Friday, December 5, 2008

Reality in your Romance...

How much is too much? And the corollary, when does the lack of realistic character action, or reaction, send a story into a tailspin of WTF?

Some background: I recently read a story which I loved, even though there was one element that kind of struck me as unrealistic. I let it go, because the rest of the story really appealed to me. I also wrote a story recently that a friend beta'd and commented that the main conflict the character had was unrealistic and squicky. That's fine. Everyone is entitled to their squicks. She also had issues with the story I read and liked. Again, she likes what she likes, I like what I like, and we often have to agree to disagree, usually with her wandering off shaking her head at my wilful blindness to the reality of life. She's not the only one who has that reaction to me and my stubborn ways. Like Popey, I yam what I yam. I make no apologies.

So. Here's what I'm wondering. When you pick up a romance, and it doesn't matter here what you read, be it het, gay, BDSM, whatever your poison, what do you expect? Do you want the gritty reality of the real world? I'll give a bit of context:

A college boy meets a man, the man takes serious, cruel advantage of his innocence and his inexperience in D/s relationships and severely damages his ability to ever trust anyone again. Boy leaves man, even goes so far as to put man behind bars, and tries to move on with his life. Then he meets another man, a too-good-to-be-true man, and falls, head over heels, despite his reservations. It's been a few years, he wants to put his past behind him and try again.

Here's where the reality check comes in. How far should this story go? How much reality do you want at this point? This young man has been horribly hurt, physically, (though that's long healed), mentally, and emotionally. Realistically, there's little chance he'll ever have a truly normal relationship in his life. But do we really want that much reality? Or do we want him to live Happily Ever After?

In the above example, I chose to give him a probable happy outcome. (Better) My reason? Simple. There are enough unhappy endings in the world, and this is a ­story. Why would I chose to make a make-believe world that is no better than the one I live in?

Which leads me to another question: Is it ok to "ignore" such problems in the world as unsafe sex, homophobia (in my genre), dangerous situations like women accepting help from a man? Let's face it, we all know, in the real world, none of us would hop in a man's car and accept a ride home if we just met him. But in the world of romantic fiction, can we get away with pretending the world is a slightly better place than it really is?

Some would say two men walking down the street holding hands, or a woman giving a man she just met too much information about herself, are just asking for trouble, and in the real world, it would never happen. Because of that, such situations in stories just yank them right out of the tale and send them on their way to the next book.

I would say phooey. Sometimes, I just want a world where condoms aren't necessary, where a man actually wants to help and not harm, and where no one bats an eye no matter who's hand you're holding.

What do you say?


Faith said...

Even in paranormal fiction, sci-fi, horror, and fantasy there must be reality. The trick is to get the reader to suspend his or her beliefs (i.e. reality) to accept the things that aren't real, the fantastical, the wild and imaginative. I think being able to blend the two without any seams is the mark of a great writer.

erotiwriter said...

Interesting! Very interesting. Where I want as much believability in my ms as possible, I see your point about the whole picking up by a stranger thing. But, I've read works that go over and beyond unbelievability, like a heroine who is raped and hops right in the sack with her hero. Yeah right!


wanderingwidget said...

For the widget reading fiction is about escapism. I want to read about a world where things have gone horribly wrong, where the hero has had a big steaming pile of it shoveled on top of their head, where horrible things have happened and it looks like there's no way out.

And then I want a happy ending. Preferably with a bow. I mean, even Les Mis, as full of badness as it is, ends with Cosette and Marius together and in love. I'm willing to suspend some disbelief for that.

On the other hand, there's only so much disbelief I'm willing to suspend. I think it's a subjective thing, people have their own mental walls built by taste and experience.

A thirteen year old kid will believe that it's totally possible for a few teenagers to live on their own without resorting to desperate means of survival. I wouldn't, but when I was thirteen I ate that stuff up :P

Jaime Samms said...

In other words, Faith,it's all in the technique. Reality is in the eye of the beholder, and if you can fit your reader with rose coloured, (or rainbow) glasses without them noticing, you're free to create the reality in which you set your story.

But then, I suppose no matter what you do, there will always be someone to call your bluff.

And Ame, That's exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. If your story calls for both the rape and the HEA, how to fit in the necessary healing and/or create an ending that leaves the reader satisfied?

Jaime Samms said...

Also a good point, Widget. Some people have lived lives that will never allow them, to accept certain scenarios as plausible,and for them, HEA might seem like a lot of bunk, I suppose.

Janice said...

I think romance is a kind of fantasy, after all it has happily every after at the end.

I still add certain amounts of reality into mine, to give it a somewhat gritty edge, but there is still either a HFN or HEA at the end.


M. King said...

Great post, Jaime! For my part - and it's possible I'm in a minority here - I see the greatest value of romance as being an opportunity to explore human feelings, reactions etc. in all their gory mess and intricacy. So... yes. Realism is good. Whether I'm reading or writing, I want my characters to *earn* whatever happiness they get.

While I agree that getting readers to suspend their disbelief and accept the world you present is an important tool in a writer's arsenal, so is striking that chord of what feels 'real'. Stories might provide escapism, but they can still taste a little bit true.

Jaime Samms said...

I'm right there with you, MJ. I like to try and present the world as it is with the hope that it could be a better place. That loving someone could make the world that much happier and nicer. But I'm a bit of an idealist, or so I've been told.

Thanks so much for stopping by. It's so good to see you :)