Monday, October 18, 2010
Last Wednesday I talked about rules. Most of you in the comments said rules were meant to be broken, as long as you understood the spirit and purpose of the rule. I said I would elaborate on a discussion Roni Loren and I had last week regarding a particular rule I'd tried to sneak around, but which I wasn't able to in the end.
It is the rule that in romantic fiction, or any kind of story where romance is present, typically, the first person the heroine shows interest in is her ultimate love. (Forgive the gender assumptions.) In other words, if Jane is going to end up with Jack, she'd better not be head over heels with Mark first. Or she can be, but Jack had better be mentioned first, and in a way that shows Jane clearly interested in him.
In When Harry Met Sally, we don't see Sally messing about with some other guy first, looking like she loves him. No, we see her with Harry, even though she won't be with Harry until the end of the story.
Getting it Wrong?
There are some stories that get it wrong, or else teeter on the brink of showing us someone else (or actually flat out do). Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Look at Gone With the Wind. Scarlett is super in love with Ashley Wilkes, and he remains a fixture for her for the rest of the book--but he isn't really her true love, as she finds out late in the game. Was the rule broken here? Not sure. Scarlett is crushed when she hears Ashley is marrying her cousin Melanie. She screams at Ashley and rails at him, and then immediately meets Rhett Butler who heard the whole thing. Did it work? I think it does, because Rhett appears as Ashley spurns her--and capitalizes on her upset. But it's iffy, and maybe that's okay since it takes Scarlett freaking forever to figure out Ashley is a big fat loser--which we could all see from the start.
How about Pride and Prejudice, everyone's favorite? Mr. Darcy is the first man who catches Elizabeth's attention, but not in a good way and she certainly isn't immediately interested in him. Ah, but we know he's going to be important because of the reaction he inspires, kind of like Rhett Butler. Thus, Darcy is still first in that respect.
So where did I go wrong?
I had my protagonist dreaming about her neighbor, whom she slavers over at the beginning of the book. But she doesn't end up with him. Roni pointed out the rule and, being the sweetheart she is, caveated it with it being a typical romance genre rule and it might not apply to other genres. But I think it does. I thought hard about it, and most romantic story lines I've read has this rule firmly in place, or else manipulated so it's clear. So, I played around with it, and had my protagonist see her eventual love across the street, and wonder about him, right off the bat. Then she dreams about her neighbor. It's very small, but it foreshadows what is to come, and it got her man in there first.
One of Roni's comments was that by introducing the neighbor first, she had her expectations set on him instead. And therein lies the importance of this rule--we all know romantic formula (whether or not we can execute it!). And we know what we expect when we read it, too.
I apologize for my lame romance story examples here. When I write these posts, I go completely blank when I try to think of examples. I mean like, had-to-consult-Wikipedia-for-GWTW-plot-summary-blank, even though I know that book and story well. A smarter blogger would pack this post chock full of awesome examples. That's where you guys come in, cause you're all super smart.
Can you think of any popular stories where the main love interest is very clearly first? And can you think of any where he or she isn't, yet it works (or maybe it doesn't)?