Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Un-Christmas Thought

First off, Merry Christmas! Even though I didn’t send cards out this year showcasing how cute my dog is, know that I send you the warmest of holiday wishes nonetheless.

Yet, while many are making their lists and checking them twice, my thoughts are in a much more futile place. Rather than hunting down last minute Christmas presents, my mind is dwelling on this thought: How long is too long to wait to put two main characters together?

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess I have an opinion on this matter: I believe in organic unions, with only rare cases where people create insurmountable ninja gauntlets to protect them from potential relationships with people they are madly in love with.

And yet, there is example after example of storytellers who fear bringing their protagonists together because they think their plot cannot survive the loss of sexual tension. Here again, I disagree. In my mind, a consummated relationship is an even stickier web than when the couple was just dancing around each other. Now they have to dance in each other’s space, not around the perimeter, and that’s a whole new game.

But clearly I am an outlier in this way of thinking, which is why I ask you my non-Christmas question: Do you think bringing couples together in TV or fiction destroys a series? There are definitely examples where it has. No doubt. But was it REALLY because the characters got together, or did the show’s producers put the characters together because they knew they were nearing the end of their ride?

What do you think, my fellow readers and writers?

How long do you like to wait before seeing two characters get together? And how long is too long? Literary, TV, and film examples of relationships done right and wrong are welcome!

Looking forward to your thoughts!


  1. Unfortunately, I have no opinion to offer beyond the contribution that this was and still is one of my all time favorite television shows: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AYvYZB1rLI

  2. I say the quicker the better. Give 'Em that they want.

  3. Fascinating, indeed, Liz.

    I shall put you in the "love conquers all" category--when we all pull together with a common cause, ANYthing is possible. Even the recovery of a stolen piggy bank! :)

    Based on this categorization, I would assume that you value relationship dynamics over relationship status... that you might find as much entertainment in a relationship like Shrek and Donkey as you would between Ariel and Prince Eric... and may be even more interested in the dynamic of the former. Whether the characters are married, single, friends, enemies, or frenemies is incidental to you. You enjoy the banter/dynamics or any two interesting parties separated by a little bit of friction.

    This sound about right? Or near the ballpark?

  4. So, Mindy, follow up question: Does it bother you when you're reading or watching to see the obstacles created to "prolong" the tension and allegedly make it more interesting?

  5. I have probably thought about this for an inordinate amount of time, so I'm glad you posted the question so we can share our thoughts! I think the big problem is that writers write themselves into a corner. If the writer places SUCH an emphasis on the characters not being together--dancing around each other, as you say--then it's really hard to write something equally as powerful on the other side of things. You've spent so much time exploring who these people are apart that you have little basis for who they are together--especially since who people are together is a much more difficult place to go to. I don't think prime time comedies or dramas even dare scratch the surface to what lies beneath. Though, to be fair, TV and movies are primarily about entertainment, not about education, morality, or the human condition. So tackling the challenges of "togetherness" is not really suited to a medium like TV or movies. The problem lies in the fact that it's got to be real; it's got to be genuine. It's OK to mess about and make light of the la-dee-dah puppy love stage. But woe to the writer who makes fluff from the grit and grind and work people put into relationships. Plus, people have got these problems of their own--who wants to watch/read others'?

    I write that because I think that's what most media consumers are thinking. I, personally, have always enjoyed the exploration of after the happily-ever-after. I don't mind waiting for hundreds and hundreds of pages for our hero and heroine to get together if the writer earns it. Done right: Middlemarch, by George Eliot. I also don't mind if they're in love almost right away. Done right: Mr. Darcy falling for Eliza Bennet in P&P. I'm with you: it's just got to be organic. Whatever the cute-meet, it's got to happen in a natural time/place. Same with the falling in love.

