Tag Archives: Romance

Episodic Vs Sequential: TV Shows and Novel Series

TV storytelling has changed with the advent of VCRs, DVDs and streaming services. In the golden age of TV, it was much more common for each episode of a TV show to be a self-contained story.

The reason is simple: showrunners couldn’t presume that viewers had been able to watch the previous episodes. If you were busy during the show’s airing time, then you missed the show. So, it made sense for each episode to stand alone. Title sequences introduced new viewers to the show’s characters, theme and mood. Even if you’d never seen a show before, you could get a pretty good idea what it was about before the day’s episode started. (And title sequences are getting shorter these days, or being left out entirely, now that most viewers no longer need them to learn about the show they’re about to see.)

The problem with episodic storytelling is that it’s more difficult to show long-term character development, or to give events permanent consequences. In its purest form, the end of the episode presses the reset button, returning the characters to the status quo at the beginning of the next episode. Still, some shows developed a certain sense of continuity: origin episodes, introduction of new characters or departure of old ones, key events in season finales.

With the advent of the VCR, people could record shows and watch them later at their convenience. And now, with streaming services, it’s become common for viewers to “binge” on a show and watch the entire season over the course of a few days.

(This is not to say that the golden age of TV didn’t have serials–soap operas, anyone?–or that there isn’t great episodic TV being made right now. )

But general trends changed when it became easier for people to keep up with their favourite shows. When data suggested that people enjoyed viewing shows in a single sitting (or two or three), showrunners naturally made shows catering to those kind of viewing habits. There’s now a strong trend towards “bingeable” shows – long running serials that tell a multi-thread story over the course of a season, and an even bigger story over the course of a series. Actions have consequences, and characters grow and change – but it’s rare for a viewer to pick a random episode in the middle of a series just to “check it out,” now that it’s easier to start at the beginning.

When you’re writing a novel series, which model do you want to follow?

In part, it depends on genre. For example, if you’re writing a category romance novel series, it’s often expected that a new reader should be able to pick up a book at any point in the series and enjoy the story. Additionally, romance stories derive their tension from showing how the hero and heroine get together–tension that’s hard to show once they’re an established couple. As a result, category romance series have developed a certain pattern. Each book in the series takes place in the same world, but each book (usually) focuses on a new hero and heroine. The supporting characters are often either the heroes/heroines of previous books, or future hero/heroines of upcoming stories. As a result, fans are able to return to a world they love, while new readers won’t be lost if they aren’t familiar with the supporting characters from previous books, and the primary tension is still focused on watching a couple overcome their obstacles to be together. However, this formula makes it difficult to show character relationships growing and changing beyond the book that the characters “star” in.

On the other hand, some series all but require you read them in order, or you’ll be lost continuity-wise. For myself, I love a big, ongoing, developing story where characters’ actions have consequences, and the plot unfolds based on the choices the characters made previously. But this technique makes it harder for new readers to “jump in” in the middle.

And some series walk a middle line. Each book is a self-contained arc, but if you put them together, you’ll also see a series-long story arc developing. For example, in some mystery series, a new mystery gets solved in each book, but as the series progresses, the main characters change, develop, and grow, giving the series a sense of continuity and ongoing development.

In large part, it depends on what you as a writer want to do. Do you want to write a series where each book focuses on a different character in the same universe? Do you want the flexibility to add “new adventures” if the series takes off?

Or do you have a long-term vision for a story that’s too long for just one (or three, or more) books to hold? Do you want to show a character growing and changing over the long term, and do you believe that you can convince audiences to care about this character, to choose to spend time in their company over and over again?

If the first book in a series hooks a reader, they’re likely to come back for more—particularly when they feel that the story is “going somewhere” and that each book “matters” because events have consequences. But there’s also something to be said for a format that’s welcoming to new readers, and doesn’t require them to put Book 4 back on the shelf and go looking for Book 1 in order to understand what’s going on. There’s audiences for both types of series (as well as the middle gorund) so choose what method best suits your genre and the story you want to tell.

 

About Mary: 

Mary Pletsch is a glider pilot, toy collector and graduate of the University of Huron College, the Royal Military College of Canada and Dalhousie University. She is the author of several previously published short stories in a variety of genres, including science fiction, steampunk, fantasy and horror. She currently lives in New Brunswick with Dylan Blacquiere and their four cats.

