In a post About Building a Hero Character from the fabric of your Theme,
I mentioned the TV Series NCIS
as lacking in "Romance" which prompted Margaret Carter (who posts here on Thursdays) to comment:
I have reservations about your comment on absence of Love (Romance) on NCIS. In the course of the series, we've seen McGee and Jimmy (the assistant medical examiner) fall in love, get married, have children. Given the genre of the series, these are necessarily subplots, not main plots, but they are there. And we saw Tony give up his NCIS career to move out of the country and become a father to his newly discovered child (not romance, but familial Love -- although, granted, this event removes him from the series).
Margaret Carter (a widely known scholar) is, of course, correct that, from time to time in the long-running NCIS Series, we have seen Characters become involved, move in together, break up, marry, have kids, and generally have a real life outside crime-solving, behaving like "everyone else" living in 21st Century USA.
And I do believe romance writers can learn a lot by studying the scripting of NCIS episodes to a depth where the nuances between Love and Romance -- and the overlap zones between the two -- become more vividly apparent.
Studying TV Series, or book series, by watching or reading the episodes in rapid succession is a worthwhile exercise because, after much repetition, you internalize the format, shape of the story, pacing of the plot, and perhaps most important, the boundaries of a genre.
Successful, long running, expensive-to-make TV Series, give you an understanding of the narrow tolerances of a broad audience. Failed TV Series (3 seasons or less, regardless of budget), give you an understanding of the wide tolerances of a narrow audience.
Romance readers are, actually, a very broad audience, narrowly focused on how couples get together -- and even, how there can be an HEA in your future after the heartbreak of a relationship failure, or a widowhood.
TV audiences are even broader, as they must include people who hate "mushy stuff" or Romance in any form, who think spaced-out "In Love" condition is a form of insanity bound to lead to a nasty breakup, and who know from experience that happiness in real life comes in flashes, quickly overshadowed by Harsh Reality.
Dark, Gritty, Grim, Bloody -- those are the attitudes Characters must have toward their fictional realities in order to seem "realistic" to the broadest audiences today.
Today -- but not long ago, and perhaps in the future we will see a brighter view of Reality re-assert itself.
Currently, there is a strong current of disbelief of the existence of anything resembling an HEA - a Happily Ever After ending, the very "ending" that defines the Romance Genre.
Just as the "adventure" genre (to which science fiction has been erroneously thought to belong) requires the Hero to "win" at the end - to vanquish the villain, to overcome all obstacles, to succeed - the Romance Genre requires the Couple (as a unit, as a Hero) to form a lasting bond despite all obstacles.
The Romance writer's main plot-search is always for creative obstacles to keep the Couple apart, strand them as separate individuals.
Love Conquers All is the over-arching Romance Genre Theme, but the definitions of "conquer" and "all" are wide open to interpretation.
So, Margaret's observation deserves deeper scrutiny.
In the series, NCIS, there is plenty of Love -- every sort of bonding and Relationship Driven Plotting has been touched on over the 15 (or more) years this show has run.
But in the various sub-stories of the lives of the Special Agents (and of the criminals, and the victims), we find no HEA presented.
Our Main Hero, Gibbs, is single -- with 6 marriages behind him. No HEA, and no further hope burns within him. A glimmering surfaces from time to time, but his life is all about murders and destroying criminals.
NCIS exemplifies the lives of those who have given up the search for a Soul Mate. They live in worlds circumscribed by the HFN - Happily For Now - flashes of happiness sprinkled along the time-line of otherwise dark/grim lives.
The other Special Agents on Gibb's team have other Dark/Grim/Pluto-driven lives -- Tony had a kid he didn't even know about until the mother (arguably his Soul Mate) was presumably killed. He ditches the job he loves to move to Paris to raise that kid. What had seemed a bright Romance in his life, flirting and teasing for years, is dashed to bits. More pain is in store as it seems possible Ziva might be alive. Is this the story-arc of true Soul Mates?
As Margaret noted, we have seen the assistant medical examiner and McGee (the resident computer Geek, complimenting Abby's wider skills) "fall in love, marry, have kids."
This raises the question of what the difference is between "falling in love" and "Genuine Romance."
The Main Character in NCIS (the hero, the Star of the Show, the one whose face is on screen more than any other), Gibbs, has the key-life-pattern that sets up the theme for all the Relationships on the show.
To be a work of Art, a TV Series has to have thematic coherence. In real life, the people who work together on a team generally do not have that sort of coherence. When Karma is active, though, even in real life task-forces and groups teaming up to a single purpose do, indeed, have the potential for thematic coherence.
When you see that coherence emerging in a real life Group you belong to (sub-sets of Star Trek fans, for example, or fans of a particular author), it can set your hair on end. It is downright spooky. Like seeing a ghost, you know it is not real, but it is real --- it is more real than Reality Itself.
Fiction, such as TV Series or novels, reveal that dimension of Reality -- or conceal it -- as part of the thematic structure of the Worldbuilding. That depiction is the Art of Fiction.
Romance Genre is designed to reveal the reality of an otherwise invisible dimension through which the Bond of Soul Mates operates.
