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Caught In A Transformative Romance

So I was grumbling to people, as I do, about books. And at one point I was saying 'Oh, how can someone want Character A and Character B to get together?' And I was answered: 'Well, they're attractive, and get on well...' To which I: 'But surely that's not enough?'

Obviously it is enough in real life, at least initially. But just as I demand little more from life than a comfy chair and a delicious drink and an excellent book, I would not be thrilled by a book about someone in a comfy chair with a delicious drink and an excellent book. So yes, with the romances in fiction that I love passionately, screech about and chant 'Kiss kiss why will you not kiss' at the page or screen, they have to be a certain thing.

The romance I love is a transformative romance.

My demands are as follows! a) I have to like Character A very, very much b) I have to like Character B very, very much and c) I have to like Character A and Character B much more together than apart. I have to love their interaction, the way their conversations with each other flow, the subtly or not-so-subtly different people they become with each other.

Which may be the point: I have to love them, and yet also want them to change.

This makes me feel a little bit like a Golden-Curled Innocent Young Miss who thinks she can change the wicked ways of the rakish marquis.

But not quite, because it does have to be a mutual transformation.

edited to add: And transformation is a difficult, uncomfortable process. The characters are usually going to have some conflict with each other because they're changing each other - and that's how I like the trope of romantic partners who initially don't get on, or at least have spiky moments. If I don't get the sense they're changing each other, I won't like the not-getting-on. But if I do...

See also: Pride and Prejudice = The Title Is Literally The Two Besetting Faults The Protagonists Have & The Fact They Counteract Each Other Is Why They Are Meant To Be (Also It Was Originally Titled 'First Impressions' But Please Ignore That).

In Beauty by Robin McKinley, there are two literal transformation moments: the moment Beauty transforms the Beast into a man, obviously, but also the moment where the prince shows Beauty herself in a mirror, and she sees that she has not only become beautiful but regal, dignified - that she has grown into herself as the Beast grew into a different person, too.

It's rarer for the girl to have the Big Transformation than the boy, so I love it that in Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones the heroine Sophie is the one under an enchantment, and thus the one literally transformed at the end. Sophie is enchanted to look like an elderly lady rather than a monster, of course, which is a bit of a significant difference!

Robin McKinley's Chalice

HEROINE: I have to become co-ruler of a land and vital magical personage! And I am a humble beekeeper!
HERO: I have to become co-ruler of a land and a human being! And I am mostly made of fire!

Margaret Mahy's The Changeover

HERO: I have to overcome my abusive childhood, learn to care about others, and to be less of a freakmonkey.
HEROINE: I have to overcome evil, undergo a Spiritual Journey, and become a witch. This transformation will literally cause the bones in my skull to move around.

There's the question of names that signify transformation: in Beauty Beauty's name was given to her ironically, as she is the plain sister, and the Beast shows her it's a true name. And the Beast tells Beauty he has forgotten his name, and she will have to give him one. Sorry Carlisle of The Changeover both complains that he has to introduce himself whenever he apologises and routinely does things that are kind of awful without seeming very apologetic at all about it: however, near the end of the book he says 'I'm sorry' to Laura, obviously meaning it, both genuinely remorseful and self-consciously aware of both his name and his feelings. It may also be significant that Sorry alone in the book calls Laura 'Chant.' And in Chalice we don't know the hero's name until a good way in, and then we are offered the choice of two names for him: the one he remembers, and the one Mirasol the heroine remembers. He uses the name she gave back to him to tell her he cares about her. Similarly in Howl's Moving Castle, Howl has to wait until the end to see Sophie's true face, but it isn't until a long way into the book that she learns Howl's actual name - that the glamorous heart-stealing wizard is really called Howell Jenkins.

And in Pride and Prejudice, it is only after Darcy has received the huge hit to his pride of Elizabeth turning him down, and after Elizabeth has just read the prejudice-collapsing letter from Darcy entitled 'You May Be Interested to Know the Villain Of This Novel is Mr Wickham' that we read, for the first and only time, Darcy's first name.

I like the idea of love being someone knowing your true name: and when someone calls you that, you have to answer.

And I love fantasy for yet another reason - that things like 'someone knowing the real you' can be actualised, that love can be turned into magic.

This blog post may not have come as a big surprise to anyone else, since now I have written it all out it's been clear what I like for years, and how what I like keeps cropping up in the books I love. It clarified things for me, though - what's really important to me in my fictional relationships, and why I sometimes really don't get romances everyone else goes crazy for. (It made me realise who I want to get together in Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices series, only I can't talk about that yet. But soon Clockwork Angel will be out, and I shall!)

But what kinds of romance really get you, and what specific fictional romances do you really love?

