Friday, February 13, 2015

Monthly Matinee: The Art of Making Love....Stories ;)

Roll up, Roll Up Folks! Come See The Matinee!

This month: The Art Of Making Love (wink) Stories

Aah the month of February. Valentines' Day season. Cards, flowers, chocolates, romance. How....nice.

So why do so many of us detest it?

Simple: Valentines' day, like any badly crafted romance, is forced.  People are going through the motions not because they necessarily feel the emotions they're showing, but because they have to. And we can tell the difference. False emotion leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
So if it's true in life, why not in art?

It's a special challenge to tell the story of a romance in the pictures and dialogue of a comic or graphic novel. Internal dialogue is less common and weaknesses show up quickly on the sparse frame of a comic. But we comic connoisseurs and creators also get a special set of gifts; we get to play with body language, expression, the movements of hands and eyes and shoulders, in a way that prose authors would kill for. Comic authors get to quite literally follow the precept 'show, don't tell'.
The trick is showing it in the right way. So, how is that done?
There's no magic formula for a good romantic story, but there are a few signs of a good romance.

  • There's More To Characters Than Plot Points
In good stories, the characters are people too. They live, they breathe, they feed the cat and have hobbies. There is NOTHING worse in comic storytelling than the Damsel Objective Syndrome. Characters afflicted with Damsel Objective Syndrome have no real personality. They are simply there to be won when the hero has become impressive/strong/confident enough, rescued from tall towers, villains and calamities. 

 Unfortunately, this is especially prevalent in comics and comic-derived works. Want to show that the superhero's life is getting better? Have him get the girl he's lusted after from afar. Never mind who the girl is, he got her, that's the point.
And that's not romance. That's lazy writing. 
That's not to say that winning somebody isn't important, but it needs to be done well. There needs to be something more to the attraction than adolescent mooning. A lot of great romances start that way, but very, very few continue in that way for very long. Good writers show us WHY this person is worth loving beyond their physical attraction. Are they clever? Are they witty? Are they tough guys/gals with a heart of gold? Good writers give us a reason to fall in love with the protagonist. Even better, they give us TWO protagonists, not one protagonist and one love interest.

Here's a good example of the contrast: 
    GOOD / BAD
Hawkeye and Black Widow are two soldiers in a dark war, two people with a LOT of history. They banter, talk, commiserate, yell at each other and support one another. They're fine apart, but they're even better together.
Thor, on the other hand, gives a very clear sense that 'oh, I should probably have a love interest in here somewhere, shouldn't I? To complete, you know, my heroism' His love interest is so forgettable that I had to look up her name. That's not a satisfying romance. That's just an excuse to rescue somebody. I'm not impressed.

  • There's More to Chemistry Than Lust
This is a failing particularly strong in the YA area, but it's universal enough to make me mention it here. Thinking a guy is cute and that you'd like to kiss him isn't love, it's atavistic hormonal reactions. Good writers know the difference between having the hots and falling in love.
This is best examplified in the gorgeous comic Habibi, where pretty much every stage of falling in love is shown as the story progresses. At the beginning of the story, the characters are very young. As the story progresses, the young man wants to have sex mostly because he's a teenager.
But as the story progresses and the characters themselves become more complex, he falls truly in love with his beloved, connected to her by shared suffering and shared experiences.
That love abides. Lust does not. Good writers step beyond infatuation and into love.
  • There's More To Challenges Than Angst

To put this another way, give your characters something to DO while falling in love. Love is fascinating, frightening and bewildering, when you're feeling it. But it's a little like running a marathon. From the outside, it's not too interesting to watch. Good writers have to give us a reason to care.

 Some writers duck this by throwing people into dangerous situations and having their protagonists agonize about it. "GASP, my beloved is in danger, I MUST RESCUE!"

Prince Valiant

Everybody writes those scenes, and once in a while they're a lot of fun. But that kind of love is easy. You're not challenged to love a person. You're just rescuing 'the beloved.' Emotionally, that's easy. And it also gets ridiculous really fast. The situations that this kind of writer create in order for characters to 'prove their love' can wring so false that you can't help but groan, even when you like the story itself. 

It's also emotionally easy to obsess about your feelings for another person, and you see a lot of this in certain genres.

But really, that's not love. They aren't thinking about the other person as A PERSON. Only as an objective.

Good writing avoids both these pitfalls by giving their characters real, solid challenges to overcome. Now, real challenges can be internal, and in fact some of the best romance challenges are; overcoming personal history, parents who aren't supporting the character's life choices or insecurity are all valid challenges in the right writer's hands. The trick is to make them real. Challenges should be more than excuses for the characters to 'prove their love'.
  • There's More To Love Than Romance
And finally, love should DO something for the characters and the plot.  The romance should change them as people. The best romances make the characters grow into stronger people. Having a good partner allows them the confidence to overcome a weakness.
Three great examples show up in the comics Girls With Slingshots, Questionable Content, and Tripping Over You. In each case, the characters are well rounded people before they ever find a love interest, but that love interest allows them to strengthen a weak aspect of their characters; to stop being self conscious,

Get past family problems, or realize what you truly want in life.

Love isn't about desperate passion. It's about knowing someone loves you, feeling the deep contentment of being truly sure of something in your life, and of feeling truly safe. That internal security can give a character a strength that allows them to do amazing things. That is the real strength of love.

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