    Here's the clincher. Media, strangely enough, is a terribly Republican beast. When it's done wrong, the writer is telling the reader/viewer insistently, "They're in love, see? They're in love, they're in love. And you have to believe they're in love because I'm TELLING you they are." Hello, Stephanie Meyer. The writer tells the audience, and the audience is assumed to believe. When it's done right, the writer gets out of the way; they SHOW you what the situation is, and the audience thinks to itself, "Oh. They just fell in love. How charming." These are the most powerful love stories. Take the film The Notebook. It's beautiful to watch; it's a lovely, heartbreaking story. But they were way to interested in TELLING you "They're in love! They're in love! See? Look at all this overacting and the beautiful people! They MUST be in love! See I've just proven it to you! Oh, my gosh! Did you HEAR that funny joke he just told her? Whoa! These two are SOOOOOO in love!" The thing is, I think The Notebook could have been one of the most beautiful love stories on film if they'd gotten out of their own way.

    Also, have you ever seen The Mirror Has Two Faces? Well, even if you have, give it another look-see. It's the movie that got me asking these questions in the first place. It's sure to turn on its head everything you've been thinking so far.

    For the record, I think some of my favorite situations are those when our hero and heroine are thrown together in situations they can't get out of, with one or both of them very much aware of their feelings for the other. Like BONES. Or Persuasion. Or Downton Abbey. It just makes for an interesting character study. By the way, I think it's high time we get together for another late night frozen yogurt writers' session with E. It doesn't have to be frozen yogurt. We could do ice cream. ;)

  6. I'm with you Shera. I hate it when keeping the couple apart feels manufactured. Or when they get together feels that way. Let it happen naturally. There's plenty of fun that can happen with them TOGETHER.

    And hey, How did I miss that your MS placed first at LUW this year? Mine came in 2nd! I don't taking second place to you, my friend ;)

  7. My favorite love stories are those where the lovers get to know each other well, and then they get together.

    I dislike: when the lovers are thrown together too easily/quickly, or when they finally get together on the last page/scene. I also dislike all the silly roadblocks put in the way of the relationships. I like to think of the lovers as mature enough to talk about a minor misunderstanding. I also am really, really, really sick of the movies where the man rushes in to steal a bride away from the altar at her wedding. Who does that? Not respectable lovers! In my humble opinion.

    Oh, I also really, really like when you see plenty of happy togetherness before the story ends. But I'm silly like that.

    :) that was a fun detour from the Christmas season. Makes me want to watch a chic flic.

    Oh, one more thing: I much prefer the seasons of Office when Jim and Pam are together. I actually don't like watching the first couple of seasons. :)

  8. Of course I just wrote an essay, and then realized I still had much more to say.

    Have you ever read in physics about anti-matter? The basic concept is that for everything out there, there is an anti-version of that thing, and if the two ever meet, POOF! It's like they cancel each other out and both are destroyed.

    I think a HUGE problem with the transition from puppy-love to ever-after is that most writers in entertainment write based on the fairy tale myth that once you finally get together with the one you love, your problems are over. We like to write about and view relationships where people balance each other out to the point that their being together no longer makes them human; it makes them divine or at lease not in a category with the rest of us. Therefore, there's nothing more to write about, because for these two, problems do not exist any more.

    To make a story thrive after the hero and heroine get together, they must be--as we all actually are--profoundly flawed. Their relationship may be wonderful; it may very well be worth fighting for and living or dying for. But the people who make up that relationship are still themselves; they get in their own way, only now that they're coupled they get in the way of the relationship, too. People do stupid things. We do stupid things all the time. When we're coupled, our stupid things are magnified, not diminished. It's worth writing about over and over again.

    Again, BONES: It took them 6 years to get Bones and Booth together. I read the spoiler blogs and people's comments all over the Internet about how fed up they are with the produces not getting the two together sooner. But we're talking about two people who come at the world from vastly different points of view. I'd say six seasons is just about the right amount of time for people to follow their journey into coupleship--and since the writers have never made their relationship work based on whether they're together, these people will still be able to function as we all actually do: Individuals yet partners.

    I'm sure to have more to say in the future. Sigh...