Comments

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bookshop
Jul. 3rd, 2010 09:36 pm (UTC)

I LOVE this post and I agree with it so much! My favorite romance tropes are all about partnerships and 2 (or 3!) characters transforming each other: Lizzie & Darcy, Emma & Mr Knightley, Harry & Draco, Touya & Hikaru ♥, Miranda & Andy (Devil Wears Prada) Shuji-Akira-Nobuta (Nobuta wo Produce), Jin, Mugen, & Fuu from Samurai Champloo, and Tracy & Dexter from the Philadelphia Story.

I do think, also, that there's a lot to be said for relationships that are true from the beginning, that seem to spring so fully-formed into the lives of both characters that it doesn't so much change them so much as imprint permanently onto their identity forever: I think the best example I have of this is Anne & Diana! I don't know that I would call their love transformative, as I do the pairings I spoke of above, but I definitely think that their lifelong love for one another empowered both of them and shaped who they grew to be. And I love and value that quality tremendously in romances as well. <333333

*devolves into handflailing enthusiasm*
sarahtales
Jul. 3rd, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC)
I am always mildly taken aback when I read a list of romances and some really happened (for a given fictional value of 'really') and some did not! It means I have no idea whether the characters I'm not familiar with had any sort of romance at all, you know, and this distresses me. But I agree on Lizzy and Darcy, of course. I'm not sure about Emma and Mr Knightley, actually. Hmmm.

I like Anne and Diana tremendously as a friendship, but I don't think that instant love and belonging works well for me as a main romance: the process of transformation should always be a little uncomfortable. Actually this point is something I meant to say above: must edit!
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kathleenfoucart
Jul. 3rd, 2010 09:43 pm (UTC)
Wow. I never thought about transformation in these exact terms before, but I very much agree with everything you said. If one person in the couple stays exactly the same while the other changes, their dynamic as a couple wouldn't work as well. Hmmm... Now I have a lot to puzzle over RE: some of my favorite Character A and Character B pairings *puzzles*

And I'm actually playing with the "true name" thing in my current WIP, so reading this post is one of those weird "I'm not crazy, someone else thinks this way, too" moments. ;-)
sarahtales
Jul. 3rd, 2010 09:51 pm (UTC)
Tell me some of your favourite Character A and B pairings, she says! (Short story I have a deadline for! What short story I have a deadline for...?)
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sarahtales
Jul. 3rd, 2010 09:50 pm (UTC)
I used to think I didn't like love triangles, but now I realise that it's like vampires - I like them very much when I think they're done well. The love triangle in Infernal Devices is most excellent!
tiferet
Jul. 3rd, 2010 09:50 pm (UTC)
This is a really hard question for me, because in general, romance doesn't get me at all, and it's not why I read books or watch movies, although I enjoy a love story once in a while. I may be the only person on the planet who likes Twilight because of Bella's frank admission that she doesn't trust normal people because they never get her and is attracted to the Cullens because they are weird, plus the bizarro physiology and interesting grossness around how Meyer's vampires and werewolves work. I want Bella to get with Edward, because that's what she wants, and I don't have any patience with Team Jacob because I don't get them--she thinks of him as a little brother until he tries to Nice Guy her into being his girlfriend while she is clinically depressed. That's not sympathetic. Edward is a sexist git, but he was born in like 1901 and Bella always gets her way in the end with him, so whatever. But the actual interesting stuff in the books for me is about why these people are the way they are, and why the world is the way it is--not who Bella will end up with (as if that's not obvious) or how that will come about.

(I always get into arguments with people who are concerned about Good Role Models and stuff like that, because I don't give a flying you know what about that stuff. I am interested in the characters, and their damage, and whether or not I can believe it, and if I can believe it, I would prefer that the characters NOT behave the way good well-adjusted modern people ought to do instead of the way that they do.)

Anyhow, most of what I know about romance is why I don't like it. I don't like it when well-established strong female characters start to change because they are interested in the male lead, particularly if they suddenly become more conventionally feminine or take an interest in babies. I don't like it when well-established female characters whose stories were all about them before suddenly start to spend all their screen time trying to fix some guy's emotional ouchies, particularly when it never goes the other way, although he always gets to rescue them--even when they were never the sort of people who needed much rescuing before. (My particular example of cute girls always needing rescuing and why I hate that came from Heroes, in which the cute blond cheerleader WHO IS INVULNERABLE and came back just fine after she had been partially autopsied once they got the piece of wood out of her brainstem needed to be rescued by a scrawny empath boy. WTF.)

