Sunday, May 15, 2011

Shut-up Stupid Sunday: Romance Writers

I was recently discussing the book, THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE with someone and even though I liked the book I had to mention two big problems I had with the book.

The first problem was that the idea of Henry traveling through time because of a genetic condition was absolutely absurd. However I could easily suspend my disbelief as I wrote a time travel novel and I looked at the published papers of physicists who have studied what time is and used all that to make a spot on Earth where three different universes in the Multiverse met in order to make my time traveler's power just highly absurd. The most elegant way I've seen time travel handled was by Kurt Vonnegut in SLAUGHTER HOUSE 5 where he said, “Billy Pilgrim became unstuck in time.”

For this problem I can suspend my disbelief just as easily as when I watch STAR TREK and they travel at 1,516 times the speed of light using the same amount of power that the US uses in a year. To warp space-time that much would require power on the supernova scale.

My second problem with the book is something I've seen in a lot of Romance novels. Henry starts out as a drunken loser, has sex with the love of his life and is suddenly the perfect husband. To give Niffenegger credit the format of the book doesn't show a huge part of their first year together and they do work through some of Henry's issues of feeling his life is out of control as he gets yanked through time at random. But it is a theme that an awful lot of romance writers put in their novels and don't handle as well as she did.

The reason writers use that theme is looking at some couples from the outside it looks like that is what happened. A partier meets the perfect girl, gives up drugs and alcohol and turns into a perfectly stable guy. What really happens is more interesting.

The power of love is strong, all sorts of hormones rush through the brain. These hormones are powerful enough to overwhelm the effects of drugs and alcohol so those things stop effecting the person. However it only lasts for a few months, half a year at most. So falling in love can get a person past the most intense time of withdrawal, but the cravings last for over a year. If the person doesn't truly want to give up drugs and alcohol once the rush of falling in love fades they will be right back to their old ways.

From the outside it does look like a person has been completely changed by having sex with the love of their life, but inside that relationship things are going crazy. The rush of love has gotten the person passed the withdrawal stage when it feels like their brain is declaring mutiny on them, but when the hormones of love subside they are in the recovery stage where everything feels off. It's a numbing stage where the brain can tolerate not having drugs and alcohol but hasn't learned to create its own emotions.

As the hormones that were released by falling in love fade the former addict is in a very bad condition. Sex doesn't have that huge rush that it used to and everything else is totally bland. It is natural to strike out at the closest person while they are getting over their addiction.

For someone who has given up drugs and alcohol for love, the time between the first six months and a year is a time of absolute turmoil. A couple can work together to get passed this time, and an awful lot do it successfully, but it is not an easy time for a relationship.

A lot of romance writers totally ignore phase and just have the female character's magical sexual powers heal the addict with mind blowing sex. This is like having a person want to win a sporting event and doing it without showing the training. It is skipping at least half the process.

The worst part of the romance writers who do this (Niffenegger gets a pass as she did show that having a relationship with someone who is yanked out of time is not the easiest thing in the world) is that they give an unrealistic expectation that mind blowing sex alone can transform a man completely. In real life the mind blowing sex is a good start but to permanently change the patterns of a life time it takes a lot of work and patience.

So to all the romance writers that show great sex totally changing a man forever, I say, “Shut-up Stupid, you're skipping the most interesting time in a relationship, even if it isn't the most pleasant time, and giving false expectations of what happens in true relationships.”

By Darrell B. Nelson author of I KILLED THE MAN THAT WASN'T THERE


Stephanie Barr said...

I think your take on romance writers and the use of sex is overly simplistic in general. However, I can hardly stomach most romance authors any more because of the nonsense they do pull so I can't say you're entirely off base except to say, good romance authors don't do this.

And there are good romance authors out there. They know that you can't build a relationship with two people who hate each other everywhere but between the sheets. They know that there has to be an existing core of decency and consideration in both people to make it work. They know that sex alone, even the mindblowing kind, isn't enough. Hell, Georgette Heyer built all kinds of wonderful relationships in her romances and they didn't even have sex. Some grew up. Some change their ways. Many had their perspectives broadened.

I believe that can be done. In romance, actually, the sex is superfluous. Fun, exciting, even earth-shaking, but at best an aspect of a rounded relationship or you might as well be leaving money on the dresser.

Project Savior said...

I had initially thought of titling this, Bad Romance Writers, but Lady Gaga his been on a warpath lashing out against the critics of Bad Romance.
That would also imply that I thought Niffenegger was a bad writer which I don't. I was using her as the exception that proves the rule.
This theme is to Romance as having the Villain capture the hero, tell him his entire evil scheme, and put him in an overly complex, yet simple to escape from, death trap watched over by a dim-witted guard is to Action Thrillers.
It shouldn't be done but it works its way into stories to often.

Cody Vawter said...

Someone I know read this book and had a lot of similar issues, I actually don't think she could even finish it. Sometimes authors of romance books seem to think that because of the relaxed nature of the genre they don't need to be accurate. This is not so for many readers.