  9. Oh, such thoughtful, vetted thoughts are like Christmas morning to my soul!

    Where to start?

    Becca, thy thoughts are catnip. And yes, we are WAY overdue for a get together. Ridiculously so. But back on the topic, you are right that entertainment prefers to dwell on the "la-de-dah" phase and put the actual, functioning dynamics of a relationship off stage. I never thought to take into account that was intentional, but you are totally on the nose with that one. But I also see a shift with shows like "Up All Night" and "Parenthood," where dynamics are lightly explored through either a comedy or soap opera format.

    I also totally agree with your anti-matter analogy. I'm a big fan of flawed characters--almost uncomfortably flawed--although it is the tendency of all writers to want to make their character too perfect or too smart and make their Achilles heel a little too elusive/nonexistent. Frequently, only the person they are in love with has access to it while the hero stands impervious to the rest of the world and its vices.

    With Bones, I see your point, but I also think they brought them together in a rather uncaptivating way. As a viewer (and this is just me with my little opinion), I don't care that they're together. Their relationship is passionless and mundane to me, which is very similar to how it was before they got together. Castle is going the same direction for me. The spark that existed to palpably in seasons 1 & 2 waned a bit in season 3 and has been snuffed in season 4 for me. Ironically, this is also the timing where Beckett is allegedly admitting her feelings. But (and this is just me again, feel free to disagree) at this point I kind of don't want them together. Castle has lost himself in his pining for Beckett. He's not funny anymore (watch a season 4 episode, then any season 1 or 2 episode and tell me I'm wrong), he's not social, and he's barely even writing. To your point, Becca, they need to be individuals, yet partners.

    The Castle/Beckett relationship has lost its shine to me because Castle has lost himself and is like a puppy begging for scraps while Beckett doggedly keeps him in a holding pattern.

    Ali, obviously we are on the same page. I think together can be even MORE fun and dynamic. Example: Mr and Mrs Smith.

    Laura, you bring up one of my key pet peeves: couples who let the most ridiculous obstacles/gossip tear them apart long enough for them to make a ridiculous decision. This, of course, is popular in romance novels, for who knows what reason.

    I mean, seriously. Who doesn't talk things out or verify information with someone they're totally in love with? Resorting to lame gossip/misunderstandings to create the All-is-Lost moment before the climax has to be one of my LEAST favorite devices ever.

    And I mean EVER.

    I'm sure I overlooked many points, so I'm going to go back a re-read your comments now. Such good food for thought!

  10. This idea that unresolved sexual tension is the only way to make a show/story interesting bugs me. I mean, really, any relationship left to stagnate at the same stage for time and all eternity gets really boring. In real life, relationships change. They have their ups and downs, ins and outs. A lot of people think that long term relationships are boring material, but there is really so much drama within a long term relationship! Maybe it's not sexy drama, but it is drama nonetheless.

    Another interesting thing is that our relationships change our characters. I am still intrinsically the same person I was fifteen years ago, but my relationship with my husband has brought out some characteristics in me that would otherwise have remained hidden. So bringing characters together is a great way to show their growth and further development of their personality.

    The one show this reminds me of is Bones. i don't know if you watch it all, but I'll assume you know nothing about it. I really loved the first five seasons of Bones, where there was all this flirting and stuff, and then, bang, they did a bunch of stupid stuff in season 6 and completely lost all the sexual tension between Brennan and Booth. Eventually, at the end of the season, all the obstacles were removed and we knew that they were very likely to get together soon, but a lot of the sexual tension was still gone,so it seemed a little weird to know that's where they were headed. However, it kind of worked because the two characters had been through so much together that it all came together naturally, and actually without a lot of fanfare. In fact, there was so little fanfare, that the moment of the consummation of their relationship was only hinted at, and you didn't know for sure it had happened until Bones announced she was pregnant with Booth's child. That was the season finale. The next season premiere actually skipped ahead like four or five months in the story line, so that Bones and Booth were an official couple and living together and everything, but they were kind of past the whole honeymoon phase, and were basically just the same characters they had always been, just in a relationship. The old dynamic was back, but in a different way. I was kind of mad at first, but I think it worked for the show and I'm liking this season a lot more than last season.