I don't like it when female characters are written as "love interests" and clearly were created to be the Perfect Girl for whatsisface. Usually this results in a situation where it would make more sense for them to be colleagues and best friends and have a sibling relationship, like Dean and Jo or Charlie and Amita, both of whom always struck me as too much alike to fit together really well.

I do like Pride and Prejudice (I haven't read those other books) very much, but because Elizabeth and Darcy get together while still remaining very much themselves. Too often the "change" demanded by writers of characters in romantic novels is that the woman must change for the man. (Actually, I think one of the things I liked about Twilight was that Edward had to change, not Bella. He had to accept that his controlling tactics would fail with her and that she was going to do what she wanted to do--she agreed to marry him, but that was about the only time he got his way.)

I don't like bickering couples, particularly when the male half of a het couple belittles the girl's interests and ambitions and hard work (I'm looking at you, Ron Weasley). I don't like it when a woman has to spend much of her time cleaning up after her partner, and I don't just mean the laundry (I love Tony Stark, but if I were Pepper Potts I would shoot myself rather than date him--nothing could be less appealing than having to mother him and fix his economic and political fubars all day, then come home and have sex with him).

Basically, I only like heterosexual romances if the woman involved isn't roped into a supporting role where her life is suddenly all about taking care of this guy and his problems, or forced to become more conventionally feminine.
sarahtales
Jul. 3rd, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
Well, all romances, heterosexual or not, are not great if one of the characters is subordinate to/less important than the other in the relationship. Doesn't matter what gender the characters are!

I thank you for that interesting view on Twilight, by the way: I've never really thought of Bella's attraction to the Cullens that way before. And I completely agree that Bella's clear preference for Edward made me want her to be with Edward, as in all love triangles where there is a clear preference. I only get torn when the character is torn!

I don't know who Charlie and Amita are, I'm afraid, and I haven't watched enough Supernatural to comment on Dean and Jo. But definitely - independent ladies not made to design for the guy, and whose lives are not denigrated in favour of the guy's, essential for me to love any pairing.
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captain_jezebel
Jul. 3rd, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
I'm so with you on this whole transformation thing, and hand in hand with it is that they make each other strive for better things simply by existing. Jace and Clary in TMI being a perfect example, both of them forcing themselves to fight even in the face of horrible pain and almost certain failure because they want to do the other proud.

And this is why I'm so shipping Ivy and Rachel in Kim Harrison's The Hollows series, because they fight so hard to help each other be who they want to be, because they believe in each other so fiercely. I dunno if she'll get them together in the end; I am losing hope! BUT, the POINT is that I always look at what qualities the potential love interest brings out in the character. Sometimes it is change, sometimes it's a reminder to stay true to something already in place, sometimes it's about balance . . . But either way, the idea that love is not just about who we're attracted to but also who we need to BE is key for me.

Thanks for a delightful and thought provoking post . . .
rivki8699
Jul. 3rd, 2010 10:03 pm (UTC)
I desperately want Rachel and Ivy to get together. And I'm totally fine with them having a three way relationship with Kisten. But Rachel/Ivy are awesome.
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nev_longbottom
Jul. 3rd, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
My favorite romances, the ones I love best are the ones with long amounts of unrequited pining and then it turns out the other character has been pining even longer and never thought they had the chance? And the two characters help make each other better people? and neither's definition of wooing necessarily fits the standard definition of wooing.

Like, Kelly Armstrong's couple Paige and Lucas from her Women of the Underworld series are my FAVORITE couple. Lucas is a scrawny, meticulous nerd not-for-profit lawyer and Paige is a curvacious, dress loving feminist fighting for the education of all young witches. Their idea of the perfect anniversary gift is trading spells. Paige makes more than he does and he has family problems that occasionally strain their relationship. They also communicate their feeling and problems, and they trust each other. Even when suspicious conversations get overheard, they both TRUST each other. Now that? That screams good relationship to me.

Eh, and while I'm here, that you for talking about books Sarah. Your book reviews introduce me to WONDERFUL authors I might not have read otherwise! Holly's "White Cat" for example, as my favorite Alaskan booksellers don't stock her. Which is sad, but I can order her books through my Ebook Reader and appreciate the wonder. THANK YOU Sarah.
sarahtales
Jul. 3rd, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you for listening to me talk about books, I love to do it! And I am extremely pleased you got and enjoyed White Cat. And talk about transformative romance! I would've talked about it, in fact, except that it would require me to spoil the book. But Lila and Cassel, my, do I love them together.

