Thursday, February 18, 2010

I Love You...I'll Kill You

That's the title of a song by Enigma that inspired one of my vampire/witch stories, KISS ME DEADLY— I Love You...I'll Kill You.  The hero wanted to kill the heroine; the heroine wanted the same—they all lived happily ever after.  :-)

It's also a sentiment too often echoed in romances lately.  The hero and heroine banter, bash at one another, fall into an embrace, make out furiously, then start bickering again—lather, rinse, repeat—then finally decide to love one another.  The constant push/pull, I love you/I don't love you has become, seemingly, a requirement to a satisfying romance.

Is it the writers who taught us that we can't enjoy a romance without the constant at odds and banter?  Or did the readers demand more of the wicked dialogue, the indecision, the love/hate scenes?  Or maybe the editors saw a trend and started steering writers toward those plots?

I think it's a combination of all of the above.  Readers like a hero and heroine who are not always in agreement.  If they fall in love too quickly, what's left?  All the excitement and tension is lost.  Or is it?

My April release, HER VAMPIRE HUSBAND, is one of my quieter stories.  It focuses mainly on the hero and heroine falling in love.  They fall in love rather quickly, and guess what, are pretty fine with that.  They don't argue (too much), and would rather spend their time learning more about one another than spoiling it with silly arguments and misunderstandings.  Besides, a war between paranormal nations is happening around them, and they join together to work through it.  The conflict comes from outside sources, and only strengthens their relationship.

I'm not knocking the love/hate relationships featured in romances.  I think they rock; they add interest to the story, and there's a lot of different ways to show love, yes, even with an argument or two.  But has romance come to a point where it's all about the conflict between hero and heroine?  Conflict makes for good story.  But is it ALL the story?

And while I'm on the topic, what ever happened to that slow buildup to the first encounter that we used to get, oh, say, over a decade ago, from our romances (mostly in historicals).  Used to be we might not even see the hero and heroine meet until chapter three, and that was fine.  Nowadays, they've got to meet on page one.  Smack!  And if they can have sex by page ten—glory hallelujah!  Sigh...  There are days I pine for the 'long meet'.

So I'm tossing out this rant idea on love/hate relationships for discussion.  I'm actually good with either or, but don't want to see the genre readers expecting only the 'or'.  What about you?  Do you think heroes and heroines butt heads too much?  Or does the conflict work well for you?  What was the quickest 'meet' you've read?  How but the quickest make out/sex scene?   (For the record, I did once get a hero and heroine together in the first sentence with a kiss.  And no, they did not know each other.  Heh.)



Emmanuelle said...

Interesting... now thinking of it I do love the "hate at first sight" situation in a romance. I enjoy the bantering, bickering A LOT. But I don't necessarily need it. Also, I don't need a kiss in the first chapter. I prefer the slow tension building, the anticipation. Usually the Big Thing happens around the middle of the book and that's prefect for me. Last week I read a historical (Lessons from a Scarlet Lady) where H/H have sex right in the first chapter. I was shocked (almost). But then the H/H were married so it made perfect sence and the book had a nice and sweet (and platonic) secondary romance that made the whole book work perfectly.
One last thing, I hate the "angry" sex. I don't care if H/H argue constantly before the sex, but I don't want their coming together to be a battle of will. And it should definitely change thing afterward (eg : in It Happened One Autumn, H/H argue constantly but once they fall for eachother, they fall hard and it's sweet and romantic).

Betina Krahn said...

Michele, I'm not a big fan of tempestuous, love-hate romances. Passion is one thing, true hate another thing entirely. Occasionally I read a romance of this variety that works for me, but I want a sense that H&H can really work as a couple at the end of a book. People who fight and have sizzling "angry sex" for 350 pages, then declare love in the last three or so. . . do not qualify. Also, it seems to me that as H&H come to know each other, the anger and fighting should diminish. Understanding leads rightly to love. The old saying is: "to know someone fully is to love them."

In fiction there must be conflict of a sort. I don't think of banter as always hateful or antagonistic. It can also be playful and revealing. . . sometimes revealing an inner conflict that must be resolved or uprooted in order for true love to take its place.

Great, thoughtful post, Michele!

Betina Krahn said...

Oh, and the "long meet" usually works for me. Most of my books are written that way. It gives me time to really know and bond with one of thelovers so that I'm firmly on his/her side by the time their opposite number shows up! It heightens the conflict in the reader. If it's done properly, the reader is majorly conflicted by the H&H conflict. . . which is just what we want, right?

Helen Brenna said...

Interesting topic, Michele. I love the internal conflicts, both to read and write, but there has to be some meaningful reason for the banter otherwise it is just bickering. Does that make sense?