    Anyway, I don't know if that's at all helpful, but there's my two cents.

  11. You make total sense, Robin. And for the record, I watched the first 3 seasons of Bones in full, then spot-watched the remaining seasons, although I think I've seen all of season 7's episodes. And you explained the dynamic much better than I did.

    You also bring up the key point that different people bring out different qualities in us. We may love someone even as their influence turns us into a worse version of ourselves. Other people make us rise to the occasion and move beyond our comfort zones into a place of growth. This is frequently uncomfortable, and we usually don't like people for doing this to us, but once we're done growing, we're usually glad and a little proud that we did it, which also makes us forgive the other person for pushing us.

    This is a key point for me: who two people are alone, and who are they together? What is the result of their synergy? Do their common weaknesses bond them and drag them down together? Does the friction of their incompatibilities draw them into a battle of egos? Or are they inspired at each other's strengths?

    There are, of course, many more dynamics that could come into play, but I think you bring up a key point, Robin!

  12. Caveat: For me, as soon as the story turns sexual, I start to lose interest. Yes, a story has to have attraction and chemistry—definitely friendship—but when the hero or heroine start undressing each other with their eyes and can't wait to get each other into bed, the magical feeling becomes tainted.

    Honestly I don't really think there's a right or wrong answer to your question. I just know what I like and don't like, and I don't like extremes. Take Sleepless in Seattle, for example. Yes, it was a love story, but other than a girl admiring a guy from a distance, there was ZERO falling in love. When they finally got together and the show ended, I wished I hadn’t wasted my time watching it. And then there's the opposite, where a couple falls into bed together right away and then gradually fall in love after that. Nope--can't stand those either.

    My favorite part of ANY love story is the falling in love part. There's something magical and special about that time. The connection. The giddiness. The excitement. The noticing. The frustration. The fear. The insecurity. The "I can't wait to see or talk to this person again.” And then there’s the chemistry. The first time they touch, hold hands, kiss, etc. The sigh-worthy moments when the hero or heroine does something thoughtful (in a non-cheesy way) for the other.

    But once a story moves beyond that exciting time, then it’s harder to keep those feelings alive, which is why so many stories turn sexual. Because that’s the author’s way of keeping that thrill and excitement alive and well. They up the anti.

    For me, a couple can get together early on as long as that initial thrill of falling in love is kept alive. Or, if there’s something that breaks them apart at some point, then brings them back together, giving the author a chance to rekindle those feelings. I think that’s why most TV series drag out the romance WAY too long. Because once you’re past that “falling in love” stage, then real life sets in and the “happily ever after” that people love to envision is marred with more conflicts. Which is why sequels to loves stories fall flat most of the time. No one wants their happily ever after tainted.

  13. Rachael's rant continued . . .

    The American President is one of my all-time favorite contemporary love stories even though they consummated their relationship at some point. BUT--that wasn't what made me love the story. They could have deleted that scene, and I would have liked the movie even better. What I loved was the falling in love part. The fun way they met and got together. The connection they had. The way they continued to see each other despite everyone trying to break them apart. Their personalities played off each other so well that there was a genuine friendship and mutual respect. Add in the chemistry, and it still makes me smile every time I watch it.

    Now for Sweet Misfortunes. Totally loved the first two parts of that story. The third part dragged on WAY too long. Why? Because that author left out the "falling in love" feelings and instead focused on getting past the ridiculous and predictable conflict that could have been solved with one quick conversation. (HATE that kind of conflict).

    And since Becca brought up The Notebook, I have to say that I really hated that movie. Why? Because the love story was all about the physical and didn't jive with a couple who actually stayed together. It wasn't genuine enough for me. In real life, a couple who fought as much as those two did and had so little in common would never have stayed together for the long haul—at least not happily. Once the physical rush got old, so would their mutual respect, and hence, their relationship. So the fact that they died in bed together holding hands (can I just say ick?), didn’t come across as real.