Also: I very much agree regarding both unrequited pining (it is so sad! I like seeing characters' hearts hurt! Wait until you read Red Glove it is wonderfully painful!) and also, Paige and Lucas. Derek and Chloe in Armstrong's YA are my favourite couple of hers, but Paige and Lucas are the very next. I adored how Paige initially thinks Lucas is completely nondescript, and they bond over their mutual magic geekery, and that their two kinds are traditionally mortal foes but it isn't a Big Angsty Roadblock.
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rivki8699
Jul. 3rd, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
I like romances that are all about characters accepting who they are. I think this is most clear in fantasy, as "accepting who you are" is a bit more obvious when you're a slayer/witch/necromancer/what have you.

Examples of what I mean:

I prefer Buffy/Spike or Buffy/Angel to Buffy/Riley, because with the former partners she is both the girl and the slayer, but with Riley she was constantly trying to fit herself into this box of "normal girl" for him. This is why I also don't like Buffy/Xander.

I loved the Katsa/Po relationship in Graceling, because it's through their interaction and with his help she fully understands and accepts her Grace.

I like Chloe/Derek from The Darkest Powers series because they grow together and she helps him to accept the changes that he's going through and he provides similar (if louder) acceptance to her.

Faking It, by Jennifer Crusie is actually a good example of a romance novel that has this trope. The relationship really only starts to work when the female protaganist is honest with herself and her love interest about her past and her desires (in this case her artistic ambitions).


captain_jezebel
Jul. 3rd, 2010 10:10 pm (UTC)
Chloe/Derek IS a wonderful combo! Esp. the way they help each other come to grips with the abilities that are frightening! Haven't read the books you mentioned, and gave up on Buffy when Angel left, so I can't speak to those. Another of my fave fictional couples with this quality is Johnny Foxxe and Maggie Black from The Wood Wife, where he helps her embrace her true identity as a poet and a sort of shaman figure. Mmmmmm, Johnnie Foxxe . . . ahem.
thegreatmissjj
Jul. 3rd, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC)
I like the transformative romance as well, although, as I said on Twitter, I'm a big fan of the "I Will Call You Out On Your Bullshit" romance. I think you could probably consider Anne/Gilbert an IWCYOOYBS romance, as well as Mulder/Scully and Katniss/Peeta. I like it when characters know each other so well as to keep the other honest and true.

I will admit, the IWCYOOYBS romance requires that one partner be more "on" than the other. Gilbert, Scully, and Peeta all are the partner that calls bullshit on their significant others. Usually the other partner has something significant weighing on their mind (Anne--uh, her sentimental ideals, Mulder--his quest, and Katniss--an entire rebellion) so the other acts as a touchstone to keep him/her grounded to emotional truth.

(This may be why I like Jane/Rochester, which I know you do not, due to Rochester's dickish, bigamist ways. However, this is probably a classic example of IWCYOOYBS romance and I love that it's Jane who does so.

ROCHESTER: I love you! I am already married! But it will be all right!
JANE: ...bullshit. *ups and leaves*

Emma and Knightley is another IWCYOOYBS romance and my favourite of Austen's love stories.)

But I do also love transformative romances. I love Sophie and Howl (which also has elements of IWCYOOYBS), Beauty and the Beast and Sawyer and Juliet from LOST.
captain_jezebel
Jul. 3rd, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)
IWCYOOYBS Romances?! Oh yes! Bravo. :D
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be_themoon
Jul. 3rd, 2010 10:23 pm (UTC)
oooh! I think you just put into words why I ship Doctor Who's Season 5 trio (+ River) SO HARD. Eleven, Amy and Rory (and also River, really) have all changed each other so much, and it's been a really hard journey and prickly and uncertain but I think they are all MUCH better for having known each other now. There are other reasons I ship them, but I think the transformative nature of their relationships are really what's got me going "OMG WHEEE!".

also Lizzy and Darcy, of course! <333 I'll actually be rewatching that tonight, 'cuz it's my comfort movie.

I really love your blog posts, btw - I don't do a great deal of commenting, but you're really witty and your meta is excellent. Thanks!
sarahtales
Jul. 3rd, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much. ;) I don't watch Doctor Who, but I have been hearing really good things about Amy and the new doctor.
thedreamcreator
Jul. 3rd, 2010 10:25 pm (UTC)
Let's see..
I completely agree Elizabeth and Darcy; they're my favorite couple. I usually enjoy stories where the love, as well as the storyline in general, is very gentle and slow and sweet. That's why I enjoyed Madeline L'Engle's "The Joys of Love" so much; truthfully, nothing much happened, but it was the slow progression of feelings which made it delightful for me.

When I was reading your post, two manga/anime couples came to mind for me. One was Masumi Hayami and Maya Kitajima of the series "Glass Mask". Masumi's coldhearted and only interested in making money at the beginning of the series. His affections for Maya, though, make him act teasingly and overall quite kind to Maya, as, despite how Maya thinks he's awful, he's always motivating her to reach her goals. There's also how Maya evolves from a quiet girl to very outspoken when in Masumi's presence, as well as matures as the series progresses.

