with love

kissI’ve been writing a LOT recently. I’ve been avoiding social media for this very purpose; and as I’ve been writing, I’ve been thinking. (Yes, I can multitask.) I love having couples in my novels. I love exploring romantic relationships and the ways different people make them tick. And it bothers me in so many books – particularly the young adult genre – how love either consists of A) constant fights and arguments or B) constant making out. Now, I’m not hating on fights or kissing – they’re bound to happen if you’re in a romantic relationship, and they’re great. We wouldn’t have Pride & Prejudice without the constant verbal sparring, and love lives would be pretty dull without some mouth-to-mouth.

What bothers me is that there are so many other ways to explore romantic relationships, and so many of them are left unused. Jumping at the last minute to save someone’s life? Yes! That’s awesome. Passionately declaring you love someone? Also awesome, in the right place. But what about the rest of it? What about the quieter moments, the subtle moments? How do you write a romantic relationship without leaving the important stuff by the wayside?

I’ve been exploring this (it’s one of my favorite things, I’ll be honest. I love love. I do.) and I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned, since I’m definitely not the only person I know who writes romances into her novels. Let’s face it; we’re all hopeless romantics. We love to watch as two unlikely people fall for each other, or as two likely people continue on, oblivious to the fact they’re perfect for each other.

Figuring out how each different relationship works out on the page is a different matter. Here are some of the ways I deal with it.

– If they’re going to fight, there has to be a reason for it, because guess what? Some people really do hate each other. Some people really do fight out of something other than sexual tension. If two people are going to have an argument, make it meaningful. Make them pour out their true feelings, hint that they’re upset at something other than the present subject. People don’t argue in a straight line. When people get angry, they begin to pull in things that happened months ago. They pull in personal feelings. They accuse and say things like ‘always’ and ‘never’ and other things they don’t mean. If two characters just argue for the sake of arguing, it gets old.

– I’ve seen so many movies where one person changes for the better, but there’s no good reason for it. Take Thor, for example. It’s a fun movie, and Thor really grows up and changes – but why? Jane’s influence? He hasn’t known her long enough, and she isn’t that influential. He changes, but without any real motive. Have motives. If you want someone to influence someone else, to effect a change in them, that’s great – but show it happening. You can’t have someone go to bed harsh and wake up soft and kind the next morning.

– Have the characters go through something difficult together. You can bond more with someone over one difficult, active day than most people bond over a year of casual acquaintance. Have their mettle tested, have them watch.

– While it’s frequently true that ‘opposites attract’ and ‘similar personalities make the best friends,’ you should balance it. You can have two characters that are opposites, but give them something in common; be it a goal or a personality trait. Oil and water won’t mix unless you give it a reason to.

– Try to avoid falling into the same patterns. I personally have a habit of writing relationships that go something like this – spunky girl meets and dislikes some troubled guy, they change each other for the better, happily ever after (maybe). And every writer will have their ‘favorite formula,’ and that’s fine – but change it up a little. Different personalities create different relationships, no matter your romantic recipe. I use the ‘Spunky Girl Troubled Guy’ formula in Natural Disasters and Dark is the Night, but December/Jasper and Easton/Angel are not identical relationships. Shake things up and do your best to be unpredictable. Do they look like they’re going to kiss? Well, what if she slapped him instead? Do they look like they’re going to fight? Well, what if he kissed her on the forehead instead? Thing outside the box and give your relationship more dimension.

There are a lot of nuances that go into writing a romantic relationship – and, I imagine, being involved in one. No relationship is perfectly easy, but no relationship will stand if it’s ridiculously unbearable, either. No matter how high the fantasy of your novel, remember that a relationship is a real thing, no matter the genre. Don’t box it up.

