Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Why Every Novel Needs A Love Story Part 1 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Why Every Novel Needs A Love Story
Part 1
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

I talk a lot on this blog about how to depict character -- not just characterization, but how to show-don't-tell the "strength" of a character.




One of the signatures of "strength" (as Editors define it when asking for "strong" characters) is the clearly defined "story arc" that the character travels throughout the story.

If you've been watching the USA series SUITS (on their "characters welcome" presentation) you have noted how, in the season finale in March 2015, showed couples finally articulating the emotions the viewers had seen were developing.

That finale came complete with a marriage proposal.

SUITS is a series about high-powered lawyers eviscerating each other while struggling to hang onto some kind of code of decency. 

It is not a love story.  It is not a Romance.  It is, however, all about Character Arc.

And it has been renewed for a summer 2015 run.

The show is also made available on streaming services, such as Amazon Prime.

Why do these high-profile dramas always tiptoe around the edges of a love story, even when they are about something incompatible with couple-formation?

The vague, general answer to that question is "verisimilitude" -- to make the created world of the characters seem like reality, so vastly un-real things can happen and seem real.

In real life, characters are people.  People have strong times in life, and weak times in life, and just slogging along day to day times in life.  Life goes in cycles.  Not all of a real life is a "story" -- your life's story is laced through the Events in your life, but most of life is not eventful.  Sometimes non-eventfulness is just what you want most.

A novel or TV Series, though, focuses on the periods of the main character's life when Events are hammering at the Character.  Some Events break the character in half and leave him/her helpless, and other Events temper the Character's strength.

We relate to those life segments because we have lived through them, or helped someone through them, or been elated or devastated by someone we know going through them.

Life is hard.  We all know that.  We go to fiction to look at life from a perspective that reveals how to survive, how to win, how to get to our own idea of "Happily Ever After."  The first thing we learn, reading our first juvenile fiction, is it is possible to win against all odds. 

A little older, we learn about the Character traits that merit winning.

After that, fiction opens up, no longer YA, no longer aimed at a particular age group but aimed at a personality type that is at a particular emotional maturity level.  Thus Genre is born, created by marketers looking to sell a stream of identical products. 

That's what books (or TV Series Episodes) are.  They are all identical, yet each is new and different.

So the life-lessons are sequenced and marketed to people at various maturity levels looking to get away from the rut of daily life and experience what it would be like to break through to the next higher maturity level.

How does a writer deliver that experience of "the next higher maturity level" without turning preachy, intellectual, abstract, philosophical, boring?

The most effective method for delivering an entertaining life-elevating experience to a reader is Character Arc.

The writer starts with a Character whose age, gender, spiritual awareness, politics, values, and life-situation resembles the intended reader's -- but differs enough so the reader can adopt an objective (this is not me) attitude.

That's paragraph one - or the infamous narrative hook.  The narrative hook has to be  fabricated out of the theme, the character, and the character's internal and external conflicts. 

Page One delivers an Event -- not necessarily a Life Event, but a Change of Situation.

Something happens, but not to the main Character.  On Page One the reader learns which character is the Main Character because the Main Character is the character whose actions happen TO someone else.  As in chess, the player playing White makes the first move.  The character who is arcing makes the first move, and thus becomes the Main Character.

Now, why does that Main Character have to be involved in a Love Story?

Love Story is not sex.  It is not Romance.  It is more like "Velcro of the soul" -- it is opening your heart and soul to another, becoming involved in that other's emotional, intellectual and spiritual life, values and Character Arc.

A Love Story is not just a story.  It is a plot.  The plot of the story, the internal conflict.

Look again at SUITS.  The pilot episode involved one guy (the Main Character) getting suckered into doing a drug-drop by a so-called friend, running for his life, and accidentally plunging into a job interview (all in a big hotel) where a Law Firm was interviewing for associates.  It turns out, being a Lawyer was his youthful aim in life.  He gets the job despite not having the proper degree and officially passing the Bar.

The guy who hires him does not love him.  He's into women.  But through the impact they have on each other, they learn to love themselves, and now (2015 seasons) Romance is ripening into Marriage.  That is story-arc.  One character's internal world changes because of the impact of being deeply involved in another character's internal world.

STORY is the sequence of emotions the Character experiences.  PLOT is the sequence of events outside the character that reflects and makes visible to the reader/viewer what is going on inside the Character.  Proposing Marriage brings Story and Plot together in one scene.

Keeping in mind that LOVE is not about sex, not about Romance, not about Winning or Losing or Commanding or Demanding or Controlling, we need to look at what Love is exactly so that we can see why every novel, TV Series, or story of any sort needs a thread woven through it that depicts Love. 

The simple answer is just verisimilitude -- to make any story powerful, there has to be something in it that "rings a bell" or resonates with the reader/viewer.  The fictional world has to have something in it that resembles reality -- then you can do anything and make it believable.

If Love is included, you achieve two objectives with a few spare words.  You create that verisimilitude, and you depict a world where happiness is possible (even if it doesn't exist).  Check out the TV Series Once Upon A Time about a world where Happiness exists, or does not exist.

We all want love, and most of us have experienced long stretches of years where we feel nobody loves us (least of all ourselves).  While going through such a period, it seems like a steady state -- that life will always be love-less, that nobody cares. 

That's not depression but realism.

Take a Character who is in such a period, and show-don't-tell how that Character will be able to break him/herself out of that loveless rut. 

If you, the writer, do not know how your Character can break out of a love-less life-cycle, all you have to do is check out today's major headlines, then dig into History, browse some blogs, and you will find examples of every mental/emotional state along that Character Arc. 

As a writer, you are an artist.  Artists discern patterns clearly that others see only dimly.  Artists depict what they see so vividly that others can recognize in the Art the same pattern they see in Life, but dimly.  Art triggers that wondrous AHA! moment. 

No matter what the conflict, theme, situation, your Character can triumph over all adversity by Arcing into a state of being more able to Love, more willing to Love, more open to Love.

In Part 2 of Why Every Novel Needs A Love Story, (next Tuesday)
we'll look at some seriously explosive inspirational material.  Meanwhile, think carefully about how you would define love -- because without Love there is no Romance.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

No comments:

Post a Comment