 

You Can Ride My Rocket…(Wink Wink)

There are some people who cringe at the idea of combining science fiction and romance. I suspect that these same people also don’t like Firefly so their opinions don’t really matter anyway. Personally I like a spoonful of romance in my steaming cup of science.

Science fiction is a genre that romance plays well with. Okay, I’ll be honest. If romance was a person they would be a double-jointed omnisexual gymnast. Romance can be easily adapted to satisfy everyone’s needs and plays well with every genre. But when it’s combined with science fiction it gives the story a lot of *ahem* unexplored territory in which to boldly go where Kirk has gone before.

maxresdefault

 (Bondage night with Lady Gaga?)

At its heart, science fiction is about exploring new possibilities. Sometimes it’s a new scientific theory, sometimes it’s a new planet, and sometimes you’re running from Shai-Hulud. Regardless of the territory it’s still all about exploration and all of the joy, fear, trepidation, and danger that goes with it. If you boil romance down to its very essence it’s about the same thing. Seriously. What’s more exciting and terrifying than exploring a space cave and nearly getting mauled by a Gorn? What can be more explosive than the Tothian minefield? Relationships!

minefield-galaxyquest-nailyournovel

(I’m pretty sure the odds of not starting an argument when you suggest that your partner stop and ask for directions is 3,720:1)

Yes, there are a lot of novels where the romance is merely a time slot on the holodeck or a green skinned Mary Sue. But it isn’t limited to that. In fact, it can be a lot more.

When done well, romance can compound a story’s major conflict (cue Ted and Robin salute). In Babylon 5 the romance between Capt. Sheridan and Ambassador Delenn made it a lot harder for them to take necessary risks during the Shadow war. It also made things very awkward when (Spoiler alert) it turned out that Sheridan’s wife wasn’t dead. On the other side of the spectrum, Marcus’ final sacrifice wouldn’t have brought a tear to many viewers eyes, including mine, if his love for Ivanova wasn’t unrequited. The fact that they hadn’t so much as kissed turned what would have been just a noble act into the most romantically tragic moment in the entire show.

Let’s not forget that The Empire Strikes Back wouldn’t be the same without Han and Leia’s love spat or heartbreaking farewell. (Odd that both were in very cold climates.) But that’s enough examples from TV and movies. Let’s turn to books!

Linnea Sinclair writes some of the best sci-fi romances I’ve read. In fact, her novel, Shades of Dark made me cry. Some of hers are exactly what you would expect a sci-fi romance to be. However, in Shades of Dark the protagonist couple’s relationship become strained to the point of breaking when one of them starts learning how to use their latent alien abilities. They realize, almost too late, that their ignorance and folly not only hurt their relationship but put their partner in very real danger. It’s this last twist that for me makes this romantic conflict real. I mean we probably all know someone or were with someone who became so obsessed with something that it almost destroyed, or did destroy, a happy relationship.

In The Postman by David Brin the protagonist falls in love with an idea more than an actual person. When he stumbles upon a quiet, and safe community the idea of staying and building a life there rather than taking on the mantle of responsibility of being a postman is incredibly appealing. In some ways it’s strange to think of an idea as being romantic. Think if it this way: when you’ve been up late working on a manuscript and have to get ready for work at the crack of dawn, the idea of calling in sick has a lot of appeal. This is the same thing except their desire for comfort and ease is so idealized that it takes on a romantic quality.

Dara Joy is an amazing romance writer whose stories sometimes has a sci-fi twist. She has a duology, High Energy and High Intensity, that’s set in the real world but uses science in an… interesting way. The main character’s love interest is a sexy physicist who decides to teach them the basics of physics through sex. I know. It sounds super cheesy but take my word for it. It’s hot! Besides, who wouldn’t want to go to that physics class?

Okay. I’ll admit that last one was a traditional romance. While it doesn’t use romantic elements in a creative was she does get bonus points for including science in a creative way. This partnership does work both ways after all.

