This confession is as much about me as a person as it is about me as a romance writer: I don’t know much of anything about relationship drama. My husband and I don’t fight much, and he’s the only serious relationship I have had. We are just not into fighting, or even sniping–we’ve both had friends who had fight-and-make-up cycle relationships over the years, and we both find the thought…exhausting. He and I have a Marshall and Lily (heh) style of relationship, where we don’t keep things from each other, share everything, talk about what’s bothering us rather than stewing on assumptions, and always play on the same team.
So when I am trying to figure out the story between two characters, why they don’t immediately fall in love (and then end up with no real story), I am always much more drawn to external forces keeping them apart or some internal fear of love rather than conflict between the two of them keeping them from realizing their feelings or driving a wedge between them.
Beyond the plotlines, even, I don’t know how to give my characters fights. I don’t know what people fight about. How do you take a misunderstanding and blow it into a shouting match when you have never in your life engaged in a shouting match?
One of the aspects of romance as a reader that bothers me is how many plot-hinges-upon-it problems could be solved by a simple piece of honesty. For me, that can’t be the only problem, the only impediment–it seems too superficial and contrived. I mean, I understand that many of the great dramas are built upon a lie, or a mistaken assumption, or failed communication, but in romance I think it cannot work as the main conflict past a certain point in the story. It’s fine early on–it’s natural not to trust someone with your secrets right away, and it takes time for someone to erode the assumptions made about them–but at some point in the story there has to be a problem that couldn’t be solved by one open conversation.
Maybe the problem is not that I dislike drama but that I am secure enough in who I am that I don’t feel a need to hide anything from someone I trust? I suppose much of the “I can’t tell him/her about X” that leads to the huge misunderstanding about X stems from the insecurity of the characters, their fear of rejection. “If s/he knew what I was REALLY like s/he would never love me!” style insecurity. I’m not saying it’s not natural, and common–I just don’t feel like that. My style is to be up front and direct about myself, and if someone really gravitates to me (many people don’t) then I know they actually like me, exactly as I am. It’s so much easier than trying to pretend I’m someone I’m not and then having to slowly reveal that to someone, with the added insecurity of thinking “if they liked the fake me, are they still going to like the real me?”
That’s a horrible thought.
I dealt with that thought in high school, when I had people telling me I was such a great friend even though I knew I hadn’t ever shared anything real with them. In college, when I wasn’t going to be trapped for four years with the same 80 people, I felt safe to be myself and let people find me who could enjoy the real me. To bring this back to romance–I understand that many people probably spend their whole lives in a state of slight social anxiety, wondering when they will be found out for a fraud. I know that the ideal of falling in love is finding that person whom you can trust with your secrets and who trusts you with theirs and whom you also want to have a lot of sex with for the rest of your life.
In romance, I just find it hard to believe in the love and the happily ever after if the hero and heroine don’t develop the trust bond until the end of the book. I’m not saying no one can pull it off (although many writers who try it don’t pull it off), just that for me, as a writer, with the way I look at love and partnerships, trust has to start developing much, much earlier, and its lack cannot be the main source of conflict in the story.