Saturday, June 23, 2012

Romance and Life Writing

When I first began life writing, I didn't really think that there was much romance as a genre could teach me.  I was incredibly wrong.

If you are ever interested in reading a terrific article outlining what romance is as a genre, then please read "The Basics of Romance" by Rita Clay Estrada and Rita Gallagher in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing.  They do an excellent job of pointing out the story arc and characteristics that differentiate romance from the other fiction out there.  I will be going through their points in a moment to explain how these relate to your memoir in a moment.

Another terrific article which has relevance to our last assignment is "Emotion: Fiction's Connecting Link" by Kathy Jacobson and comes from the same book.  This article bridges that "show vs. tell" gap in a way that helps you know what to show and what to skip.  We'll look at pieces of this advice later.

But back to romance and your memoir...

What's it good for?

Essentially a romance is really a story about how two people come together.  They may be tied in many ways.  It may be a fairytale ending, or it may make Romeo and Juliet look positively optimistic.  But the basic plot of a traditional romance is simple, as explained by Estrada and Gallagher:

  1. Boy meets girl.

    We all know this part of the story.  Estrada and Gallagher make the important point that in a true romance, "there are no other men for here--just as, from that point on, there are no other women for him..." (sorry, I haven't figured out a way to get a page number on the Kindle, but it's 61% of the way through the book).

    The relation to your memoir?  Well, you don't need to be writing a romantic romance, but you need to pick the moment that you recognize that the person you have introduced will be important to your life.  In other words, you don't actually have to begin your romance with the moment you met this person, but with the moment that they became important to you.
  2. Boy and girl let their characters shine.

    Before we can care about them as a couple, we need to care about them individually.  Similarly, as you are writing about the development of the relationship you are writing about, you need to let us get to know the characters individually before we care about who they are together.
  3. Boy and girl overcome obstacles which stand in the way of their relationship.

    This last bit can take a whole variety of courses, but essentially, it boils down to what Estrada and Gallagher call sexual awareness and sexual tension.  In a memoir, however, if you are simply discussing the development of a relationship, this awareness and tension need not be explicitly sexual.  The four rules Estrada and Gallagher pose, however, still hold very well:

    1. From the first meeting, they are aware of one another.
    2. When discussing this relationship, spend time in the relationship.  Show scenes together or scenes in which each person is thinking about, preparing for, or learning about the other.
    3. Every scene should bring about a change in feeling.  Estrada and Gallagher suggest, "Their emotions should strengthen, shake, threaten, and, as the book progresses, solidify the relationship."  Now, you are writing memoir, not fiction, so your scenes need not solidify the relationship, but each scene you choose to show should reveal the why and how your relationship has become what it has.
    4. Estrada and Gallagher post the last of these rules as, "The senses of the hero and heroine are sharpened when they are together."  I don't know that I would go that far, but I would definitely say that there should be a qualitative difference in how you or the other person in the relationship thinks and acts when you are together.  In other words, I wouldn't say that your senses have sharpened but that they are qualitatively different--or perhaps the other person allows a space within which new things become safe or possible for you to try.
  4. Ever after.  Imply a future for your couple.  It does not need to be a happy future, but in order for us to feel resolution, we need to be pointed in some sort of direction.  And for that direction to feel satisfying and true, we need to have some preparation for it.  You need to have hinted you were heading that direction.  Of course, you could have thrown hints in all directions, and that's okay, too.  But we need to clearly know that there was some indication that we were going to head up in the place you suggest we will end up.
Do you have any relationships you can see this working for?  In my life, it definitely corresponds to the development of several friendships and in-law relationships.  In some ways, I can even see it working for understanding and bonding with my children.

So give it a try!  Soon, I will be posting on how Paedar's comment from the last post will work together with the emotional tension we want to achieve in romance.

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