Whether you use a little or a lot, use more romance or use more science, or use a romanticized idea is up to you. It’s also by no means a requirement that there be romance in every science-fiction story. Rather, it’s another tool that can perform more than one task. It’s entirely up to you whether or not to use it, as well as how you want to use it.

A Man Plus A Woman Equals – Comrades?

pacific rimI’ve heard the advice that, when possible, it’s a great idea to add a romance subplot to your story. I’m not talking about romance as a genre–a genre that I’ve published in–in which the developing relationship between two characters is the focus of the plot. I’m talking about stories in which the heroes are in pursuit of another goal and just happen to fall in love with one another along the way.

Well…

Sometimes it’s a great idea, and sometimes it’s not.

Quick, think of your favourite onscreen romance. Your “canon ship,” if you will. (For those not in fandom = “Ship” means “relationship,” and “canon” means it actually appeared in the source material….because creators of transformative works will happily develop relationships between characters who never even meet in the source material…)

Who have you got?

Han Solo and Princess Leia?

Robin Hood and Maid Marian?

Korra and Asami?

korrasamiThese are examples of romance being a great addition to the story. Plenty of readers who would never pick up a “romance” story enjoy the interpersonal dynamics and the fantasy of falling in love taking place alongside the epic adventure. Romance adds another level of appeal, and the more appeal, the better when you’re trying to sell a story.

But we can all list examples of romance being done poorly.

Stories where “romance” is replaced by a sex scene – the kind that doesn’t contribute to the story. I’m sure many of us have waited through “this is the part where they have sex, because of course they do. Hurry up and get back to the real story.”

Stories where “romance” takes place between two characters that have no chemistry, no reason to be interested in one another, save for the fact that the “romance” box on the writer’s checklist needs ticking.

Stories where one character–often but not always the female character–exists solely to be a love interest for another character, and has little personality beyond “X’s girlfriend/wife/etc.”

Stories where an interesting female character suddenly becomes “weakened”and falls in love with the “Mr Average” leading man, who saves the day (does anyone have examples of a male character falling victim to this? Female examples include the Lego Movie, the Matrix, All You Need is Kill/Edge of Tomorrow…)

And worst of all, stories where romance runs counter to the themes and ideas in the story.

Mad Max: Fury Road was a breath of fresh air to me and many other people in that its lead characters, Max and Furiosa, are a man and a woman who…don’t fall in love! Their relationship develops from adversarial (Furiosa has gone rogue to rescue five women who’ve been held in sexual servitude, and she fears Max is an obstacle to her success; Max just wants to live and will go through whoever he has to) to mutual respect, friendship, and, yes, affection…but nowhere is there any hint of romance. Indeed, Furiosa’s position as a woman in a leadership role in a patriarchal community has interesting implications as to what her views of sexuality, gender, and relationships must be, given the society in which she lives (and in contrast to the society she was born into, which has flaws of its own). To try to shoehorn in a romance with Max (who is suffering from mental illness and also struggling to define his role in society) would not have fit this story whatsoever.
fury roadThis is not to say that romance has “cooties”. There’s an obvious relationship between Warboy Nux and ex-breeder Capable, but whether this is “romance” or a more innocent sort of childlike affection between two emotionally stunted people is open to interpretation. Mad Max doesn’t shy away from deep emotion and vulnerability. It does show that romance and sex are not the only ways to show emotion and vulnerability in relationships between men and women.

Pacific Rim is another excellent example of a movie where a male and female soldier work together to accomplish a dangerous mission. There’s no doubt that Raleigh and Mako are very close, emotionally–they wouldn’t be able to fight together in their robot without a deep connection. But there’s no sex and not even so much as a kiss between them in the movie itself. Are they in romantic love, or are they comrades-in-arms? The movie doesn’t answer this question, and doesn’t need to. In this case, open-ended ambiguity lets viewers imagine a romance, or not, as they choose–whichever is more meaningful to the viewer. Some viewers will want the romance fantasy; others will want affirmation of closeness without romance. Unlike Mad Max: Fury Road, where it’s important that Furiosa and Max not be romantically involved, Pacific Rim benefits from an ambiguous relationship that can be what the viewer wants it to be.