    Okay, WOW, I have way too much to say on this subject. :) But I’ll leave you with some of my favorite love stories. Anne of Green Gables, P&P (shocker), You've Got Mail, Runaway Bride, Emma, etc. As far as TV series go, I can’t say there’s any one love story that I LOVE. They all drag on too long. That being said, there was a show called Moonlight a few years back that only lasted a season—and I did love the romance in that show, probably because it didn’t drag on too long. It was a spinoff from the Twilight series, only the characters actually had great personalities. (It also helped that Alex O'Loughlin starred in it, and I’m a big fan of his.)

  14. P.S. Next time I'm just going to call you. :)

  15. What? Call me and have your insights lost in the swirling randomness of my mind, never to be seen or heard from again?

    No way!

    You and Becca would LOVE each other! Because yes, it is about showing the love, not telling the love. And using how often they hit the sheets as a cop-out to showing how in love two people are gets super old, super quick.

    In Sweet Misfortune, the protagonist was just WAY to bitter for me, and the misunderstanding WAY too contrived. I mean... REALLY! What adult human being thinks like the couple in that book? I did like the fortunes, though, and the fact that it was written by a man. I make it a point to read any rom-com written by a man. It's a strange fascination of mine.

    But well stated when you said, "My favorite part of ANY love story is the falling in love part. There's something magical and special about that time. The connection. The giddiness. The excitement. The noticing. The frustration. The fear. The insecurity. The "I can't wait to see or talk to this person again.”

    I think this is the magical part that many confuse with the will-they-or-won't-they dynamic which is stretched out to high heaven in the hopes that a show can outlive its natural timeline, citing the odd belief that once the leading couple hits the sheets the chemistry is over.

    To me, the chemistry is over when they stop doing things that show love, stop being excited, and stop having all the reactions you mention... when they stop noticing.

    And for those of you who haven't read any of Rachael's stuff, she writes fun, cheeky, LDS romances that follow the rules she's listed above. Check them out!

  16. Ahhh, thanks Sheralyn. :) And I completely agree about the bitterness aspect to SM. Another reason I hated the 3rd part. Looking forward to reading your book! (The 7th has come and gone btw. :))

  17. I want to just say Ditto to everything Rachael just said! I was going to write my thoughts here, but read her comments and they are exactly how I feel. (Rachael, I think we could be best friends..LOL)

    By the way, I love this topic, it is interesting to see how everyone feels about the hero and heroine and when they finally get together.

  18. Yay! Always happy to connect future BFFs. Chris, meet Rachael. Rachael, Chris :)

    And Chris, never hesitate to write out your thoughts. You never know who you'll connect with :)

  19. Good to meet you, Chris! I love meeting new friends. :) And awesome blog post, Sheralyn. Such a fun topic.

  20. Wow, what an interesting conversation this has proven to be. Thank you, Sheralyn, for asking the question. It has long been a pet peeve of mine that more media do not show happy relationships beyond the "I dos" or the first kiss.

    I think probably the reason that this is so is because it takes a different media angle to show ongoing relationships in an exciting way. Relationships go through ups and downs and it is exciting, at least to me, when a couple goes through a hard patch and they work it out. I think the reconcilliation can be just as sexy, if not more so, than watching first-time lovers. For one, you have so much more of a history to go off of that it makes the reconcilliation more powerful.

    There's an example of a marital relationship that I think is done well on TV: It's "Chuck", where the two spies, Chuck and Sarah, hook up. I think it's fun to watch the couple go through spats and times of confusion and mutual problems and still work them out somehow in the end. And they always put in an element of humor. It's still sexual cuz you get to see Chuck's wife, Sarah, seducing him with her langerie and all that.

