What makes a good love story?

 

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John & Aeryn

 

Prompted by a cold and a rewatch of the 90s show Farscape, I’ve been thinking a lot of my favorite love stories and why I love them so much. I’ve shipped a lot of couples over the years; both in books and TV. Most of them have a few things in common, but it’s maybe not the things you would think.

They have a mission

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Abby & Connor

Saving the world from an alien invasion, finding murderers, escaping evil overlords or military vampires in bondage clothes, sending dinosaurs through time portals, going home, starting a PI business, stopping a plague, getting their jobs back or saving the city – most of my favorite characters have a lot of stuff going on outside their relationship with one another. They want stuff. Sometimes the same stuff and sometimes not. The mission comes first – at least at the start of the series – and it drives the story. It puts characters in situations where they need to act, choose and fight for (and occasionally with) each other.

Whether they are doing this in a living space ship, a crime lab or while saving history from a time traveling terrorist doesn’t really matter. The big thing here is that mission brings them together and along the way they fall in love.

Point: Your characters needs to have a strong want, desire, goal that at brings him in contact with the future love interest.  

They are part of a team

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Team Arrow

Because three is better than two. And five is better than three. After that it’s debatable. But most characters are part of a group that want something. The dynamic of the group is almost as important as the budding love story. Friends and family, allies and enemies, they all change our relationship, influence them.

Here the classic three people is fairly common – it’s Harry, Ron and Hermione. It’s Michael, Fiona and Sam. It’s Chuck, Sarah and Casey. It’s Percy, Annabeth and Grover. It’s Buffy, Willow and Xander (and Giles so I guess that’s four). It’s Nikita, Michael and Birkhoff. It’s the amazing power trio!

There is also the 4+ group; Stargate SG-1, Team Castle, the Farscape gang, Leverage, Arrow (post season 1) and Bones lab. 

However many they are, the team works as a second (or sometimes primary) family for our couple (to be). They’re all on the same side most of the time (but argue and disagree frequently), stick together through thick and thin, never leave each other behind. They’re willing to die for one another. They have each other’s back, but also provide drama and increased tension. Also the team can poke fun at each other. And we all know a little humor can go along way…

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I feel for you Johnny

Point: The team makes for more cozyness, drama and raises the stakes while also giving your characters people with different skill sets to help them and fight along side. Plus we all love people who are part of a ‘tribe’ that will do anything for each other, making the team more than the sum of their parts.

Their stories are not love stories

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Elfen Lied

This might be the most important bit of why I love the love stories I love. The story isn’t a love story. Not in a traditional way (as in on page 1: boy meets girl and the story is about boy-girl falls in love, losing each other and then finding one another again). The love story is second to the main plot. Nikita isn’t about Nikita shacking up with Michael. Vampire Academy isn’t about Rose finding true love. Stargate isn’t about Sam/Jack. Mercy Thompson isn’t about Mercy finding true love and eternal bliss and happiness with her super hunky werewolf hubby Adam (but that bit is important too). Their primary focus are other things.

This ties in with the whole they have a mission, but is also a stand alone point. Because a “normal” love story has a pattern, one most of us know. It’s the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl trope. Which most of us are pretty tired of. At least because in stories where the focus is the romance, the thing that drives boy-girl apart often feel unrealistic or lame or just plain old stupid. It’s the misunderstanding, the accidental kiss with a drunk ex, the reveal that it was all a bet or wrong choice for no reason.

While in a show where the love story is an element of the plot, rather than the focus, the reasons for being torn apart make more sense. It’s about more than getting the girl. It’s about saving the world and getting the girl. It’s about finding the killer and getting the guy. It’s about bringing down the evil organization and making sure your one true love isn’t caught while spying on said organisation. It’s about vengeance and maybe getting the boy. It’s about nearly blowing up a galaxy (including yourself, your wife and newborn kid) to get everyone to stop killing each other and agree to peaceful negotiations.

Point: When the story is not a ‘normal’ love story and the drama is caused by a bigger storyline rather than something to do with a conflict between the boy-girl, it makes the story feel more believable and enjoyable.

They took their sweet time getting together

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Percabeth

It took Bones/ Booth like what? 5-6 seasons to get together. Castle / Beckett four. Mercy and Adam don’t seriously get together until book 3. Fiona and Michael have a one-off thing but don’t really commit for a long time. Percy and Annabeth don’t hook up until the end (granted they were kids in the beginning). Ron / Hermione took what? Seven books? Chuck and Sara? Well they fake dated but after that it took a while. Sam and Jack (Stargate SG-1) never ‘officially’ even got together. Eragon and Arya didn’t even get a proper kiss. Rose and Dimitri spend three books falling in love and then just as they get together he gets turned into a Strigoi. Heck it even took Katniss and Peeta ages to get together (I don’t really care about them but it’s still a good example).

