Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kathleen O'Brien: Making love out of nothing at all?

The other day some writer friends and I were discussing …well, what else? Writing. :)

We were discussing the significance of conflict in a good story when one of us noticed something odd. We are always talking about how to keep our couples apart, she pointed out. But isn’t it equally important to think about why the hero and heroine want to be together in the first place? She wondered whether we were, as the song says, “making love out of nothing at all.”

Great question. But perhaps a hard one to answer. What is it, in the end, that draws two people together? What are the ingredients of true love? Can you lay them out in black and white, like the recipe list for great spaghetti sauce? 1 cup sexual chemistry. 2 cups common goals. 2 tbsp similar backgrounds…

Maybe so. The online dating services seem to have some luck with these mathematical formulas that match up goals, personalities, backgrounds, beliefs, sense of humor, looks, etc. And yet…

Don’t you just have a gut feeling that it isn’t really that simple? That it boils down to something almost…magical? We all know pairings so unlikely they should never, ever have worked—and yet they last a lifetime. Conversely, we all also know romances that looked perfect on paper, and didn't survive to the first anniversary. Sometimes we look at blissfully engaged couples and whisper to each other, "Huh?"

So what is love? What does a man offer that makes him “the one”?

My anniversary is this coming Saturday, and I will have been married an unmentionable many years. I really do believe in true love. But can I explain it? Can I tell you why this man was the man who felt like home to me?

Honestly, I can't.

We met when we both worked at the same place, so we had some interests in common, but I worked with about 20 other eligible guys with whom I did not fall in love. Other than that, we're actually quite different. But he's my safe place. He's where I knew I could both be a kid safely, and rear kids safely. It's actually darned amazing.

So in the end, maybe love really is a kind of magic. And there lies the real challenge of writing romance. How do you capture magic like a butterfly and pin it to the page? Can the writer make us feel what the hero and heroine feel? Do we know this emotion? Do we thrum in recognition? Do we believe its name is love?

As a reader (or as a writer), what do you think works best? In your favorite fictional couples, how did the author convince you that these two people belong together? Do they fit like jigsaw puzzle pieces, each filling a void in the other’s life? Or is it something more indefinable…that little sparkle of fairy dust?



marybelle said...

There was a spark. This almost tangible electrical charge in the air. You could call it Fairy Dust!!

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Marybelle, I guess we're just both hopeless romantics! Sometimes it really does feel as if you could see the glittery, sparkling charge lighting up the air, doesn't it? And it's a lovely, lovely feeling!

desere_steenberg said...

Hi Kathleen,

Beautiful post thank you for sharing it with us.

I might be a hopeless romantic but all the author has to do is grip me by saying and/or proving in the book that the couple belong together by letting me see they are insepreable and realize that they cant live without each other!

Take Care,

Nas Dean said...

Hello Kathleen,

I so agree with what Desiree above says. The story has to be beleivable.

And thanks for sharing such a beautiful post!

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Desere, thanks so much for coming by! I was especially interested in the part of your comment where you said "say and/or prove" that the couple belong together. I'm guessing you put it that way because sometimes just "saying" they belong together doesn't quite convince you.

It is that very "proof" idea that I'm trying to get to the heart of here. I know sometimes, as a reader, I'm not convinced. And yet some of the fictional couples I love the most are the ones who might seem to be entirely wrong for each other. So where exactly does "proof" come from?

It's a fascinating question, and I'm so glad you guys are telling me a little about what works for you!


Kathleen O'Brien said...

Hi, Nas! Great to see you here!

I see you agree with Desere--for you, believability is key. If you have a minute, I'd love to hear what makes fictional Love believable for you. Is it the way the author describes the emotions? Or is it some important character trait, background, dream, etc., that the hero and heroine share?

desere_steenberg said...

Hi Kathleen,

Well is hard for me to explain the "proof" part but I guess what I mean with it is you know the couple belong together and deep down they both know it too but both are either just too plain stubborn to realize it or there are just too many complications in their lives which is preventing it.

So proof is and I hope I am going to make sense is say maybe when one or both of the couple realizes that to make it work sacrefise is necessary this can be in the form of giving up a dream job or maybe defining the wishes of parents in order to be with the one you love and the proof thereof can be something like standing up against the parents or ones that don;t approve of the relationship or just something small like tearing up a million dollar check offer to one in exchange for leaving the other I hope you are getting what I am trying to get at.


Nas Dean said...

Hello Kathleen,

It's to do with background set-up, in my words, if a heroine has been raised in an abusive family she would look out for herself and not believe in a man easily. So if there is a sensitive caring hero, then she'll come close to him.

I recently read a book, where the heroine was already pregnant, yet the hero wanted her, so I was thinking to myself, doesn't this hero kows she is carrying someone else's child?