In ordinary consciousness, humans can not perceive that dimension where those Bonds tie us together. During certain Neptune Transits to your Natal Chart, that perceptual channel is activated, sometimes opened wide, sometimes just tingling with energy.
Neptune adds a dimension to perception of the nature of Reality. It isn't a choice -- either reality has an HEA built into it, OR it doesn't. No-no, that is not how humans apprehend life. It is more a matter of "sometimes you can see where you're going, and sometimes you can't see."
Neptune perceptivity comes and goes -- and usually comes on bright and irresistible only once in a normal lifetime.
As noted on NCIS, Gibbs had a Soul Mate and a child, and they were both killed. He, while still in charge of a unit at NCIS, sneaks off an murders the man responsible for their deaths. Some of his team know what he did -- he gets away with it. That is "Dark" - "Grim" - "Gritty" - and a life-story-shape incompatible with the Romance Genre.
Gibb's biography is re-echoed in the biographies of all the other Characters he searches out, vets, and accepts onto his Team. The Team reflects the darkness that envelopes his soul. And he does have a soul! He is both at ease with the murder of the murderer of his Soul Mate, and endlessly anguished about it.
All of those he accepts onto the Team have the beautiful light of Gibb's Soul in common with him, and are thus willing, able, and eager to Love, to bond (with each other, and with spouses, children, etc.). But they also share the Dark, the failures, the guilts, the horrible dramatic (Pluto-driven) tragedies akin to Gibb's biography.
One external symbolic sequence that illustrates the patched-over-Souls struggling on with life in a dim, grim, duty-and-responsibility job, was when the producers destroyed the Office section where all the desks are grouped. They all hate the orange/reddish color of the wall paint, and many are not comfortable with the skylight, yet when the place is rebuilt after the explosion -- it is repainted that exact shade of orange.
Emotional and spiritual lives are reconstructed and repainted like that -- mimicking the past in a desperate grab at continuity.
That sequence is worth studying as an example of the use of symbolism.
The NCIS Series shows us a world powered by love - love of fellow workers, love of law and order, love of innocent victims, love of special individuals, love of elder-mentors, love of children, and an occasional glimpse of love for a parent or grandparent.
Margaret is correct. The Series is permeated with Love, and occasionally, temporarily, Love wins out.
The Art of NCIS the TV Series shows in the unending job of solving crimes. There's never a lack of crime, especially murder of Marines, on and off duty, active and retired. The blackest, darkest, most vicious aspect of human nature is bottomless, endless, –– law and order can't WIN against this element of human nature. The job is a pure description of a life of utter futility -- definitely Grimly Ever After.
But they solve the crimes. These torn, shattered people team up and WIN against criminals (more so than other teams.)
But their wins are just temporary flashes - HFN. Something to celebrate, then move on.
This artistic statement of the nature of humanity and human life poses the question, "Is life a futile groping through darkness spangled with flickers of Love?"
And the Romance writer answers, "No, life is Love, floodlit by goodness, punctuated with meaningful obstacles." Every obstacle overcome by Love is a Soul-lesson well (and cheaply) learned.
So you can write a cop-show that is a Romance, around a main character who is living his/her HEA, joyfully upholding the law, learning about humanity's aspirations toward goodness, kindness, and generosity of spirit.
One mystery series that seemed to start out to be such a story is Faye Kellerman's Decker/Lazarus novels, starting with a true Romance Mystery Detective cross-genre award winning novel, The Ritual Bath.
The series follows the couple after Decker rescues Lazarus and marries her (and her kids), through them having a child of their own, through putting the children through school, through visiting in-laws, through a whole cop-career, to retirement to become a small-town-cop.
The series depicts the world of NCIS via civilian Homicide division in the big city - the endless and overwhelming job - without the failed HEA being the core organizing principle of the Theme.
A successful marriage, plenty of drama, lots of personalities and conflict, but a very realistic HEA situation. This series almost defines what an HEA looks like in our real world -- plenty of dark grit, plenty of awkward social situations, but Love fueled by an unending Romance energizes these Characters.
The dimension of Reality that Romance adds to mere Love is (very oddly) stability.
Romance, as I've noted is made available to real life people during some Neptune transits to their Natal Charts. Neptune "dissolves" reality, wipes away barriers. That is the definition of the Romance Genre (Love Conquers All).
Love, on the other hand, is made available to real life people during certain Venus transits to the Natal Chart, or Solar Arc transits of Natal planet to Natal planet. It is Venus to something, or something to Venus -- Venus is always in the mix.
Neptune is famous for destabilizing, and Venus is famous for giving nice feelings, wealth and pleasure. Venus rules Beauty (Taurus) and Justice (Libra).
When Neptune and Venus combine in an easy-flowing way, you get stability, or something like Chemistry's "steady state" (which is always changing, but always returning to a central value). You find pleasure and profit in mystery, change, processes that alter your opinions of what is just and right, discoveries of what is inside.
Neptune (Romance/altered-consciousness) and Venus (Love, Beauty) combine in many different ways to produce a dynamic stability we call the HEA -- Venus being "happy" and Neptune being "ever after" (uncertain future.)