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Friday, September 26, 2014

Cliché: Yo-Yo Relationships

By Linda Lovely

I write Romantic Suspense-Romantic Thrillers. The genre marries spine-tingling suspense with romance—the degree of heat ranging from tepid to wildfire. However, one romance cliché seems to thrive in every segment of the genre, and it makes me grind my teeth.

What’s the cliché? Each time it appears the hero and heroine might find eternal love an internal conflict arises to tear them apart. This relationship yo-yo is credited with building tension and prompting readers to eagerly flip pages to see if the (IMHO often quarrelsome) lovers will eventually hurdle over their emotional roadblocks and/or stupidity. Of course, since a happy ending is mandatory, the novel ends with the hero and heroine—who have fought like gamecocks throughout the book—pledging undying love. Given their prior habits, I always wonder what would happen if there were more chapters. Would another imaginary insult pop up and lead to divorce?

Based on conversations with other authors, I suspect writers knowingly incorporate this yo-yo cliché in their novels because they believe agents and editors consider it essential for the romantic story arc to succeed. I’m not buying. Romance readers are more savvy/intelligent than that.

I do understand that internal conflicts up the emotional stakes and build tension. Yet I find it difficult to swallow that a heroine and hero will squander time squabbling if they’re fighting for their lives. Once the hero and heroine join forces and begin working as a team against the exterior threat, I think all their energies would be directed toward eliminating the threat not nitpicking their relationship.

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RYes, the couple might have private reservations about their long-term relationship because (fill in the blank). In my newest romantic thriller, DEAD HUNT, those “blanks” include a past romantic interlude that ended badly, feuding families, professional conflicts, planted evidence, and, yes, a few impetuous mistakes.

However, I tried hard to avoid conjuring stupid misunderstandings to pry the heroine and hero apart at a crucial moment simply because it was “time” for another breakup. For instance, when the heroine in DEAD HUNT is presented with “evidence” of her lover’s deceit, she does not accept it on face value. She investigates.
 
I think author J.D. Robb has aptly demonstrated that a couple (Eve and Roarke) can have a hot romance, fight bad guys, and treat the reader to lots of tension without wasting time on meaningless quarrels that make a reader want to scream “You idiot!” at the hero or heroine or both.

Okay, romance readers, do you agree?

8 comments:

Marcia King-Gamble said...

A very interesting take on conflict. Nicely done!

Ashantay said...

I don't read JD Robb, but know that Roberts uses the same sort of "lovers unite" device in her other novels. At least, those I've read by her.

Some readers enjoy the illusion of conflict, and will read books I'd like to throw on the fire. If I had a wood-burning fireplace rather than gas, that is. Life is too short to read books that don't appeal to me - I leave those to people who think inappropriate conflict is good writing.

Robin Weaver, Author of Blue Ridge Fear said...

I think the difference between romantic suspense and mystery-suspense is the heroine/hero conflict---thus (IMHO) it's essential. That said, it must be real conflict and not the type that makes readers scream, "You idiot."

Madeline Hunter once made a statement that resonated with me. "If the conflict can be resolved with a good long talk, the conflict isn't string enough."

Thus I think your real complaint is weak conflict, not the romantic tug-of-hearts that's critical for a good romantic suspense novel.

Linda Lovely said...

Robin, you're right. It's the conflict that's "manufactured" by the author because it's "time" for another relationship conflict. I've been married a LONG (good) time, and my husband and I have misunderstandings and conflicts. BUT we don't jump to conclusions about one another's intentions or actions without talking about what one of us sees as a problem. Real conflicts are essential in romantic suspense--as they are in life.

Judith Ashley said...

I've also heard that if the conflict could be resolved if the main characters just sit down and talk - well, I'm not sure I think that is a conflict. More a misunderstanding which is different just like being upset is different from being furious.

People use the "conflict" card as a way to excuse their wimpy behavior. There are "true" conflicts where there is no good choice. You just pick the one you hope has the least negative consequences. A "false" conflict is one where you aren't willing to do the work to resolve the problem.

Cindy Sample said...

Great post, Linda. I seem to be a master at creating romantic conflict on the pages of a book and in my own life! But it has to make sense to the reader. I've read too many books where I find myself chastising the characters for being idiots. But when the conflict is realistic and adds to the tension, as in your books, it makes for a wonderful read!

Sarah Raplee said...

I agree with Robin - the problem is weak conflict. Weak conflict is annoying. I'm a very forgiving reader, but annoy me and I won't finish your book or buy another.

Polly Iyer said...

I've always had a problem with manufactured conflict, so I'm with you, Linda, 100%. It might be an important part of the romantic suspense genre, but I prefer story conflict the lovers have to solve or overcome. When their back and forth goes on too long, I close the book.