Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Destined to be together

Some of you know that we three (who love to talk about writing while drunk) are members of a larger critique group. And in that group there's recently been some (possibly too sober) discussion about the use of predestiny as a plot device, particularly in paranormal romance. That is, the device of telling the reader that the hero and heroine are destined to be together--such destiny typically being decreed by some supernatural force, primal instinct, or omniscient being. The main argument made against this type of device is that the couple doesn't choose to be together. But I don't buy that. (Or at least don't think it's so simple.)

Before I continue, I must admit, (in spite of having just written one), I not very well-read in the paranormal sub-genre. I'm reading more of them now. (I think my problem was I really disliked the first few I tried--about six years ago--and wrote off the sub-genre as a whole. My bad.) Several authors have recently helped to bring me over to the oh-so-luscious dark side. I've read J.R. Ward and Nalini Singh and Marjorie M. Liu and Jessica Andersen... but from what I understand, those writers are kind of "new school" in the genre, and this device is used (misused) a lot in the "old school". So, that's my long-winded way to say that I'm about to spout an opinion on yet another thing I don't know much about. ;-)

Basically, my take on the whole predestination issue is that, like most things in writing, it depends on the execution.

If an author uses "they're meant for each other" as an excuse to avoid showing a developing relationship, or showing any evidence of the characters falling in love, and/or not putting any serious internal conflicts in the way of that developing relationship--then I agree, that would be pretty weak. But I don't think predestination stories have to be weak. In fact, I find the idea of destiny kind of romantic and sexy. Your body knowing who you're supposed to be with? A man saying he has to have you and only you no matter what? Hot. (Maybe not in real life... I'm talking in fiction, here.)

My first reaction when we all started discussing this was: isn't every hero/heroine pairing in a romance novel predestined on some level? That is, in every romance novel an omniscient being (the writer) destines the couple to be together. As soon as an author makes John and Mary protagonists and drops them into a story aspiring to have the word romance stamped on the spine, John and Mary have no choice. They are going to end up together. (Okay, now perhaps I'm being facile...)

But, my point is, regardless of a magical predestiny, it's the author's job to show the reader that John and Mary SHOULD be together, and would have CHOSEN to be together regardless of their destinies. Even if they can't choose whether or not they're supposed to be together, they should choose to be in love. The reader, by the end, should think that "destiny" was right.

It's also the author's job to put enough credible and emotional obstacles in the way of John and Mary being happy with their ultimate destinies, so that their journey toward being a couple is interesting and compelling. And predestiny can't be used as an excuse to avoid this. It's a bit like love at first sight. Even if you're someone who believes that this happens... you probably also believe that for love to last past first sight, there needs to be some substance behind it. Same thing with destiny, I say.

Predestiny? Hot? Not? Love them? Hate them? What do you think?


Kimber Chin said...

Totally agree!

I lump the destiny idea in with physical attraction. If there's nothing else, I start to wonder how long the relationship will last.

As for love at first sight...
I fell in love at first sight (I didn't believe in it until it happened - and yeah, I always feel goofy telling people I fell in love at first sight) but it then took me 5 years of getting to know the now hubby before we got married. I had to ensure we had more of a base.

There simply has to be more.

Amy Ruttan said...

I was a love at first sight gal.

I haven't read a lot of predestined books. I can't think of any, but I totally agree when we write about characters we have predetermined them to be together.

K J Gillenwater said...

"A man saying he has to have you and only you no matter what? Hot."

I totally agree with this statement. In fact, those are the kinds of books I love the most. The guy with a dark background who never has really committed himself to one woman, finally discovering the ONE woman he MUST be with.

I think that it comes more from the man side of things--the love at first sight bit. I really do. A lot of men will floundering around in life, and then they meet that one woman for whom they will bend over backwards to keep her.

My husband tells me it was 'love at first sight' when he met me. I was more of the idea, 'hey, this guy is kinda cute!' I wasn't convinced he was 'the one' until after a few dates. (still pretty quick) But, as many women will say, you just *know* when you've met a guy who truly LOVES you vs. just wants to DATE you. There is a difference.

So I'm a big believer in falling in love quickly. Of course, there are obstacles to overcome...and some relationships have more than others. But I can totally believe that two people can be in love quickly and stay in love for a long time. We all know that 'love' changes over time. That the honeymood phase is only one phase of any serious relationship. So I can believe that in a fictional world, too.

Those who 'hate' insta-love clearly have never experienced it.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Kresely Cole uses this device in all her books and I love it. Maureen you're right - it's probably the execution but for me it has the same feel of the "marriage of convenience turning into love" thing.

In her world there is only ONE true mate and once you find it - that's it. Then of course she turns everything on its head by making the hero/heroine complete opposites/enemies whatever.

The device doesn't bypass the romantic tension at all it just starts you off with a situation where you know this is the person you're going to be with.. okay now how do you fall in love?

Good stuff.

Alli said...

Great post, Maureen! I am a love at first sight believer, I must say. I have a very mushy, romantic heart (which is strange, because I write thrillers...). Anyway, I do love the whole destined to be together business if it's done well - but I also love the destined NOT to be together (a la Romeo and Juliet).

Molly O'Keefe said...

I think if you are going to do the predestined thing - which I agree can be hot. When we were talking about it and you referenced Vicious and Jane - I totally agreed, and in fact JR Ward uses it a lot - but if you are going to use it than the obstacles in the way have got to be huge. Both external and especially internal - like to the point that if these two are actually going to be togethe the only way it's possible is for one to die - or whatever. It's gotta be big.

But if it's done right it can make the black moment even more bitter and the tension even hotter. Done wrong -- it's pretty lame and yes, Maureen I totally agree - it's old. It's a device that's been done so many times and like all those devices you have to make it stand out somehow.

Side note - DOYLE!!! THE WIRE!!! I have the finale of season two tonight -- this show! THIS SHOW!!!

The handling of subplots in this show is the best - THE BEST - I have ever ever seen.

Sinead M said...

Ditto what Molly said...

Got to get onto the Wire... my husband and that stupid Wii is ruining my life

Diana Peterfreund said...

I don't believe in love at first sight. I do think there can be this spark, some initial attraction, and then if it blossoms into love, you can look back and go, oh, it was love at first sight.

However, I've had lots of conversations with one paranormal writer friend (who uses the "soulmates" construction in her bestselling books) about how I think that "soulmates" in paranormal romance is the equivalent of "arranged marriages" in historical romances. You can recognize that you have some "bond" with that person and then the rest of the book deals with your heart and mind catching up to this metaphysical (or physical) connection. Much like the way the arranged marriage books work that you have to marry this person that you aren't particularly into, but then over the course of the book, you fall in love.

I ADORE arranged marriage books, and I love the soulmate books that work that way, like CL Wilson's.

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