Monday, February 22, 2010

Valentines

In honor of a recent holiday, (or as a sigh of relief that it has once again passed by for happier days of the year), my post this week will be about a couple of the different types of romance commonly found in stories.

In the world of modern love stories, there seem to be two main archetypes: the Cinderella and the Beauty and the Beast. Both arising from classic stories that are several centuries old, these each follow a basic path to get to the happy ending. In Cinderella, it’s Unhappy Female is rescued from dire fate by Godlike Man. In Beauty and the Beast, Female is doing all right on her own, but is compelled to rescue Brooding Man from whatever spell/deformity/dark secret he is plagued with.

Each type of story has gone through waves of popularity. In the nineteenth century, Victorian romances featuring Edward Rochester and Heathcliff led many young women to conclude that saving your lover’s tormented soul is the highest of callings. Somewhat alarmed at this trend, the youngest Bronte sister, Anne, wrote The Tennant of Wildfell Hall to show the dark side of marrying the bad boy and trying to change him. Today, through the popularity of a series of books that shall not be named, I think that this trend is repeating itself. Men with dark pasts/realities/secrets/fill-in-most-anything-that-will-make-him-suitably-broody are much more exciting than your average boy next door. And Prince Charmings don’t exist anyway, right?

Cinderella stories always seem to be most popular during times of crisis. Walt Disney’s famous movie version was made in the years immediately following World War Two, a time when many women wanted nothing more than to hope that “No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.” These days, we see Cinderella stories as chauvinistic anachronisms, and I don’t see them very frequently anymore (excluding the realm of fanfiction, but that’s another post for another time).

In writing, I think that there is a tendency for authors to veer to either extreme. We either write untouchably wonderful characters or characters so abhorrent that it’s hard to believe when someone falls in love with them. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. My stories, though, have a definite Beauty and the Beast tilt to them. Scars, crushing past tragedies, hidden identities, and unspoken love abound.

There is something to be said for a happy ending, though. So why is it that I have such a hard time writing them? Come back next week for a discussion on killing characters. Be sure to bring your axes!

-Melissa

1 comments:

drea moore said...

Awww. Other than the history of Valentines, why is it an unhappy day?

I understand what you are saying about idealized characters, but my reading has encompassed books (mostly) which revolve around characters much more gray than either of these options. Also, I think that romances (well done ones) don't fall into these archetypal extremes very neatly. Some of my favorite romances in recent books are a combination of these, but the "personality traits" balance out in a manner that makes the partnership essential to the reaching of the story's end goal. One of the things about Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast don't share in common with the romances I adore, is that for the the folkloric archetypes the romance is the end goal and in the more modern books, the romance comes as an aside. Relationships happen as an affect of character decisions, and the partnership helps in the reaching of mutual (or complimentary) goals, but the romance is not the goal in and of itself.

My goal as a writer is to make my characters relationships fit this more modern pattern. I feel the earlier is a trend established in a pre-feminist era (as we are in a post-feminist era)and the audience's values have largely changed.

That said, I would not be surprised if these aforementioned archetypes still exist in Romance novels. But as I have not read one of those in the last sixteen years, I can't speak for it's modern trends.

Interesting idea :D

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