Also, there's my favorite manga series, "Dengeki Daisy". Kurosaki, a bit like Masumi in a way, always seems kind of distant from everyone else, although he's much more of a hothead than Masumi. While he usually goes out of his way to hide his feelings from Teru, the heroine, he often protects her in his own way and is very sweet and caring. To some, Teru might not seem to have a very good change. She starts off rather tough-seeming, but as the series goes on, she seems much more fragile and girly. I don't think it's that she changed, exactly, rather than she's allowing herself to relax and be protected. I can't seem to explain it well; it's probably easier to get once you've read the series. ^^"
(Anonymous)
Jul. 3rd, 2010 11:09 pm (UTC)
sharing
My main requirements for a romance

The couple should share with each other things that they don't share with anybody else.

They should end up respecting and supporting each other.

To enjoy the romance, I also need to believe that they can share their lives and both have a life they find fulfilling.


What makes a romance fun to read.

When they share terrible secrets! (it can be family secrets such as in Pride and Prejudice, personal secrets or even political secrets but there's nothing like shared secrets)

When the respect needs to be earned (one or both works to gain the other's trust) or learned (one or both learns that the other is worthy of respect).

When they need to work to share a life. Planning and hard work can be very sexy when properly applied.
vvvexation
Jul. 4th, 2010 06:34 am (UTC)
Re: sharing
I think you've just figured out for me why I love Gil/Agatha.
rj_anderson
Jul. 3rd, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
I like the idea of love being someone knowing your true name: and when someone calls you that, you have to answer.

My first reaction to this was something I belatedly realized I could not say in public without spoiling something that ought not to be spoiled, so I will have to say "Mmmphhll mfrggh mffmphm!" But very excitedly.

My second was to recall Raederle's statement to Morgon in Patricia McKillip's Harpist in the Wind, "You have spoken my name in a way that no other man in the realm will speak it, and I will listen for that voice until I die. So how could I leave you?" Which, as a teen, I wrote down in a very special word processor document where I saved THE MOST ROMANTIC THINGS EVER, so that is why I remember it so vividly.

I love that you mentioned The Master and Mirasol (repeatedly) as an example. I didn't realize you had loved Chalice as much as I did! This makes me very happy.

I love romances between intelligent, self-aware people who are sensible and talk things out and face things head-on, and do not play stupid mind games with each other or leap to unwarranted and paranoid conclusions the moment they see the other person talking to (or, in the most cliched kind of romances, being embraced or kissed by) another.

I love romances which proceed cautiously and steadily from acquaintance to friendship to love to passion, instead of being driven entirely by hormones and wild leaps of unfounded confidence (even though many romances reward such leaps by having the beloved prove worthy despite the odds, it often does not turn out so happily in real life).

I love romances where both partners are deeply flawed and both partners have great strengths and their flaws and strengths end up compensating for each other.

I love romances that don't end just because the characters get married or have children, but get deeper and stronger and more interesting because of it.

I love romances where both people involved care more about something outside themselves -- a cause, a principle, a duty -- than they care about their romance, and that bigger picture actually draws the two of them together and makes their romance more powerful as a result. I really don't care for romances where falling in love causes Character A and Character B to ignore everyone and everything else and act as if their love is the only thing that matters. It makes me want to smack them.

I love Mulder and Scully, though I agree Scully got the short end of that stick and Mulder had a lot of making-up to do. I loved Syd and Vaughn in the first season of ALIAS, when she was the tough, hard-fighting spy in constant danger and he was the CIA desk jockey desperately worried for her safety. I do love Emma and Mr Knightley, although given that Knightley is basically perfect and all the learning is on Emma's side, I can also see how this might be a little squicky. I love Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and Albert Campion and Amanda Fitton, and Laurie King's Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell (though I know you and I part ways there).

More recently, I've loved Jared Sapiens and Claudia Arlexa in INCARCERON, though I still despair of a plausible scenario for getting them together in the particular romantic way I want them together. Drat those harsh political and social realities!

And I love Mae and Nick. After reading DL I already knew I loved Nick, and I liked Mae quite a lot, but I thought it would be okay if Mae ended up with Alan and I could see that plausibly it might have to be that way. But now that I've read DC... Mae/Nick, most very definitely. And Alan/Sin, too. I don't believe what he says about her being repulsed by his leg, or at least I don't think that's the whole story. And they both love children so much.

