Sunday, October 24, 2010

Heresy in Three Parts: Part 1, The Magnet Effect

I am a heretic.

I don't believe in some of the most entrenched, best beloved tenets of romance fiction.  Oh the heresy!

Well, I don't care.  I respect that others believe in these tenets with absolute conviction, but their belief doesn't make these things universal constants.

Up first:  The Magnet Effect.

There are those contemporary romances that seem to work on the principle that if two people are meant to be together -- they're soul mates or something -- then the moment they get close enough . . .


They're glued together and let no reader put them asunder.

The Magnet Effect makes for ludicrous plots.  Like the "I Hate You, I Hate You, I Hate You, I Love You," plot, the "I Won't Notice That Guy Who's Perfect For Me For Most of the Book" plot, and the "Somehow I Was Damaged in My Prior Relationships Enough to Eschew All Men But Not So Much I Need Actual Help" plot.  Just to name a few.

What's up with this?  Why is it assumed that, in a romance novel for goodness sake, the author needs to keep her protagonists apart for the majority of the book?  And even loonier to my mind is the notion that they can sleep together -- more than once -- but still not even be close to falling for each other.

I understand what the fear is.  It's that if the author allows her heroine and hero to interact with each other -- if she lets them date, hang out, even talk to each other -- then they will be so irresistibly drawn to each other that SNAP! they cleave unto each other and all romantic tension is leached from the story.

What I find myself wanting to know is how stupid are these characters?  Don't they want to fall in love?  And if they don't, why do we believe the HEA?  But if they do, why are they sniping at each other non-stop, or avoiding each other, or constantly telling themselves how they can't, they mustn't, they won't even talk to each other?

The Magnet Effect relies on the assumption that all any couple, even two soul mates, can do is bond.  It's the instant oatmeal theory of romantic relationships: just add water & stir.  Or -- I know, those epoxy glues where you have to keep the two elements separate because once they even touch each other, you have precious little time left in which they're malleable.

All this seems so limiting to me.  It almost insults the characters.  Don't they have some internal issues that falling in love can trigger?  Deciding to make a life with another human being is a big step; surely it needs more than great sex and a declaration of love?

Plus, people fall in love differently.  My 2010 NaNoWriMo book starts with the hero falling in love in the first scene.  Someone said recently, "Well, it had better be a short story."  Nope, I'll still be aiming for 100,000 words.  Because I don't believe in The Magnet Effect.  I believe in slow-acting chemistry.  My NaNo hero, Jack, may know with complete conviction the moment he sees Elise that she's "the one."  And not to spoil the ending, but he's right.  He just has no idea how to get her to see things his way.  And she has a few things to teach him as well.

Watching them interact is so much more fun than watching them avoid each other.

At least that's what I believe.


  1. I winced when I read that short story comment. I don't think she meant to be bitchy but that's how it came across.

    If there were a magic formula to writing The Perfect Romance Novel, we'd already be published. It's not that easy. And for every writing "rule" promulgated in writing workshops and "How to" books, there's a great published novel which breaks it.

    I see the "rules" as tips to help me recognise potential weaknesses in my writing, but I don't take them as gospel.

    The only thing you can do is believe in yourself and your story and tell it the way you want to.

  2. There are readers for every kind of story. I'm a reader who prefers your story to the other kinds mentioned here.

    Falling in love is the main essence of a romance story, but how they do it (er, fall in love, that is, not how they do 'it'), is the substance, the meat of the story.

    PRINCE OF MIDNIGHT by Laura Kinsale is one such story. Hero falls in love at first sight (almost). Heroine not so much. But the story is so complex, so nuanced... You could never accuse Kinsale of having a very short story to tell.


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