A major theme of the kind of pulp fiction I want to write is romance. The growing of a relationship between a man and woman is one of those primal sorts of themes that most everyone finds appealing. It’s rather criminal that it’s become primarily the purview of women, with the great chivalric romances as inspiration to men being relegated to history. Though a simple glance over the majority of action movies reveals that the basic interest is still there. What would Die Hard be without Bonnie Bedelia’s Holly motivating Bruce Willis’ John McClane? Well, as the sequels prove, mostly crap.
So I’m trying to put a romance in my most current story. Of course, I’m also a brainwashed modern with little real romantic experience. Thus I thought it’d be an interesting twist to have the two characters hate each other and then later fall in love. That’s easy to do right?
No. No it’s not. Especially in short fiction where you’re trying to keep the story moving. And especially when you don’t want to go through some huge, multi-stage character development on the part of one or the other or both.
What do you do in such a situation? Well, why not make some attraction present from the beginning? I kid you not, this was like a lightning bolt from heaven. It’s the kind of illuminating experience which only the obvious can bring about.
Let me give an example from my current mental obsession, Beauty and the Beast.
To get it out of the way, the live-action is a study in how not to do this. They wolf scene climax, which is the turning point for both Watson-Belle and the Beast, makes little sense because you don’t see any attraction inspired between the two (or at least one) before this event. We all know it happens because it happened in the original, but actual causal connections are left to our nostalgia to fill in.
A few scenes do this work in the original. First, Belle’s meeting of the Beast:
We immediately see how the Beast is struck by her. This isn’t the head-over-heels type thing – the Beast is no John Carter, capable of being struck by Dejah Thoris at a glance. The point of the whole story is to get him there.
But still, we see the striking which begins it all. Start at 0:43 – Belle’s sacrifice is the first strike. Something of his coldhearted justice melts at this. Then its back as he continues doing his Beast thing.
As a length aside (and I’m still fuming, so let me vent in my parlour): This is also an incredibly important point for revealing Belle’s character. Not only in the self-sacrifice, but in her devotion to her word and the promises she makes. She elects to be imprisoned and this election becomes more binding than any actual chains. This is completely destroyed in the live-action as Watson-Belle lies to both the Beast and her father, duplicitly make the prisoner exchange and then denying her parole openly.
In the original, her devotion to her promise also contributes to her willingness to care for the Beast – her own word has made her a prisoner here and thus it is her own devotion to that word which keeps her ultimately from fleeing. See The Wolf Scene where she makes reference to breaking the promise as she leaves – it’s that promise and her own good hearted nature that has her bring the Beast back and care for him. Why does Watson-Belle do it? Beats me. … Okay, I guess she too is good hearted, but seriously? She should have just left him at the gates for the servants to pick up and then get back to town right away. The girl was preparing to jump out the window hours before.
But back to the matter at hand. Let’s go back to that first encounter. Things get more interesting as the Beast escorts Belle to her room:
Watch the whole thing. Lumiere’s intervention is an important appeal, trying to reframe the Beast’s vision to see Belle not just as a prisoner but as something more, a someone worth treating well. This is the constant theme of the servants as they seek to civilize and build the virtue of their prince. But he needs more, as he just huffs at Lumiere.
Belle, herself, is that more. Upon seeing her, he is struck again. See 0:17. A one-two punch: accusation of injustice and revelation of her pain. The Beast is left to wonder if he’s done something wrong, just for a moment. Then returns to his task, but with a twist: “I’ll show you to your room.” Apparently the servants’ efforts aren’t completely useless.
Things get really interesting as they make their way through the castle. At 0:38 see Belle recognize the ferocity of her surroundings and quickly seek what solace she can in the Beast and Lumiere’s light – complain about power-play all you want, but masculine might can be a safe harbor. It is what it is.
The Beast turns and is again struck by the quietly crying Belle. Lumiere pushes him to make conversation and we see him get a little tongue-tied, before a reminder of his past brings forth that trademark inordinate rage. The final invitation to dinner reveals both his desire to assuage what terror he caused her, his own anger and despairing self-absorption, and the tongue-tying she puts him in.
The tongue-tying especially, but everything as whole show that he is attracted to her. Not just physically, but in all this feminine mystery that is making him uncomfortable with his own cold injustice. She, in her very existence, is starting to crack him like an egg and he’s left in an uncomfortable wonder.
All in less that 10 minutes, we see the kindling of attraction. Far more on the Beast’s part than on Belle’s, yes, but something that can begin to grow, grow to the point that he’ll throw himself at a pack of ravenous wolves to protect her and ultimately kindling attraction in her (combined with the help of the servants and her own curiosity at who the Beast really is, see her exploring The West Wing, especially the encounter with the portrait – this scene ends with a poignant moment of him realizing his own fault). They encounter the obstacles that make a good romance, especially in the Beast’s inner turmoil and redeemable self-absorption (especially compared to the irredeemable self-absorption of Gaston). The rest is all about seeing if this first attraction can become something more. In this story, something so great that it transforms a Beast into a man.
So take-away: I need my characters to be a bit more attracted from the get-go. Can’t make the romance ex nihilo.