Scott is a fellow Twilight Times author, a successful writer of excellent fantasy books. Today he gives us his perspective on romance as a tool in the modern author's kit.
The Three Great Laws
I'm a Fantasy guy, both as a reader and a writer. The reading came first, of course. I started with Tolkein, Brooks, Hickman, McKiernan, and Eddings back in the day, gobbling up epic tales of elves and dwarves and dragons, magic and mysticism, and good versus evil on a planetary scale. Man, I loved that stuff. Still do, actually. Over the years I've read a gazillion books, but the stories that stick with me, the ones that hold a piece of my soul, are those that not only satisfied my need for the magic, but also spoke to my romantic side.
At heart I'm a romantic, and I love stories that explore the spark, the attraction, between two characters. I'm not one to wander into the Romance section and pick the current best-seller or comb through the shelves overflowing with bare-chested Adonises (Adoni?); but combine a romantic plotline with a big ol' sword and sorcery slobberknocker and I'm done for. I'm not too proud to admit that I cried at the end of Terry Brooks' The Elfstones of Shannara. Actually, I threw the book across the room, and then I cried because the boy did not get the girl. She turned into a tree, damn it.
Freakin' authors and their twists.
Anyway…Elfstones came out in 1983, and I remember well the feelings it engendered. And that's the point really. A strong romantic storyline, carefully fed and nurtured, can turn a good story into a magnificent tale that brushes against the reader's soul. And what writer doesn't strive for that each and every time he puts words to paper?
Now, Elfstones is considered Epic Fantasy, not a Romance or even a Fantasy Romance. While it contains strong romantic elements, it does not follow the rules. Turning a girl into a tree…really? For a story to be considered a capital 'R' Romance, it must abide by three Great Laws:
· First Law of Romance – HEA– the story must have a "Happily Ever After" (HEA) ending.
· Second Law of Romance – Astronomical Odds – the odds against the characters realizing their HEA must be so astronomical, the reader cannot possibly foresee how they could ever get together.
· Third Law of Romance – Forever Apart – keep the budding lovers apart for as long as possible.
I'm sure there are a host of minor laws too, but let’s focus on these big ones.
The HEA – Remember the fairy tales where the prince and princess got together at the end and "lived happily ever after?" Remember how great those endings made us feel? The bad guy/gal was defeated, the boy and girl walked into the sunset hand in hand, and all was righteous in the universe. Hazzah! Well, guess what? Just because we grow up doesn't mean we lose the desire to feel that way. When a reader opens the cover of a Romance novel, she already knows the ending will be, "And they lived happily ever after." Well, maybe not those exact words, but some collection of sentences that communicate the same sentiment, leaving the reader fulfilled, happy, and ready for the next book. One caveat to the HEA law is the "for now" clause. Readers know the score, they realize times have changed and not every great courtship will blossom into an enduring relationship. A story ending with the characters living "Happily Ever After…For Now" can work just fine.
Astronomical Odds – Since the reader expects the HEA, the writer's challenge is to create interesting, relatable characters separated by nearly impossible obstacles that keep them apart until the climax. The writer wants the reader wondering how on Earth air-breathing Jake and water-breathing Sarah could possibly overcome the physical challenges and societal pressures to realize their own HEA, and eagerly turning the pages to find out.
Forever Apart – in a Romance, the rising tension in the story comes from the near misses – the episodes in the story where just when it seems the characters are going to get together, something swoops in and drags them even further apart. The more widely impacted the relationship with each near miss, the more satisfying the HEA. Having the HEA too soon deprives the reader of the vicarious relationship experience. S/he wants to be swept away, to fall in love right along with the characters. If that HEA happens in the second chapter of a twenty chapter novel, what the heck is the rest of the novel about?
Regardless of whether Romance is the backbone of the plot, or a subplot in a greater story, the Laws must be followed. Certain expectations must be met. Readers are the street judges in this literary Megacity, and if the story doesn't measure up…
My Chronicles of the Knights Elementalis series [Book 1, Knight of Flame, is available in the usual places --Steph] is Fantasy with strong romantic elements, no big 'R' romance. And so, like Mr. Brooks, I have the freedom to turn any of my characters into trees before the romance plotline comes to fruition without violating any of the Great Laws. Not that I would do that, of course. I have a heart. I remember how it felt.
BUT…the story ends as the story ends. Mwahahaaaaa.
Gotta love Scott's sense of humor! And I learned something: I had an intuitive grasp of the Three Laws, but had not seen them set forth before. Thanks, Scott!