In real life, plenty of us interact with people of the opposite gender who we aren’t 1.) related to, 2.) sexually involved with, or 3.) romantically attracted to. Yet so many stories focus on romance to the exclusion of other types of relationships. The result is stories that don’t reflect the full human experience, and a skewed depiction of romance as the be-all and end-all of relationships.

Romance has a wide appeal, but there are some stories that don’t benefit from romance. These include: stories with asexual and aromantic lead characters (people who do not experience sexual or romantic attraction)…characters who are equally worthy of being heroes with their own stories. Stories with lead characters who are at points in their lives where they are not ready for romantic relationships (Furiosa, Max). Stories in which a man and a woman work closely together, risk their lives together, would do anything for one another…but whose “love” need not be romantic love.

In some stories romantic love will make sense for the characters, the plot and the setting. In some stories, it won’t. While there will always be a market for a good old-fashioned love story, I believe that audiences also want to see other kinds of relationships on the big screen, the small screen, and in the stories they read.

Close Conflicts of the Romantic Kind

Here on The Fictorians, we’ve been talking conflict all month—internal, external, character vs …, writer vs…, but we haven’t yet talked about romance. Time to change that. Now, I’m a Fantasy guy, both as a reader and a writer. The reading came first, of course. I started with Tolkien, Brooks, Hickman, McKiernan, and Eddings back in the day, gobbling up epic tales of elves and dwarves and dragons, magic and mysticism, and good versus evil on a planetary scale. Man, I loved that stuff. Still do, actually.

Over the years I’ve read a gazillion books, but the stories that stick with me, the ones that hold a piece of my soul, are those that not only satisfied my need for the magic, but also spoke to my heart. I love stories that explore the spark, the attraction, between two characters. A strong romantic storyline, carefully fed and nurtured, can turn a good story into a magnificent tale that brushes against the reader’s soul.

And what writer doesn’t strive for that each and every time he puts words to paper?

I’m not talking about writing a Romance novel, but a sci-fi/fantasy story with romantic elements. There’s a big difference between the two. A novel classified as romance is subject to what I call the “Three Laws of Romance”:

  1. The Law of the HEA – the story must have a “happily ever after” ending.
  2. The Law of Astronomical Odds – the odds against the characters realizingtheir HEA must be so astronomical, the reader cannot possibly foresee how they could ever get together.
  3. The Law of Forever Apart – keep the budding lovers apart for as long as possible. Once they get together, the story is over.

These three laws constitute an emotional contract between the Romance writer and the reader. Before reading the first word, a reader has their story-level expectations set. She buys into the formula and looks to lose herself in the unique twists and turns the author takes to reach that HEA.

Once a writer drops the “big R”, introducing a romantic subplot off the main sword and sorcery epic, the laws vanish. Anything goes. As a writer, this is where I live. I’m a lawbreaker, a rebel.

Badges? I don’t need no stinkin’ badges.

Let’s talk about developing the romantic conflict. For writers who consider planning/outlining a four-letter word, the romantic storyline is something that develops organically, something that the characters “feel” while the words flow from the writer’s brain to his fingertips.

But I’m a hard-core plotter. I have to know what to do when or I’ll leave something out. In the early stages, while developing each primary character’s internal and external conflicts, I consider a third type—the romantic conflict. Which characters will fall in love, or like, or lust, depending on the needs of the story? How will it happen? Will it have a HEA? When will it happen? Writing in a land with no “Big R” laws, I can do whatever I want. I can string the reader along, plying her with stolen goblin kisses behind the ale casks and furtive cyclopean smiles from the high window in the wizard’s tower, only to have one of the characters turned into a coconut in the last chapter. While that might add a kick to a refreshing adult beverage, being turned into a fuzzy, hard-shelled fruit wreaks havoc upon a budding relationship.

That’s a mean example, but makes my point. Being a romantic, I would never do that to my readers without a significant amount of foreshadowing to cushion the blow. I want the guy to get the girl, or the elf to get the elf maid, or the whatever creature to get the blue whatsit. The key here is to consider adding that dash of romantic conflict to any plot.

Romance, love, attraction, they are all inherent in the human, or quasi human, condition. Fully resolved characters will encounter this at some point in their existence. Embrace it. Develop it. Write it. Give the story the added spark.