Rambling Revelations about Romance Stories

Reading Amanda Hocking’s My Blood Approves series (I’ve read the first three) got me thinking about Twilight again, since her books are very similar to the Twilight series. It got me thinking because the impetus for Jason and Azazel–in the incarnation they eventually appeared in anyway–was the Twilight series. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with Stephenie Meyer’s work, as many of you are aware of. I like it, but am kind of clueless as to why. Anyway, I started thinking about writing something, maybe a nonfiction sort of book about Twilight and why it works as a book. Maybe this post is prewriting for that. Or maybe writing this will get it out of my system. Who knows?

I’ve been thinking about the thematic elements that I stole from Twilight for Jason and Azazel. Unlike Hocking, I chose not to write about vampires, so upon first glance, my books don’t seem to have much in common with the Twilight books. I mean, I’m writing about secret societies, satanists, and gun fights. And far from using metaphorical sensuality, I dive right in and talk about sex. I’m also not much of a proponent of abstinence. So, how do the books connect exactly?

I’ve said before that Jason is Jacob, not Edward, and that the character that most resembles Edward in Breathless is Toby, due to his insistence on abstinence and controlling behavior. But frankly, there’s one big thing that Edward and Jason have in common. Namely, they are both dangerous and trying to keep themselves away from the heroines of the story in order to protect them. This, I believe we would call angst. Jason is the angstiest, broodiest bad boy ever. Okay, maybe not ever, but you know what I mean. This, I think, is part of the appeal of Twilight. The idea that a boy is bad for you, so you should stay away from him.

Why is this such a compelling trope in romance? I L-O-V-E it, and I have the Anne Stewart romances to prove it. (Formulaic as she is, she is my favorite romance novelist of all time.) Okay, well, in the most simple reading of the situation, I’d say that the forbidden aspect of the relationship makes it compelling. Forbidden=compelling because it’s mysterious and adventurous. Mystery is, of course, a huge element in story. In order to move plots forward, a writer doesn’t tell her readers everything. Just the desire to KNOW what’s going on is compelling in and of itself. In the case of a romantic lead, being told you can’t have him opens up the mystery of what would happen if you did have him? What would it be like? The author’s telling the reader she can’t know, and just being told she can’t know is tantalizing. This leads a reader to WANT to know. Badly.

The adventurous part come into play because discovering what it’s like to be in a forbidden relationship is an adventure. It’s going someplace that no one has gone, or at least someplace that implies danger. It’s the same kind of feeling that readers get when the hero decides whether or not to venture into the cave to fight the dragon. “Don’t do it,” says the wise man. “You’ll be killed.” And killed he might be. But the hero has to face the dragon, because it’s an adventure, and adventures are no fun without danger.

This leads me into my second idea of why the dangerous love interest is so compelling. I’m going to build a little from a blog I read by Morgan Hawke (she is an erotic romance novelist, so don’t click on the link to read the article if you’re under 18, okay?) here. In it, she argues that fairy tales give us the structure of the heroine’s journey, and that romance stories are retellings of the same journey that each heroine must make. One of the things she has to do is to face sexual awakening, which in a fairy tale is often presented as something monstrous and frightening (Beauty and the Beast, anyone?)

So without getting overly Jungian here, we can say that the dangerous love interest in a story is the female experience on steroids. Men are more physically powerful than women. They have deep voices. They are (mostly) taller than women. They are, in essence, somewhat frightening. The transition of a girl to a woman, then, is to learn to embrace beings that may have seemed frightening and somewhat monstrous to us as little girls, and to trust them with our most vulnerable selves. Our physical bodies and also our emotions and desires. So, while this is a kind of archetypal process that runs in our subconscious, we respond to it as readers in fiction, and in fiction, we intensify it. No longer is the experience the sort of ho-hum clumsiness of our own adolescence, but instead, we’ve turned on all of the aspects of the experience to eleven. So, no, to tickle our fancies and keep us reading until dawn, we don’t want the boy to be a somewhat scrawny kid with acne scars. We want him to be a veritable god-like powerhouse, all rumblings and angles and piercing eyes. We don’t just want the fear to be that he won’t call us tomorrow, but instead that he might, gasp, lose control and kill us! After all, in some way, we are trusting our frailer bodies to beings who could very well hurt us if they wanted. Physically they could. And the only thing stopping them from doing so is their honor and their love for us.

See, in all the fuss about whether or not Edward is abusive (I’ve said it myself, in fact), I think we’ve lost track of the thread of the story that makes it so damned engrossing. The truth and beauty of romance, of the female experience, is about letting yourself go through that frightening experience. And sure, consciously, you’re not thinking to yourself that the guy you’re dating could probably strangle you if he wanted. But some deeper animal part of you must understand it. Romance is simply the bravest thing a woman does. And through it, we find transcendence. We learn to love someone else more than we love ourselves. Which isn’t to be anti-feminist. Love is that. It’s a beautiful, messy thing, and it’s more about individuals than it is politics.

So, where does that leave my Jason these days? I fell in love with him because I trusted him to be honorable and good. He wasn’t. I still loved him, but I felt kind of guilty for forcing Azazel to do so. I felt like, on some level, I betrayed her. And sure, the books are essentially about keeping poor Azazel is pain all the time, but…

Well, the fact remains that being with Kieran is NOT the bravest thing Azazel has ever done. Loving Jason, in the face of all of the awful things he did, was. I challenged her so much to keep doing that brave thing. And then I told her she could sit one out. I think, suddenly, I get why everyone hates Kieran. Because the tension in a romance story comes from the heroine choosing to do the scary thing. This, something we wouldn’t do in real life, is the fantasy of romance. Daring to love when it seems stupid.

Now…what will this revelation do to the half-finished outline of Between the Heaves of Storm? Guess I’m kind of excited to figure that out. Thanks for listening.