tend to internally acknowledge their feelings for the heroine before the heroines do the same, and I think that's why their risk is less obvious. On some level, they've already decided to take that jump before the heroine, so their choice to embrace the danger is less a part of the overall story arc.

Cool, something I hadn't realized about my stories before. :) Thanks!

Anonymous said...
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Edittorrent said...

Keep thinking about the emotional peril the hero feels when contemplating this woman. :)

Denny S. Bryce said...

I love this discussion. And the Gone with the Wind reference resonates for me and the manuscript I'm working on. GWtW is a perfect example of a great love story with beautifully woven conflict. Thank you all.

Jami Gold said...

Okay, so I'd decided that I should do a book with the opposite approach than my "usual" (the heroine realizes it before the hero) just because I'm contrary that way. :) And then I remembered I have another WIP set up exactly that way. So apparently, it's not my usual, it's just the way the two examples I was thinking of happen to play out. LOL!

Yes, Alicia, you're right. To maintain the danger vibe, the hero needs to reflect on their emotional peril occasionally. Thanks for the reminder!

Riley Murphy said...

Dangerous love to me? is wanting the relationship - the lover - the person - who forces you to face yourself, your fears and your expectations with an honest clarity and confront the person you truly are - not the person you wished you could be. It’s about being real - because the person you are with them - is the person you can be happy being for the rest of your days. And, I believe, this has less to do with sacrificing self and more to do with changing one’s perception of the person you were, are, or hoped to be - not for that person, but because of them.

The danger in this? There's no excuse. There's nothing to blame, or fall-back on if it fails. And how scary is that?

Just my .02