Tag Archive: romance

Why Women Love Fairytales

A while back I had a few long conversations with friends about the White Knight Syndrome and the weirdly high expectations women have about getting guys. I saw it reflected in all kinds of books, where so much of the YA books especially, are so concentrated on the romantic relationships between the main character and whatever male love interests they are always chasing.

From what I’ve seen, it appears that there is a formula to all of this: Women feel as if they have to be in a state of despair before prince charming shows up. Prince charming “fixes” the problem by rescuing the woman (thus taking any need to save herself out of the equation) and then they live happily ever after. That’s why so many stories end when the couple finally gets together. However, there comes a time when the female character has “fixed” herself (read: saved herself and found some self esteem lying around) and then prince charming is suddenly shown for what he is: a two-dimensional love interest. His whole point was the fix the girl/rescue her, right?

That’s how it should go anyway, at least the way I see it. When a woman (or man) attracts a “rescuer” type when they are at their lowest point, you do have to wonder about the sort of person they would attract. Twilight, as always, the easiest punching bag, offers a great example. Bella Swan is “clumsy,” not too smart, not too dumb, average in every way we can see except that she seems to lack any sort of motivation or energy to determine her own future. She attracts someone who wants to fix her life for her, give her direction when she has none, and take away all of her issues for her. It’s no wonder they both have no personalities to speak of. In fact, I would even suggest that when Bella suddenly becomes a vampire, Edward’s role becomes obselete and he becomes some sort of sex-giving robot for Bella at night (summarizing a great deal here but that’s essentially what happens).

In real life, it looks like this:

1) Prince charming shows up, expecting to be needed, princess is in despair, they click because they feed what the other needs

2) Woman grows confident in relationship (because she has a man who validates her value), woman starts having her own life

3) Prince charming no longer feels needed, keeps trying to rescue someone who doesn’t need rescuing anymore

4) Couple clashes

5) Couple breaks up

6) Woman thinks that she must despair before prince charming shows up again

This is, of course, a generalization of a trend I see so obviously not meant to apply to every couple everywhere ever. It’s just…one of those trends that makes me cringe.

This trend also tends to exclude all kinds of other relationships that are not romantic, which you can read about here in this fantastic post about platonic love. You can also read a bit more about this from the man’s perspective and how having poor boundaries and low self esteem can lead to problems with both sexes (read everything by Dr. Nerdlove, he is made of awesome).

I have a very good friend who writes about YA literature (as well as other genres) as a regular blogger. As such, I sometimes get lazy and simply think “What she said! That’s what I think.” Sometimes, it’s good to be a cheerleader for those who speak up and say what they feel about a subject–adding a “I completely agree with this” blog seems silly sometimes when people like this are so eloquent about it.

But when I read her blog about some NYTimes book review jerk who downplays an entire genre (YA lit) simply because it is “marketed to children and teens,” I go a little cross-eyed and rethink my stance on not commenting about some of these subjects. Others have already weighed in on his being a rather biased prick about certain books, so I won’t go into all the reasons he’s wrong, but I will say this: whatever you may think of a particular genre, be it YA lit, romance, mystery, memoirs, or whatever it may be, it’s never cool to insult the genre and its readers. Just because it isn’t your cup of tea doesn’t mean you need to insult those who love it.

Now, on to more constructive commentary on this subject. It has always fascinated me that people dismiss entire genres based on (if they’re good readers) a couple of books they’ve read that disappointed them in this genre or (not very good readers) what they’ve heard about that genre. I cringe to admit that I was one of those “I hate romance because the idea of focusing a whole story on love is stupid” readers; same thing happened with mystery.

When I realized that I really had no clue what I was talking about, I started reading books in different genres, just to get a feel for it. Do I like romance novels? Not so much, but now I can safely point to a number of books that I’ve read in the genre, say which ones I liked and didn’t like, and why. I’ve found, on the other hand, that I love mystery novels and I never would have unless I tried a wide range of them.

My point is: you can’t bitch about a genre or a series or a book or an author unless you’ve actually read their stuff. Also take into account that one book may not be indicative of an entire group. So don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, and don’t ruin it for the rest of us who love it.

I’m not saying reviewers or bloggers or critics shouldn’t give an honest evaluation of a work. But seriously? YA lit is for babies who don’t want to grow up? Way to alienate an entire reader base, dude.

My mom’s a shrink – that’s what I tell people when they ask me if I have any psychology background. I can usually whip out a slew of Freudian-based motivations and behavioral changes analysis as fast as I can recall a friend’s phone number. But the truth is that I’ve been perceptive about people’s thoughts and motivations since I was a kid. One of the things I’ve been good at figuring out is relationships, both for romantic as well as friendship, so I maybe analyze books a little too much (or just enough?). I treat characters as if they are real people so when they break character, I can trace it back to when and where and why. One of the big issues I wanted to write about today was the Lone Wolf character, the “I’m better going it alone” type who (almost always) learns the lesson that nothing can be accomplished alone.

Bearing in mind the psychology thing, I started thinking about why this character never works. Why is this character prominent at the beginning of the story but by the end has softened his hard shell to allow at least one other person in? Why must a lesson be learned for this otherwise self-sufficient character?

You see him in romance novels just as often as you see him in mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, even nonfiction to a certain extent. You may even have a picture of him in your head: the lone wolf, the cowboy who rides by himself into the sunset, the quiet guy who doesn’t want trouble (but it tends to follow him around anyway), antisocial, or just plain mean. Maybe he talks, maybe he doesn’t, maybe his whole family died, maybe his family never understood him.

The reason he never works as a complete character is because being alone is a self defense mechanism in writing. Instead of being alone to stop anyone from hurting him, the character ends up hurting himself so that no one can do it for him. There is always something a little bit wrong with a lone wolf character: sure we admire his strength and aloof attitude, but part of what we want is to be around him. We want his strength at our back, we want him to believe in us and confide in us. We don’t actually want him to be alone.

So if you’ve got a cool loner type, make sure he doesn’t stay that way in your writing. If he does, make sure it makes sense because the reader will question why. Also remember that a character who stubbornly refuses to interact with ANYONE usually has something wrong with him. Human beings are social creatures by design and environment: we’re supposed to be around people. Straight-up hermits need to get out of their caves sometimes. If they don’t, we never hear about them. It sounds like one big existential commentary on life, but no one wants to be alone so why would anyone read a story about someone who is completely alone?

I have been arguing with a friend for the past few days about romance, chemistry, and relationships in writing. In the course of our conversations, I said something that made me think about something that has been obvious to me for a long time.

A relationship is its own character.

I’ve been reading a hell of a lot of books recently: anything written by Josh Lanyon (but especially his Adrien English series), just finished “Matched” by Ally Condie, I’m halfway through “Uglies” by Scott Westerfeld, and I recently read “Discord’s Apple” by Carrie Vaughn. A quick plug: Josh Lanyon is m/m (male/male) or LGBT. His books are PHENOMENAL, his character building and world building are AMAZING. Not to mention his storytelling is out of this world. Check out anything by him to see all of the following points illustrated masterfully.

Now, I’m going to address three key points by using the other three books as examples that I found while reading. SPOILER ALERT. I will be half-reviewing, half-discussing these books so don’t read further if you don’t want to know what happens in the books. You have been warned!

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