Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Romance

by Stephanie Osborn

Last week I promised you a new series of blogs, to include many guest authors, on The Elements of Modern Storytelling. This week we start the first element, which I have chosen to be Romance. The plan is for me to lead off each new element with my own blog post, followed by views from other authors. Some elements may have more posts, some less, depending entirely on the inspiration of my guest authors, and it's entirely possible that my own schedule could get wonky, in which case someone else may lead off on an element. But that's the plan. And we all know that a good plan never survives first engagement with the enemy (Time, in this case), so we'll see. Anyway. On to the disccussion.


I write, as most of you know, principally science fiction mysteries. It's a deliberate cross-genre blend. But I also usually have some element of romance in my stories as well. I even (GASP!) allowed Sherlock Holmes to fall in love in my Displaced Detective series. That in itself has created a lot of stir. And a significant number of science fiction fans (mostly male per my observations, interestingly enough) think that romance has no place in sci-fi.

I beg to differ.

Few things are so revealing of one's character as one's behavior when falling, or fully, in love. This is as true in real life as it is in fiction. Granted, it is possible for some to hide their true natures; it's why people get immersed into a relationship only to discover that the partner is abusive, and the like. But in general, I think it's so. When we were dating, my funny, impetuous, spontaneous now-husband grew a serious, gentle side, a courtly side, and he's never lost those things. Meanwhile, curious, serious, reserved me, always with a plan, discovered that spontaneity could be fun. We learned something new about ourselves. It wasn't so much that those things were never in us to begin with as it was that each helped the other discover it in themselves.

This is why I use romance as a tool in my writer's kit. Romance enables me to more fully flesh out the character. To me, it is one of the things that helps bring a character to life in the mind of the reader. And if you'll recall some of my recent posts, that's my ultimate goal in creating a character: bringing him/her/it to life in your imagination. I used it on both protagonists in Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281, in different ways, to pretty good effect, I think.

So if watching the internal struggle, the anxieties, fears, joys and triumphs of a person in love cannot bring that character to life in the reader's mind, frankly, nothing can. It is a microcosm of life.

Okay, fine, so why the [expletive redacted] did you make Sherlock Holmes, of all people, fall in love?

Well, I didn't. That was sort of his idea. And once he explained it to me, it made sense. He's also stubborn enough to insist on it anyway, whether I liked it or not -- which he did, but initially I didn't.

[See, the characters, on some level, become real to me, too. I have yet to decide if the theory of alternate universes where literary characters exist as actual people might be real, or not. But sometimes it surely seems as if the ideas come from somewhere Out There.]

Now, I'll admit that I deliberately challenged him with a brilliant, genius-intellect modern woman. Mostly because I wanted to see if this was a stressor to him. The whole point behind the first Displaced Detective story (which takes place across two volumes, The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival and The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed) was to take the great intelligence of the Great Detective, along with all his imagination, creativity, strengths, foibles, preconceptions, and faults, and plop him down in a situation that was so outre that a lesser man would have gone mad. And then I wanted to see what he'd do. This was an experiment on my part, because I didn't have any particular clear plan for what would happen, save that I knew major plot events and I knew who the antagonists were. I set the initial conditions and let it run, following what was in character for the various personae dramatis.

There is also one other thing that I added to the mix as a running theme, and that was the concept of parallelism. If we are going to discuss parallel worlds, universes, then we might as well look at how they are similar -- or not -- across multiple continua. And so I introduced the idea that there were parallels to Holmes' native continuum in Skye Chadwick's, and one of those...was her.

You see, in her own continuum, the one to which Holmes moves, at least until his advent she WAS him. She was her world's Sherlock Holmes. Only, just as other, more direct, versions of Holmes didn't all become detectives (this is mentioned in some of the later books, which haven't come out yet), so too did Chadwick fall into another field of endeavor, namely hyperspatial physics. She is (in her universe) to hyperspatial physics what Albert Einstein was to relativity. (No, not really another parallel. Just a metaphor.)

Well, I mean really. Holmes has been accused of being narcissistic. So doesn't it stand to reason that, when presented with a version of himself in reasonably attractive female form, he might fall? Especially if he's in a highly charged emotional situation such as being yanked to a freakin' different spacetime? He thought so, and when once he had laid out his logic, I did, too.

"I have never loved, Watson, but if I did and if the woman I loved had met such an end, I might act even as our lawless lion-hunter has done."
~Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Devil's Foot

Right here, in Arthur Conan Doyle's own story, he admits that he knows his own emotions would be powerful, in the circumstance. So what if...?

And once again, romance proved a useful tool. Because we -- "we" being Holmes and me -- were able to demonstrate that the great intellect still functions well even through the throes of a tumultuous beginning love affair. And, that relationship having been firmly established, he reverts even more to the Victorian gentleman he always was. And Doyle was right -- the powerful intellect has powerful emotions, even if he does keep them largely hidden from the rest of the world. ("Still waters run deep," and all that.) And such a relationship is capable of being to him the distraction, the divertissement, that an active mind sometimes needs to be able to see the forest through the trees.

I always knew Holmes was a strong character. My intent was to make Chadwick a strong character as well, a strong woman to Holmes' strong man, an equal. How much the more, then, when they have formed such a strong attachment to one another, yet each must still let the other go marching into danger? I've found the arrangement to be ripe for displaying their strengths and weaknesses.

I think it is, also, one of the reasons why the series has a strong fan following.

Romance. It's good for way more than just a fling.


Next week, Christine Amsden's take on The Elements of Modern Storytelling: Romance.

-Stephanie Osborn