You and I breathe the same air,
Though we have not walked beneath the same boughs.
In the vast spread of molecules throughout the cosmos,
Our paths move inexorably toward one another
And we mingle,
Though we have not met.
We are made from the stuff of stars, of the twinkling points of light on which we gaze,
Pondering the possibility of each other, perhaps at the same moment.
One day the fabric of space and time will bend.
I will fall toward you,
And you will catch me,
And we will become one.
Until then, you will think that there is no one for you;
I will think the same,
And we will both be wrong. — © Elizabeth West
R is for Romance.
I was watching Cosmos and feeling wistful, okay?
When you give your character a relationship in your story, you’ll have to consider how he deals with romance. What elements would influence how he does this?
In Western society, men are expected to pursue the women they’re interested in. While women in today’s world feel more comfortable making the first move, quite a few would rather be pursued. And many men still feel that the role of the pursuer belongs to them.
If your protagonist lives in another time, the rules could be very different. Someone whose behavior doesn’t align with accepted norms will clash with other characters, making for some interesting conflicts. Even modern eccentrics can throw a spanner into the works.
A big part of romantic socialization is the expectation we get from books, movies, and love songs with which we grow up. Grand gestures are seen as the ultimate in true romance. But what if your protagonist can’t afford more than a simple bouquet of carnations? You might want to show the value of small, loving acts of thoughtful expression in your story by having your broke lover at least get them in her favorite color. Bonus points if he has to leverage some effort to find out what that is.
Put an assertive person and a retiring person in a story where they both want the same lover and see what happens.
The assertive person is far more likely to go home with someone’s number that night. He’s also more likely to strike out, for the same reason people who fly frequently are more likely to lose their luggage: the more chances you take, the more chance you have of both success and failure.
How would your character, if he were the shy one, handle this? You could use it to push him into pursuing his true love, if you liked, or you could let his social anxiety strangle him. In Kazuo Ishiguro’sThe Remains of the Day, the butler Stevens and the former housekeeper of Darlington Hall lose their chance at happiness together because they simply cannot admit their feelings for each other.
Even if he does manage to speak the truth to his lady love and she reciprocates, remember that no one is perfect. The road to true love is a bumpy one.
To handle his epic romance successfully, your character will need more than just a winning personality and proper socialization. He should have some experience dealing with the emotional needs of another person and the practicalities of such a liason.
One reason I can’t stand Romeo and Juliet is that they’re both so incredibly stupid. Romeo spends the entire play complaining and mooning over first Rosalyn and then Juliet and waiting for everything to work out. Even when he gets her, he’s a complete idiot who thinks only of himself.
Juliet is no better. She knows that her family will never accept her marriage, and the plans she lays for her future are ill conceived and childish. One wonders: if they were clever enough to sneak out long enough to get married, why could not they have left after that and sent word later on, when it was too late to do anything about it? Perhaps they were too young to think past the wedding night.
I guess the only way it works is because they’re both really inexperienced teenagers. To accept the tragedy, we have to accept their love. But they’re both such idiots, it’s rather difficult. I’ve often wondered if Shakespeare (who lifted this story from an older one) wrote it this way on purpose, to divide the audience.
Consider these aspects of socialization, personality, and experience in planning your characters’ romantic interactions. Whether your big romance is the main focus of the narrative or simply a side plot, it will have more impact if your characters behave authentically.