But variety is always nice. Very nice that you had an opportunity to write this quieter story. Can't wait to read it!

ArkansasCyndi said...

What I love is the banter between H/H...sometimes snarky. I love to laugh, even when it's a sexy story.

But I do love the growing tension between H/H, so much tension until they give in to it.

Susan Shay said...

I like L/H sometimes, but even more I like it when inner conflict keeps the lovers apart.
Excellent post. Every new (and some not-so-new) romance writers should read it!

lois greiman said...

Okay, now I'm more freaked out about my current work in progress than ever. I think they argue too much. I think they meet too early. I think...

Wait, I'm told I go through this with every book. Come to think of it, I love a little heated banter. It's my favorite part.

Michele Hauf said...

Lois, I think you are your own worst banter partner for your books! But I'm like you with the books we write -- we love 'em, we hate 'em. Then finally we love 'em.

Cindy Gerard said...

Interesting, Michele. I've written both types of relationships and a few more in between. I love it when I get a good Hepburn/Tracy banter going on. If it works, there's nothing better. but it's tough sometimes to pull off without the heroine coming off as snarky and the hero coming off as a jerk. You have to be very judicious in the presentation. Kylie is great at pitting the hero and the heroine against each other because she creates situations where there are very good reasons that they are at cross purposes.
Personally, my favorite types of relationships to write (and read) are reunions. I love to show the readers bit by bit why these two fell in love in the first place.

catslady said...

I do like the long meet the best but I like a variety and don't mind mixing it up once in a while. As long as I care about the characters, I can enjoy almost any story lol.

Christie Ridgway said...

Michele: I was re-reading last wknd some old Nora Roberts books, the "Dream" trilogy. Straight contemp romance, no paranormal, no rom susp. (similar to her new Vows quartet) and it struck me how much the focus in ea. was the developing love story. That was the plot. I really enjoyed them and because I don't write a plot-heavy book (the romance =is= the plot) I was glad at how much I just enjoyed watching 2 people fall in love.

However, I do like a lot of banter. And I think the conflict between the h/h must be there...tho doesn't have to be "I want to kill him." Doesn't have to be that extreme. However, ea. has to resist because they recognize that this other person is the one who has the power to unmask them, to break their heart, to make them vulnerable. I think we all fight that in one way or another!

Love talking about this kind of stuff. Thanks!

Debra Dixon said...

As a writer, I'm of the make-'em-want, make-'em-wait variety. Or maybe I've just never constructed a book that worked well with a quick tumble.

I do like the characters at odds, but I don't like bickering. I like solid verbal banter with potent subtext.

As a reader I like being on the winning team and in the heat of an argument I love the chance to deliver that great zinger because we're in the scene as readers, we're involved and there is a sense of immediacy that makes us feel like we're part of the story.

At least the best stories make me forget the real world.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Great post, Michele! I love good banter. What I see all too often--and I think this is what you're talking about--is the senseless bickering trying to pass itself off as banter. It's the kind of thing that sours you on the characters--makes them seem petty or childish--and makes you just want to walk out on them.

I often find myself reading for dialogue. I want to hear characters' voices. I want to get to know them. I'm fascinated by what they hold back as much as by what they say. Like Christie, I'm interested in the relationships and how they develop. I think one of the differences between romance and most other genre fiction is that in romance the plot serves the developing relationship.

Michele Hauf said...

Great chat today, ladies! It seems we'll take the bickering as long as there's a good reason for it to be in the story. And we don't want to see them argue all through teh story only to declare undying love on the final page.

Venus Vaughn said...

I don't mind the H&H being in conflict, so long as it actually brings them closer, and is not just thrown in for me to see that the author can write "witty" dialogue. The reason I don't mind is because I love a good groveling apology :D

I do dislike the long meet. If you only have 200 pages to tell me the story, why make me wait 50 before H & H exchange any conversation / touch / look that means something? I don't want to spend that time with her mother or at his job, I want to spend it in the relationship.

I read a book the other day where by page 113 (of 256 pp) the H and H had only been together in real time for a total of about 10 pages. And they spent some time in their heads each fantasizing about when they used to be engaged. If I wasn't required to read the book it would have been in the giveaway pile by page 30.

Venus Vaughn said...

Also, I don't much care when the H & H get it on. It can be in the first chapter, or not at all, if it works for the characters.

When it feels forced (either the waiting or the boinking) it takes me right out of the story. Eg the rape victim who gets drunk and goes home with a guy because he's hot. What rape victim would EVER do that? Or the rake hero who, upon meeting the heroine, suddenly has an attack of the shypants? Hmmm... sounds suspicious.

I don't like it though when the characters use good sex as a basis for an HEA. Lots of erotic shorts are guilty of that one. "You gave me an orgasm! Let's get married!"