    I just think the problem with the media is they don't want to work for the new angle on portraying the excitement of ongoing relationships. They have their formula of action and first-time love/lust and it works so why change it? Sex sells. Likely unbenownst to many producers, however, is that research shows married sex is usually rated by lovers as better than non-married sex. But, how do you show that on tv? Oh, the conundrum.

  21. Oh my Heavens... I'm almost too late to post anything because so much has been said already, but I still want to put my two bits in. I apologize in advance for any repeats or disorganization.

    My favorite love story of all time is the one between Ella and Char in Gail Carson Levine's book "Ella Enchanted." The reason why I love this story so much is that the characters grow to like each other over a period of time. It's no the cliche story of girl and boy falls in love at sight, but rather two people who begin as friends and slowly fall in love. I absolutely love the part where they exchange letters back and forth, flirting and caring about each other (plus, I'm always a bit romantic when it comes to exchanging letters). I loved how they each showed that they loved each other through different small ways yet they each have their own flaws. I also love how Ella isn't just the girl to save, but she can help save Char as well. I'm all about girl power.

    The thing that most of the world doesn't understand is that every couple reaches a point where love changes and becomes something different. As stated above, because the love in the air is no longer "magical" and "sparkly", they often result to sexual tension to keep the audience's attention. What they need to realize that they can explore different aspects of the couples' relationship after they become engaged or married without alluding to the Happily Ever after myth or focusing too much on the negative aspect of the harshness of reality.

  22. A good example of this is Clair and Cliff on my favorite TV show "The Cosby Show." This show often explores their relationship through situations they find themselves in or how the two of them keep their romance alive after marriage: giving each other gifts, finding ways to surprise them, still find time to help each other out even with their busy schedules.

    Another good example is the relationship between Nathan and Lydia in "The Work and the Glory." I love the part when after they are married how they both support each other and grow together throughout the series. I may sound really juvenile with this next comment, but take a look at Taylor Swift's "Mine" music video after the couple gets married. They should clips of what their life will be after they are married: Kids jumping in their bed, the joy of a newborn, and playing in the water when they realize love doesn't just focus on themselves but on the joy of having a family, even though they had bumps and bruises along the way.

    One final good example is Anne of Green Gables series (if you haven't read past the first book, you really ought to do so) and watch the changing dynamic relationship between Gilbert and Anne while they stand as comrades and then grow into beaus and then finally as a married couple.

    One bad example of a romance that didn't get fully developed is the romance between Aang and Katara in the Tv series "Avatar: the Last Airbender" This relationship is very immature and inconsistent throughout the series. In fact, Katara doesn't realize her feelings for Aang until the very last episode (plus the fact that he's still 12 and she's 15 bothers me to great lengths.) I would have loved to see something develop between the Zuko and Katara because there is so much that was accomplished between the two of them including forgiveness, honesty, loyalty and trust that was explored throughout the entire series.

    There was one book I recently read that was called something along the lines of "Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer" that I really hated how the romance turned out. In this story, the princess had two courtiers declaring their love for her. One was a vampire prince who helped her night after night protect her family from the enemy even though it would have been a death sentence for him had he been discovered. She ended up with the prince who declared his love for her while she was sleeping during the day. Throughout the entire novel, the two boys expressed jealousy towards each other to the point where they had a duel and demanded that she choose between him or him before she even knew which one she liked. All I have to say is dumb and ridiculous. I hate jealousy stories, and it's all or nothing demands.

    And finally, please don't write a story that is similar to a lot of YA books in this day and age where it's "love at first sight" and the protagonist is "completely and irrevocably in love" becuase I might just vomit.

  23. Lar'n- It's never too late to chime in. And you brought up a lot of books that I haven't read, so that's always good! I have to confess that I do have stories that include "love at first sight" premises, so I'll be TOTALLY interested on your feedback of those books. I also have a "love at first kiss" premise, which I'll be equally interested in your response to (if you happen to read it).

    Thank you for your thoughts! I'm 100% with you on the jealousy thing. *shiver*

  24. Well... I'm super curious to read your love at first sight stories now as well as your love at first kiss.