Erm, and you already know I ship Artemis/Holly. I may have let out a little squeak when I realized there was a new book coming this year. I may also do the same thing I always do, which is to read it pretty much exclusively for the Artemis/Holly scenes and skim the rest. Eoin Colfer has every right to be disgusted with me, but I have no shame.

Edited at 2010-07-03 11:15 pm (UTC)
sarahtales
Jul. 3rd, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC)
I should like to know the spoily thing! *waves spoon about*

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane for the most immense win. I agree with you there completely. He tries to rescue her and bear her off on a white charger and it fails spectacularly! Oh, my heart. But higher education brings them together!

Also, Artemis/Holly and I have no shame on the subject. They kissed. That means the romantic wishes have been authorially validated! *waves her entitled spoon at Eoin Colfer too*

I did not much care for the Riddlemaster series, but my gosh, that IS a romantic thing to say. *pleased*

I am intrigued as to how DC made you change your preferred pairings!

I should read INCARCERON.

And word on people caring about more than just their love: I always wanted to write a high fantasy romance that mirrored Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere except everyone was like 'wait you know what is more important. Duty. And the country.' Also the girl was going to have this excellent magical power.
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fahye
Jul. 3rd, 2010 11:33 pm (UTC)
Yesterday I finished Wuthering Heights for the very first time, and while I have only mild interest in Catherine and Heathcliff (well, mild interest and the desire to administer some kicks up the backside), I was making my merry way through the latter half of the book waiting for it all to devolve into irrevocable hysteria and gloom...and it didn't! And the final love story was blatantly transformative (if sudden), so it came to mind when I read your post.

But I think the essential component of transformative romances, for me, is that people only partly change one another. Sophie and Howl are indeed one of my favourite book romances, and I know that at the end Sophie finds herself thinking that he hasn't actually changed all that much, and that is what I like. I like the transformations that are worked through their feelings, yes, but when you get right down to it, I like that Howl is still vain and Sophie is still stubborn and they don't expect perfection from one another. If Howl had renounced all of his irritating habits, he'd be dull, and the romance would feel hollow to me. (Sophie's an interesting one in terms of transformations, I think, because there are two steps to hers: the physical transformation is necessary for her character to become more confident, and then comes her learning to maintain her confidence without the shield of the charm. It's more fiddly, but I really like the way it shapes her journey.)

Other couples. Hmm. I'm a big fan of Booth/Brennan in the show Bones because their love story is also one of partial transformation, over many years, and for a television romance I think it's been handled very deftly indeed. They also incorporate another aspect of love stories that I adore: the fact that they act like friends when they're around each other. A couple doesn't have to do this instantly, but if a story reaches its purported conclusion and the couple I'm meant to be rooting for don't seem to have at least the start of a genuine friendship going (as well as, you know, the ravenous sexual desires or the mindmeld of foreverness or whatever else the author desires) then I'm not going to buy them as having any decent long-term chances.

Finally, and probably obviously to most people: I like each person in a couple to have interests outside of their relationship. The Larklight YA series by Philip Reeves doesn't focus heavily on romance (narrated as it is by a 12-year-old boy, so, ew, girl germs) but I do like the awkward-teenager relationship between Jack Havock (space pirate turned secret agent!) and Myrtle Mumby (prim young woman turned Lady Alchemist!) because although there is a fair amount of pining and writing in one's journal about one's Secret Feelings, they also have a lot of adventures on their own, and they care deeply about their individual families, and they show no signs of being swallowed up into Coupleness by their romance. That's important to me.
sarahtales
Jul. 3rd, 2010 11:49 pm (UTC)
You're totally right about the characters not changing each other too much. I am tempted to edit my post but that seems like cheating!

But I love how at the end of Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth thinks to herself 'Man, Darcy still needs to learn how to laugh at himself, this will be an issue.' And it's clear it will, and neither will ever be perfect, and Howl and Sophie in the glimpses we see of them in Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways have their driving-each-other nuts issues.

And I like Booth/Brennan very much too.

Thanks for the nice Covenant review, by the way. ;) Signal boosting much appreciated!
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serena_mcmurray
Jul. 3rd, 2010 11:39 pm (UTC)
I must say that the characters Id love to get together rarely do so. I firmly believe that Charlie and Fiorenze should be together in Justine Larbalestier How to ditch your fairy.
Charlie with her, "Oh Firoenze do stop flirting with the boys" and Firoenze despairingly cry.
"I do not like boys. Hello, have you not been paying attention! But ah, wouldn't mind getting stuck in a drak bathroom with you"
So I guess hopless love is what I really love, or more so when the author leaves it open to different interpretations
jade_sabre_301
Jul. 3rd, 2010 11:40 pm (UTC)
Ooooooooooh names. I love names and playing with names and who knows which name and how calling people by name affects them...I am pretty sure it is kind of a Thing in everything I've ever written.