But then the author used magic to show sensitivity and caring in the hero, that I kept rooting for them to get together. The hero's love was believable for the heroine. And yes, that book was TEXAS BABY!

Mary Anne Landers said...

Thank you for your post, Kathleen. Wow, what a question!

In order for me to answer it adequately, or at least try to, I must do something I'm not supposed to do on a blog like this, namely bring up a potentially controversial subject. I've got to mention my religion.

You already know I'm a Buddhist, though others on this blog might not. And we believe in karma. So do many people of various religious affiliations; but for me it's an article of faith.

According to the principle of karma, people come together in any kind of relationship because of their karma. It's not the first time they've interacted.

This applies to romantic couples as well. What they're going through with each other in their current lifetimes is just a chapter in a much longer book. Or should I say series?

But in a fictional romances, we get a far tighter, more narrowly focused picture. The author concentrates on just one period of their lives.

We get some backstory, as much as is necessary so that the reader can make sense of the focal events and situations. But no more.

After the ending, no matter how happy, we don't know what will befall this couple. Unless the author has a series going, of course. But even those must end eventually. Well, should, anyhow.

So it's up to the author to make the hero and heroine's love for each other seem real. Even for me, she can't just say, "It's their karma". I mean, of course it is; but I want specifics.

There are five broad categories of ways to do this: what the characters think, what they say, what they do, what is done to them, and what they inspire one or more other characters to do. And in each category, it helps if the author follows the "Show; don't tell" rule and describes it in specific, concrete terms.

Too often I come across romance heroes and heroines I think are incapable of giving love and unworthy of receiving it. This is especially true now that the category is ruled by antiheroes and antiheroines, by Arnold Alpha-Male and Fran Feisty.

So naturally, I prefer characters who can give love and are worthy of receiving it. Not only are they more enjoyable to read about, but also they're the only kind I find convincing.

But I'm not sure I can describe adequately what the attributes of such characters might be. At least, not in the comment section of a blog. There are so many variables, even for this one reader. And I can't speak for anyone else.

Well, I've gone on long enough. Good luck!

Michele L. said...

Love is an elusive thing. My favorite stories the heroes always were caring and they was a spark between him and the lady. The author has to make the love connection believable for me. Otherwise it all just falls flat. I have read stories where the hero was a bully towards the lady. That was an instant turn off to me and I didn't finish the story.

Pat Cochran said...

Hi Kathleen,

As mentioned before, we the readers
must believe in the closeness of the
couple. We must also "feel," through description, their feelings for each
other. If we can feel, then we will
believe. At least I know I will!

Congratulations on your upcoming

Pat Cochran

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Desere, your examples were excellent. I love that you are moved by action on the hero and heroine's part. When they take chances, go out on a limb, for the other person, then something inside us responds. Great analysis!

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Nas, that is sooo sweet! :) You really made me smile. When I decided to write the story of a man who falls in love with a woman who is pregnant with another man's child, I knew it was a challenge. But I also knew that only a very, very special man would ever consider making such a sacrifice--and that, if I could do it right, the readers might come to love that special man just as much as I did! Thank you so much for the generous words!

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Mary Anne, as always you've floored me with your deeply thoughtful response! I love the idea that the couple has a history somewhere in the mists of time, and that they recognize each other because they have been together before and are meant to be together again. And I had to laugh out loud at your names for the annoying hero and heroine who don't seem worthy of being loved--or capable of accepting it. I know exactly what you mean! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your excellent analysis with us!

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Michele, I couldn't agree more! There was a time in my much younger days when an arrogant hero seemed like an exciting challenge, but I've long since decided that bullies don't deserve to get the lady! When I put down a book, I want to believe that the love story endures, and I never could imagine a good woman being happy with a bully!

Kathleen O'Brien said...

Pat, thanks so much! Every anniversary is a joy...even if I do sometimes wonder whether His Highness might be a little crazy, sticking with me all these years! ;)

I know what you mean about needing to feel what the characters feel. The writers who can find the right words to convey that are real keepers! It's no easy feat! I just saw Jane Eyre the other night, and I was reminded of how wonderful Mr. Rochester's description of his feelings are. He says he feels as if there's a string inside him, attached to his heart, and it's attached to Jane's heart at the other end. If the string is broken, he says, he imagines that he would start to bleed inside. I wish I could find my copy right now, so that I could do justice to the words, but it really is such a fresh, powerful way to explain that connection!

TashNz said...

Hi Kathleen. For me its the couples who have a history that makes it work because you dont have to spend half a book reading about them getting to know each other because they already have that and the author can get straight into the story... if you get what i mean lol

desere_steenberg said...

Thank you Kathleen !