Quirkiness, Dry Humor, and the Lovable Rogue

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In my last post, I said that I especially enjoy writing romantic chemistry between my characters. I’d like to elaborate on what I think makes good chemistry. Last week, I finished listening to the audiobook version of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. While I loved this book for many reasons, the chemistry between the two main characters, Peter and Lara Jean, really catapulted it towards the top of my list of favorite young adult books. (Side note: When I was a teenager, I used to read books like Wuthering Heights and Far From the Madding Crowd for fun, but now that I’m an adult, I read books for teens. Ironic, no?)

Here is my secret for writing good romantic chemistry:

Make one character regularly say or do ridiculous things and make the other character regularly respond with eye-rolling to these things while secretly enjoying them.

You see this kind of chemistry everywhere. One character is the manic pixie dream girl/guy and the other character is the sour puss with the dry sense of humor. Think Luke and Lorelai from Gilmore Girls. Their chemistry works so well because she is sweet and quirky, and he always responds with dry remarks, but we all know deep down that he adores Lorelai’s quirkiness. There’s something so lovable about that type of chemistry. We want to see the quirky, cute one melt the “heart of stone” of the sarcastic, cynical one. Usually, the male is the dry one and the female is the quirky one, but it can be the other way around. For example, in The Big Bang Theory, Leonard is the lovable nerd while Penny responds to him with sarcasm.

In To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Peter tends to have a flirty, ridiculous sense of humor that Lara Jean pretends to be annoyed by, although the reader knows she secretly enjoys it. Because romances are usually marketed toward women, getting the male lead right is often more important than getting the female lead right. While women want a female lead who is kind, relatable, and funny, we read the book or watch the show for the romance and chemistry generated by the male lead. So, it is important to make him fascinating.

The most popular trope for a fascinating love interest is the lovable rogue. Think Han Solo. Or Mr. Darcy. The lovable rogue defies social conventions, speaks his mind, and thinks more highly of himself than he ought. As much as I hate to say it, it helps to write a bad boy. But the bad boy has to actually be a good guy—we just don’t know that until we get to know him more, usually towards the end of the story. Over time, it must become apparent that he has qualities that cause the reader/watcher to feel empathy towards him. Peter definitely falls in this category. He is an arrogant, popular high school jock; everyone loves him and he milks it. Yet, as the story progresses, we learn that he has a sensitive side—that he is extremely loyal—and that there is more to him than meets the eye. This is a powerful theme in general for a novel because it is so true in real life. We often judge people and overlook them rather than take the time to get to know them and learn who they really are.

As important as it is to create romantic chemistry between characters, it’s also important to create non-romantic chemistry. For example, in Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Lightsong fulfills the lovable rogue trope. While there is romantic chemistry between him and Blushweaver, who perpetually rolls her eyes at him, there is also platonic chemistry between Lightsong and his priest, Larimar. Lightsong speaks his mind and whines a lot while Larimar is perpetually patient towards him. Lightsong tries to provoke Larimar, but he rarely can. Every now and then, Larimar reacts, albeit just a tad, to something Lightsong says or does, and the chemistry between them is beyond precious.

 

Passion, Sacrifice, and Banter

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I’ve been thinking about romance a lot lately. One of my friends and I had a conversation about it a few months ago, and she was telling me that she dislikes a lot of romance in the books she reads. Also, my pastor has recently talked about how problematic the portrayal of romance in our media is. It has really gotten me thinking because I’ve always loved romance stories. I have read articles before about how too many romantic novels can be bad for the soul. I would say I agree with that. Usually, too much of anything is bad. Also, I really think it depends on the type of romance that you read/consume. I like to read romance that is cute, not erotic, that has substance, and isn’t cheesy.

As a matter of fact, the young adult romance book that I wrote five years ago, which I am currently reworking, talks quite a bit about how being obsessed with romance can be destructive. The protagonist’s obsession with romance makes her incredibly self-absorbed and causes her to make poor decisions.

I think the main issue with romance stories is that they can be self-indulgent. They feature a whirlwind of passion but often lack meaningful connection. I liked something that my pastor said recently about romance. To paraphrase, he said that the passionate, early stage of romance isn’t real romance. Real romance is drawing close to one another again and again over many years. I really liked that. The concept of fighting for intimacy in the face of difficulties, despite the costs, year after year—that sounds incredibly romantic to me. It’s the sacrifice that’s involved that really gets my heart racing. And I think that type of romance is good because it reflects God’s sacrifice and persistence in loving us.