But here is the important bit: even though the characters aren’t officially a couple, my fave ships are kind of together. They spend all their time around each other, saving each other’s lives, helping with each others problems. They trust each other. They’re just in denial about their feelings, don’t want to risk being hurt, their is bad timing. Point is, they’re a couple before becoming a real couple-couple. Sometimes they’re even together but haven’t quite worked out the kinks and end up breaking up but still beeing together-but-not-together.  Anyway, we know they love each other and are meant to be before they do, we feel and see the things they miss. 

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This I think is a key point in writing romance, and something that seems to be skipped over a lot. You have your characters, you have your love story thought out, you have the conflict and the thing that forces them to resolve it, the ‘boy loses girl’ and the reunion all thought out. The problem is, a lot of the time, authors / creators just tend to skip over the bit where we learn why the characters are perfect for each other. The actual falling in love. The good times when they’re actually working together and are talking (having lots and lots of sex do not count as falling in love, something lots of modern ‘romance’ novelist seems to have forgotten. Falling in lust is not falling in love).

It truly baffles me sometimes. Mostly when reading romance, where the characters just suddenly love each other. After seeing someone in class and speaking to them twice, they’re meant to be soulmates? That makes no sense. Same with some TV shows. Like why does Cat like Vincent so much in Beauty and the Beast? Willing to risk it all for him after five minutes? Why did Oliver pine so much for Laurel when they don’t match at all? Even when she hated him? Makes no sense! Clare in the Mortal Instrument and her love interest Jace have zero chemistry and he’s kind of an ass half the time (granted I only watched like five eps of this show) so why are they so into one another? Without the author they’d just leave another alone and get on with their lives.

Even some of my fave books are guilty. Like why would Harry suddenly like Ginny, his BFF’s little annoying sister? (I mean did anyone ship Ginny/ Harry? I mean I know he needed a baby mama to have the kids they were going to name all the dead people after but why not Luna who was so much more awesome as a character?) Sydney in Bloodlines go from slow burn sweet high school-ish love with Adrian to giving up her freedom to save him to married with children in two books. Kind of weird because two books ago she was kind freaked out by vampires. I still like her and Adrian but sometimes love is just rushed at that makes me annoyed. 

So while love at first sight might sound romantic, and maybe in real life it is, in fiction, suddenly meeting a guy and then being in love with him three hours later, willing to die, give up your goal, dreams and lifestyle makes no sense. Bella has known Edward for what? Four months and she wants to be with him forever and become a vampire (okay I would too, but not because I wanted to be with him forever (can you say boring) but rather because being immortal and having super speed and strength and lots of money seems like a sweet deal.) Every Cinderella story ever written is this: the girl spends a few hours with a guy and WHAM they’re soulmates.

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I mean, I can buy it in animated Disney movies (even though they do love better these days with both Tangled’s Rapunzel and Flynn and Frozen’s Anna and Kristoff spend most of the movie together before actually realizing they are perfect for one another and Frozen actually subverting this trope with the love at first sight with Hans) but live action TV and novels?

Seriously, to make a love story feel real, your characters need to experience some stuff together. Talk. Maybe have mad passionate monkey sex. Maybe not. Just don’t let the relationship just poof into being.

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It only took them 4 years…to kiss

I mean it took Castle and Beckett four years to even make out (well there was the parking lot). Jack and Emily take until the last episodes to finally hook up and get married. TVD’s Caroline/ Stefan were friends for like six seasons before they got their first kiss. I’m not saying either Castle, TVD or Revenge handled their ships perfectly but they worked a heck of alot better for me than the hello! I love you! scenarios you see sometimes.

Point: Just like real relationships, fictional ones take time to develop. Don’t rush into it. If you’re writing a series, let the romance go slow. If you’re doing something stand alone, don’t try to do too much and make sure to develop the love and not force it, before you have the couple actually get together.

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This was my thoughts on relationships based on some of my favorite shows and books. It’s not the ultimate truth or the perfect way to write a love story. It’s what I think works, what I personally enjoy. What I think makes for epic love stories. I like the slow burn, the mission, the action, the life and death and saving each other. And the world. Don’t forget saving the world. Unless your too busy blowing it up to save it.

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