I like witty banter couples, but I also like Quiet Side Character romances, or even Quiet Character Who Loves the MC and Hopefully the MC Will Notice--those are nailbiters, where you're rooting for the guy more on the sidelines, but just not sure how it will come out. And I like romances where it seems like everything might be messed up and horrible, but each partner helps the other recognize and hold onto that deep, true thread of goodness in an otherwise mixed-up crazy world.

...preferably with witty banter. (oh, and when Quiet Side Characters have Moments of Quiet Wit. I love that too.)

(And if one of the characters is duty-driven and the other helps them lighten up. I am a fan of romantic partners helping each other loosen up, when it comes to transformations.)

I will try to come up with specific examples.
rj_anderson
Jul. 4th, 2010 12:08 am (UTC)
Um, icon. No further examples are needed.
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lejlkwiet
Jul. 4th, 2010 12:14 am (UTC)
I'm not sure about romance in general - I tend to avoid books that are big on romance. TDC had just the right amount in it for me, and happily it didn't detract from the importance of everything else going on. (Can you tell I'm still on a high from just having finished it?)

Specifically, I'm very fond of Sabriel and Touchstone from The Old Kingdom trilogy. She saved him from being a statue! She didn't trust him at all at first! He wouldn't (and couldn't) tell her who he really was! And then she saved him again from certain death by kissing him so hard he bled! And I love the future glimpses of them too, when they have a family and obviously love and trust each other more than anything but still do their duty for the kingdom even when it means being separated for ages.

I also love Adora and Moist from Going Postal. Nothing says true love more than the girl aiming a crossbow between his eyes on their first meeting.

And DWJ does her romances very well too. Christopher and Millie over the years are a rare instance of a childhood friendship that blossoms into romance and remains believable, at least to me. Nothing convinced me more than Christopher saying he'd run away to an island with her when she was unhappy...and her downright refusing and running away on her own because she admitted that living with Christopher would drive her mad.
sarahtales
Jul. 4th, 2010 12:18 am (UTC)
*beams* I am so glad the romance(s) in TDC worked for you. And the everything else!

Christopher Chant is my one true Diana Wynne Jones love, and Conrad's Fate is my favourite of the later Diana Wynne Jones, because of Millie The Sensible Young Lady In Flight From Madness, and Christopher, flouncing like a pansy. Baby Millie and Christopher, oh the amazing dressing gowns and Gwendolyn not understanding your love that await you...

Adora and Moist were great in Going Postal. And oh, they qualify via the Names Game, with her telling him her brother called her Spike!
(no subject) - sarahnargle - Jul. 4th, 2010 06:34 am (UTC) - Expand
sistermagpie
Jul. 4th, 2010 12:38 am (UTC)
Oh man, I love the power of names! And nobody could read your writing and not see the love of transformative relationships there--of the best kind, where two people change each other almost against their will and without meaning to. I've even noticed just off the top of my head, that characters in your stories even often don't believe in change. Like they'll actually say to themselves, quite practically: this is the way this person is and that's not going to change so don't start believing it will. And yet the thing they don't believe will change actually will change (or at least will turn out to not be defined exactly the way they thought of it). Meanwhile the things they themselves might have hoped to change--like often superficial things--they'll turn out to not want to change because they grow to love them!

I often think of my OTPs as being sort of reciprocal? Like they just work together well, but I think a big part of that is exactly this. There's got to be some challenge there, some way that the way they are different pushes the other person. They're always knocked out of the way they usually deal with people. They always wind up more interesting and stronger together than apart.

(And, um, speaking of your writing now couple I can't stop thinking of that couple I mentioned I was trying not to predict because oh man, they are like two gladiators circling each other with the potential challenge and transformation.

Funny this just made me also think of that line from Adaptation: You are what you love, not what loves you back. It's the loving that's potentially transformative.
annelia26
Jul. 4th, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
I love the unlikely romances that don't seem like they're going to work, but they both struggle and work to make it through, and it does. Basically, the kind you describe.

Oddly, while I don't generally enjoy literary fiction (too close to real life, and I like a book that gives me a vacation from my unresolved or unhappily resolved problems, not introduces more), I do find books that represent romance as easy or all-forgiving somewhat insulting.

Love is work, and it's frustrating enough to talk to friends who are like, "I want to be a princess and we'll have a perfect true love and never fight!" I'm sitting there thinking, "Yeah, your high expectations are going to ruin your life and all your relationships. Love is work." I don't want to read books that seem to ignore the massive amounts of personal transformation, the emotional effort and the years-to-lifelong investment that's required in a relationship.