As far as writing goes—I really enjoy writing romantic chemistry. I love putting my protagonist and love interest in opposition with each other. But most of all, I love writing the banter. I love making my characters argue with each other, surprise each other, and bond over inside jokes. The sillier, the better. If I had to give up writing action scenes, I’d be fine. But give up banter? No way!

I think romance storylines can be beautiful when done correctly, but it is good to remember that they are just that. Stories. And stories can never compare to real-life love.

Pride and Prejudice, the Enneagram, and Sad Stuff

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Some people would call me a hopeless romantic, but I dislike that term. By definition, a romantic is full of hope and, therefore, I think “hopeless romantic” is an oxymoron.

At any rate, I love romance.

I’ll never forget the time I fell in love with Pride and Prejudice (circa 2005). I think that kicked off my love of romance. I was 14. I remember beginning the 4 hour BBC version with my grandma and sister one night. We watched the first half, and I was enthralled. I loved the costumes, the archaic language, and, of course, the romance. I remember waking up the next day, feeling like I was exploring a new world, excited to finish the movie.

Soon after, we watched the 2005 version. I am not the kind of person who often re-watches movies, but I watched that movie over and over again. I was SO obsessed. I remember regularly checking the movie’s message board on IMDB to see what people were talking about. The world of Jane Austen became an escape for me—a preferable reality. I remember walking the halls of my high school dressed in this white, lacy, shirt with a blue ribbon that looked like it could’ve been the bodice of a Regency-era dress, imagining the people I saw in the hall dressed in Regency attire. I would carry a Jane Austen book (I think I was reading Emma at the time) in my arms—as a source of comfort as well as pride—rather than in my backpack even though there was plenty of room inside. (Side note: The 2005 version of P&P is, in my opinion, one of the funniest movies ever. It makes me laugh SO much.)

I recently took the Enneagram personality quiz and, of course, I tested as a four, which is called “the romantic,” “the intense creative,” or “the individualist.” The four described me very well. Let me list the hallmarks of a four that I felt I could especially relate to:

-being deeply appreciative of beauty, art, and nature

-having a strong imagination, given to daydreaming

-finding purpose in creativity, needing to express myself in an artistic way

-being emotional/feeling things deeply

-wanting to dress in an artistic, idiosyncratic way

-being sensitive

-possessing a strong sense of empathy for others in their pain

-enjoys listening to music as a way to intensify emotions

-wanting to be unique/quirky AKA a special snowflake

-being attracted to sad stories, movies, and songs

-feeling misunderstood

-having envy as a flaw

So, now you can understand why I was obsessed with Pride and Prejudice to the point of daydreaming about it. It’s funny, but I feel like my greatest strengths are also my greatest flaws. I love that I feel things deeply—that I have intense longings for beauty/art/nature—that I am creative. But I feel like that part of me can also become my greatest flaw. I can make decisions based on emotions rather than facts. I can get lost in ideals, daydreams, and romantic fantasies rather than focus on real life. So, I am learning to find a balance. Recently, I have begun learning how to better deal with my emotions and not feel controlled by them. I am working to become a four that is sensitive and empathetic yet strong.

I’d like to touch briefly on being attracted to sad things. One of my favorite books is The Fault In Our Stars, mainly because I balled through the last 100 pages. Several weeks ago, I was trying to explain to a couple of people how I LOVE the feeling of crying through a sad book or movie, but I struggled to explain it. Here is my best explanation:

I think the best art is the art that moves you. That gets you thinking about the big things in life. About life and death. About what really matters. That’s what sad stories do to me. They help me see beyond the superficial and view life as the epic, horrible, yet beautiful adventure that it is.

Also, as a disclaimer, I want to say that I promise I’m not a huge sap haha. I don’t like stories that are sappy or cheesy. I like to think that I use discretion when it comes to the types of things that move me haha. As a matter of fact, I don’t like all romance. In my next blog, I will talk about romance in a more traditional sense and hope to better explain what I like and dislike about the genre and how that has shaped my writing.