Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why They Don't Live Happily Ever After

A friend and I were discussing fictional romantic relationships and why they are so bad on television. Specifically, he was talking about Castle and Beckett, and how the writers seem to have pulled out every contrived romantic plot device from their grandmother’s attic to keep this couple apart.

Why?  Why, on one of the best-written, snappiest, most popular shows on TV, do the writers resort to stuff that would get anyone laughed out of Harelquin’s senior offices in a heartbeat. 

Maybe it’s this:
Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. When you go to see Two Weeks' Notice, you know that as soon as Hugh Grant figures out that he can’t live without Sandra Bullock, then you better be finished with your popcorn because we’re done. Sleepless in Seattle – once they meet on top of the Empire State Building, what else do we need to know? 

Romantic comedies are a short-term commitment. We fall in love with the characters just as they do. We sit through the conflict. We figure it all out for them. Then, when they see it too, it’s over. Our 90 minutes are up, and we go out humming the pop song that ran over the credits. We might even buy the soundtrack. But we don’t care what happens to them next. We were invested; they paid off. And now we’re on our way to Johnny Rockets for a milkshake.

The same is true of books. When we buy a romance novel, we know what we’re getting. They are going to meet. They are going to fall in love. Some plausible conflict is going to keep them apart, but they are going to grow and change and overcome it. Then the book is finished. 

Prince Charming puts the slipper on Cinderella’s foot, AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

The Prince wakes up Sleeping Beauty with a kiss, AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

No one, from Hans Christian Anderson to Nora Roberts, tells us what happens after that. We don’t care. We got our reward and we’re done.

Not so for television. The people who make TV programs don’t want them to end. They want them to go on and on for decades, earning money for the network, the writers, the actors, the sponsors. There is no Happily Ever After in television.

So they can’t put the happy couple together. Because once they do, what’s left?  You wind up having House drive a car through Cuddy’s living room because.....well, what else can they do with him? They certainly can’t have Dr. Gregory House live happily ever after. That’s ridiculous by anyone’s standards. Ask Sherlock Holmes. He’ll tell you.

Dave and Maddie. How many episodes of Moonlighting did you watch after they hooked up?

There wasn’t a single resident of Stars Hollow who didn’t know that Luke and Lorelei belonged together. But the writers knew they couldn’t let it happen, so they went for the oldest trick in the romance writer’s book – the secret baby. And it didn’t work for them. You find me a tried and true Gilmore Girls fan who didn’t stand up and cheer when April Nardini moved to Arizona. Or wherever it was. Who cares? We just wanted her gone because her existence didn’t make sense.

And when did Luke and Lorelei finally get together for good? On the very last episode of the show. Thank you. THAT’S the way to end a show. And they lived happily ever after.

But back to Castle and Beckett. We like the show. We love Castle. He really is ruggedly handsome. We were sorry to see Firefly cancelled, but we’re glad we still get to see Nathan Fillion every week. And as much as we know he needs Beckett and Beckett needs him, I BEG the writers not to let it happen. Don’t jump that shark! 

You can give us sexual tension. We eat that with a spoon. Throw them together and then break them apart. But do it with style. Do it smart. Do it in a way that the characters deserve.

Because that’s what keeps us coming back. 

For really good conflict, resolved in a way that makes sense, click on one of the links over on the right. A LOTUS-COVERED DOOR for a quick read, BLAME IT ON THE GHOST for paranormal intervention, or TOUGHER THAN DIAMONDS for island-hopping, bullet-dodging, diamond-chasing adventure served hot and fresh with your romance. 

No contrived conflict to be found
And they lived happily ever after. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why There is no DOOR on the Cover of A Lotus-Covered Door

During the many years that my Prince courted me, he often tried to lure me with music. A tactic which worked, by the way. From Nat King Cole to Rachmaninoff, the man knew how to get to me. 

Steven went to grad school at the University of Hawaii . During that time, he became very well acquainted with Hawaii’s popular music of the 80s. Thinking Don Ho? Don’t. Of the great Hawaiian music going on at that time, two groups were huge. One was Cecilio and Kapono. The other, The Peter Moon Band. 

He first introduced me to PMB with their classic album, Cane Fire. And on that album is a song called “On a Little Street in Singapore.”  The PMB version is great, but it’s by no means the original.  The song was written by Peter De Rose and Billy Hill. The first recording I know of is in the 1930s by Harry James and this new young singer – some guy named Frank something-or-other. Oh, yeah. Sinatra. 

 The song’s also been covered by Dave Brubeck, Glenn Miller and Manhattan Transfer. But The Peter Moon Band does it best, in my opinion.

 I first had it on cassette. I believe the tape finally gave up from having been rewound and rewound and rewound. Thank goodness for digital media. My iPod doesn’t care how many times in a row I play the song. 

Why do I love it so much? Probably because it tells a story. I couldn’t listen to it without thinking about the story. Who lives on the street in Singapore? How long has it been since he’s seen her? Why? Where has he been? Why has he come back? My writer’s mind couldn’t leave it alone. I started writing, and pretty soon I had the story going. They lyrics of the song were easily weaving their way into the story. “On a little street in Singapore, we meet beside a lotus-covered door...” The stuff that romances are made of.

In my mind, Lila (my heroine) lived in the little house on the little street in Singapore. Robb (my hero) had been gone and had come back for her. I could see him standing in front of the lotus-covered door, flowers trailing all around him, running up the side of the door frame, across the top, back down the other side. It was beautiful! 

There was one problem. 

The lotus only grows in water.

There went my vision of flowers winding their way up one side of the door and down the other. Maybe the lyricist should have gone with Jasmine-covered door. That would work. But lotus it is, and lotus it must be. So I made the door wooden with lotus blossoms carved into the heavy wood. Not the effect I originally planned, but who am I to argue with the source of my inspiration? 

Listen to the song. And when you read the story, see if you can spot snippets of the lyrics. It will be like a treasure hunt, with words as your prize. And isn’t that why we read anyway?

Enjoy the door. And the lotus.
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