Advertisements

stones, bread, and love

shasta

When we got back from our trip to Florida on Friday, we received an enthusiastic welcome from our dog, Shasta. She’s the sweetest pet you’ll ever see – we leave for half an hour and she reacts as if we’ve been gone for days; so you can imagine the boundless affection she showed us for the rest of the weekend. She followed us around the house, sat by us, and did everything she could to let us know that we’d been missed. If you have a pet, then it’s safe to assume you probably love it. Most pet owners do love their pets; the animals become one of the family. If you treat your pet well, it will treat you well. If you show it kindness, it will give back to you tenfold. We love our pets unconditionally, and it isn’t hard, but why? I’d say it’s because they don’t walk up and say, “I love you” on their way to their food bowl. They don’t look at us in the morning, say, “Hi,” and leave. (Unless you have a cat. The cat might do that. The cat might not even deign to say ‘hi,’ but that is for every cat to decide for itself.) We don’t love Shasta because she’s an aesthetically pleasing dog with red-gold fur and doe’s eyes. We love her because she shows us that she loves us, every day, without ceasing. When we wake up in the morning, she runs to us and pushes her head against our legs. When we pet her, she wraps her paws around our hands like she’s hugging us. We know she loves us, and not because she tells us in words; but because she shows us. She’s constantly demonstrating her love, and not replacing it with flimsy words.

dougnutrolling

I think one of the biggest mistakes I make as a human being is looking at someone and feeling, subconsciously, that, ‘Yeah, I love them’ – and believing it’s enough. Because you’re related to another human, or you call another human your friend, doesn’t actually mean you love them. It means you’re tied to them in some way, but love can go stale. It’s a loaf of bread, fresh-baked, but it doesn’t stay fresh forever. As Ursula K. Leguin put it,

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.

So when I wake up in the morning, the best thing I can do is to remind myself – there’s love that needs remade.

The Midnight Titanic

piano

A short story inspired entirely by this.

I squinted with sleep-blurred eyes at my clock. The green, glowing numbers told me it was exactly 12:00 a.m. So why had I woken up? I rolled over, pulling the blankets up to my chin, and closed my eyes.

I opened them. Music.

Someone was playing the piano.

What? I threw the blankets off and stumbled out of my darkened bedroom. This was an apartment complex, for pity’s sake; not a theater. I pulled the chain back from my door and stuck my head out. The noise was louder from here, coming from one of the apartments down the hall – although I couldn’t tell which one.

All I could think about was the fact it was midnight, and someone was pounding out My Heart Will Go On. I fully believed people should be allowed to express themselves, but they should express themselves at proper hours. How could I do this without being a jerk? I swallowed to clear the night from my throat and shouted, “Jack!”

The music stopped abruptly. I’d silenced whoever it was, and probably made an enemy in the process. Alas.

And then a wide-awake voice called back, “Rose?”

                A laugh came out of nowhere and I leaned against the doorframe. “I’m trying to get some sleep, do you mind?”

A sliver of light crept into the hallway as a door opened and a guy looked out from his apartment. I couldn’t make out much except a halo of curly hair. “I didn’t realize it was that loud,” he said, a sheepish note in his voice.

“I was about to call the cops.” I was joking at midnight? I never joked at midnight. Maybe half of my mind was still asleep under the warm covers.

“No, you weren’t.”

“Don’t presume to tell me what I will and will not do,” I responded, straightening, as the words spilled from my mouth and I decided that at midnight, I was someone I didn’t know and would probably be embarrassed to be seen in public alongside. “You don’t know me.”

The piano-player laughed and fired back with perfect, laughing imitation, “With all due respect, miss, you’re the one yelling down the hall at twelve o’clock in the morning.”

I covered my eyes, even though it was too dark to see. “You’re right,” I said, my voice a loud whisper. “We’re probably keeping people up.”

He left the sliver of light and walked down the hall toward me. I could see him now; freckles and a crooked nose and eyes the color of laughter. “We don’t have to shout now. What’s your name?”

I took a deep breath. “Shaniqua. What’s yours?”

His grin was brighter than his halo. “Jules.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Jules.” I shook his hand. It wasn’t the long-fingered hand of a piano player; I could feel calluses and veins, the tells of a hard worker.

“And you, Shaniqua. Hey – do you play the piano?”

“No. I don’t play any instrument. I work for Amazon.”

“Do you want to learn how?”