Debunking Literary Love

Hi, P. J. Hoover here, and today I’m talking about Literary Love. Specifically. I want to debunk it, just a little 🙂 Because we’ve all read those stories where a guy and a girl meet. And sure, maybe there is some tension going on. Maybe they don’t agree on everything right away. But then, by the end of the novel, everything has worked out.

Imagine you’re one of these characters in a book. Just to make it easy, let’s say you’re the girl. You’ve met the perfect guy. All sorts of crazy plot things have happened, and now it’s the end of the story, and you guys are a couple. And the best part? You’re not just any couple. You’re the perfect couple. No one will ever keep you apart. You are like Prince Charming and Snow White. Life is good. And it will be always.

Together. Forever.

Step back away from yourself and your perfect relationship for just a second. What are the odds that this guy is the one? Like he’s the one you’re destined to be with until you are old and gray?

You think the odds are pretty good? Okay, fine. I dunno. Maybe. Maybe you are “that couple.” The one that sticks together through it all. High school sweethearts. Whatever. I wish you the best of luck.

But maybe, just maybe, you are not “that couple.” Maybe you’ll be together for a month. Or a year. And then you’ll break up. He will be so yesterday. Bye bye, perfect guy.

Here’s the other thing. You know how your guy has been kind of perfect through the story. Sure, maybe there is one slip up. One little thing he does to show his anger, his dark side, the demons he has inside. It shows us he’s imperfect. This is good.

Let’s take a closer look at this. See, an author wrote your story. That author designed both you and your perfect match. She (or he) came up with the words that came out of your mouths, planned out the things you did. And she (or he) made sure that, for the most part, those things were likeable. And relate-able. And she (or he, whatever) made sure your guy didn’t do too many things that might make him appear to be a jerk. Because if she (he) did, then readers wold complain.

For the record, in no way am I saying that guys (or girls) are jerks. I’m saying that people are human. And as such, they have up days and down days and sometimes they say or do things they regret…for no real reason except that they’re having a bad day. But as an author, trying to capture this type of situation for a character becomes difficult. And is thus sometimes avoided.

Still, we don’t want any Mary Jane’s, and that’s why often times you’ll see these totally planned, individual scenes to show our characters’ imperfections. Something to bring them into the realm of “human.” But still they do not cross the line. They are sort of like demigods compared to us. We flaw all the time. Their flaws are numbered like the natural satellites surrounding Earth.

There is only one moon going around Earth.

It’s true that desperate situations make people grow closer, and books are often filled with just these kind of desperate situations. These situations bind characters in ways no one else can understand. Yet, after I finish a book, I can’t help but playing the “then what” game. So write your romantic stories. Seal the ending with a kiss. But then what?

*****

P. J. Hoover is the author of the upcoming dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children’s, 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.’s website or blog.

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About P. J. Hoover

P. J. Hoover is the author of the upcoming dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 18, 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children's, 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.'s website or blog.

16 thoughts on “Debunking Literary Love

  1. Great post! Falling in love is one thing; making a relationship work is something else, something tougher. I’d like to see more books about the latter. (They may be out there, but not necessarily in my favorite genre.)

    • Hey Sandra! You phrase that perfectly! There is so much fun and intensity in that “falling in love” stage. I guess that’s why most of the literature focuses on that, right? Thanks for visiting!

  2. I, like most romance people, love romance books more than those that focus on relationships because they make me feel good inside and allow me to escape from my mundane life. It’s temporary but fun. Relationship experts like to say that people who divorce and remarry over and over again are searching for that feeling they had when they fell in love. If that’s true, romance books gives us a chance to relive it.

    • Ednah, you bring up a good point. I once heard that the reason the Twilight books were so successful among adult women was it pitted Bella’s first love against her new love. Love stories can be tricky, maybe that’s just because I’m a guy.

  3. I love this take! I think the idea of romance is suspension of disbelief. Falling over and again, hoping that somebody, somewhere actually has it “perfect.” But this is why I haven’t actually ever written a teen romance in my novels. I believe there are teens out there who a. Don’t do the romance thing and b. Are too shy and c. Know their high school love with remain in high school (99.9% of the time).
    Have you ever read THE FROG PRINCE CONTINUED and other stories like that? Those are the stories I love. What happens AFTER the kiss. That, for me, is the real love story. The one with struggles and anger and misunderstandings and not necessarily a happily ever after!

  4. There’s something so compelling about two characters who come together in spite of their flaws, and who are less than the perfect couple. For example, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy have serious flaws that almost kept them apart. Watching them overcome their pride and their prejudices, we’re pretty sure we’re seeing how their marriage will work. You know they’ll have some serious bust-ups, but you hope they’ll manage to overcome them. Intriguing post, Tricia!

  5. I like your comment about asking “then what,” PJ. When reading (and writing for that matter!), I like to get a sense that these two people really could make a go of it, despite their differences. I feel uneasy when it feels like the differences add up to more than the “can work well together”. 🙂

  6. One of the best stories (even though not in book form) that demonstrates a not happy or sad, but a bittersweet kind of ending to a romance, is the end of the show The Wonder Years. Nearly the entire show, Winnie and Kevin are portrayed as the ideal couple in terms of growing up together and under implications they’ll eventually get married. But they don’t. They spend the end of the show realizing they aren’t meant for each other and go their separate ways, but still remain friends. Battling expectation: it’s one of the true lessons of life that I think defines people at their most critical bit of vulnerability. And personally, while books and stories can be drawn out to provide an escape from reality, sometimes a little dose of someone else’s reality is enough to remind me of my own.

  7. I usually am fine with fiction being bigger and better than reality–but there’s also a reason I don’t read many category romances…and one of them is that the protagonists are usually way too perfect!

  8. I do love a good happily ever after. I actually believe in forever love, even for young people, but it has to be believable. I attended a fantastic lecture by Sarah M. Eden, regency romance writer, on how to make pride-and-prejudice-caliber romance. When you make them fulfill something in each other, it’s much more believable than just superficial attraction (because they’re both likable and relatable ‘enough’). It bothers me when attraction leads to a relationship, even if it’s a love-hate attraction. There has to be something deeper that they fulfill in each other. Opposites attract for a reason. As authors, we can explore those reasons and bring our characters–and their romances–to life.

  9. What a thought-provoking post, PJ! It had me thinking all day about what I love to read and what i love to write. I do like a good romance, but for me, it always needs an edge. I’m not all that keen about love at first sight and in fact, i enjoy writing improbably romances into my books.

  10. Very cool post. I love it. It’s the age old thing though. Boys and relationships have to be better in books then in real life. Because if the hero farts and scratches himself, we don’t want to keep reading. lol.

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