Likewise, I want a happy ending, or a least an upbeat one. I want to be able to believe that all that transformation and effort will pay off in the end -- that the good times really will outweigh the bad times, and that people who seem to be opposites can complement and even improve each other.

I dislike the simple romantic pairing, because it feels as though the characters are settling for simplicity, thinking it's "true love", and it's frustrating and unfair.

veriloquently
Jul. 4th, 2010 12:47 am (UTC)
My first thought was Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey--because to me their story is the essence of transformative love that makes the characters happier people, but doesn't mean they lose any part of who they are. Because I agree with the post above that, for me, the transformation can't involve a loss of what fundamentally makes the character tick. The romance forces Harriet and Peter to transform themselves--to wrestle with their innate beliefs, prejudices and desires, and actually make a decision about who they want to be. I love that Peter, who falls in love very suddenly, is forced to wait, and hold back, and respect that Harriet will come to him in her own time, if she ever does. And Harriet has to relearn how to trust, and be open to vulnerability. I guess another aspect of the transformative love trope that is crucial for me is that the characters have to choose to change themselves, rather than being told, or forced by other aspects of the story. For example, in Elizabeth Peter's Vicky Bliss series, Vicky takes forever to decide to actually love John (personally, I don't think I could have held out so long!) and the internal struggle she goes through in order to finally admit it to herself, and (again) open up to being vulnerable, makes the romance that much more rewarding as a reader.

To be honest though, my number one requirement in any romance is a foundation of friendship or mutual understanding. That's a deal breaker for me. It doesn't need to be longstanding, but there does need to be a deep connection beyond the romantic, a commonality of thought. And it doesn't need to be intellectual or agonized over in the course of the book--I love Heyer's Freddy and Kitty (from Cotillion) because they both love clothes, and social mores, and parties, so I can completely buy that they would live an overall happy life together. The same with Eve and Psmith from the Wodehouse books; they have a similar venturesome, positive spirit. I find the "opposites attract" trope really needs to work harder to get me to buy into it, because of this problem. A good argument is great and can be sexy, but what about every other day? There needs to be something else there. On the other hand, a couple that can fight like cats and then turn around and spend an evening discussing archaeology over whisky and soda, like Amelia and Emerson? That totally works for me. Gen and Irene, also mentioned above--those two work because even though their relationship is really messed up to the outsider, it makes complete sense to them. They both have very strategic minds, and are on the same wavelength, so the fact that she cut off his hand makes sense, and is forgivable for him.
snowqueenofhoth
Jul. 4th, 2010 12:50 am (UTC)
Han/Leia! I don't even know where to begin with this one, because it just seems so PERFECT to me. She is the confident, strong leader who's maybe a little bit uptight about life, he's the scruffy smuggler who doesn't give a shit about anyone but himself and his partner... she learns to relax and have fun and accept people from varying walks of life, he learns that maybe he really does care about a lot of other things after all... their whole relationship is full of snark and sarcasm and LOVE, and they are constantly saving each other's asses, and they're the best team ever. They definitely have their rocky points, but then they get old and become grandparents, and they're still fighting with each other, still kicking ass together, and STILL AWESOME.
jade_sabre_301
Jul. 4th, 2010 04:59 am (UTC)
THIS, LOVE.
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rj_anderson
Jul. 4th, 2010 02:01 am (UTC)
See, I shipped Syd/Weiss instead of Syd/Will, but other than that, I am totally in agreement with you. The only time I liked Syd/Vaughn was in S1 when he was pining for her from afar. As soon as they turned him into Spy Ken and sent him into the field, meh.
twelfthfantasy
Jul. 4th, 2010 01:23 am (UTC)
I tend not to think about why I like what I like that much, but I think I agree. I like it when they are at their best together, but also sometimes at their worst - when it isn't easy. And yes, they both have to be awesome, but I think I like it best when they are awesome in different ways, which I know you have talked about before. So, yes. I think I agree.

However, this: "I just described Megan Whalen Turner's Gen thus: it's like Robin Hood and Edward Cullen had this amazing baby."

THis makes me cry inside. How do you think Gen is like Edward Cullen? I am biased because I do not really like anything about Edward Cullen, but I am curious as to your reasoning.
sarahtales
Jul. 4th, 2010 01:25 am (UTC)
Just, Gen breaks into the bedroom of the girl he fancies too. And leaves her earrings to show her he was there and how clever he is, oh Gen.
(no subject) - twelfthfantasy - Jul. 4th, 2010 01:55 am (UTC) - Expand
swan_tower
Jul. 4th, 2010 01:41 am (UTC)
Names as special, oooooh, I turn into a puddle for that, whether it has to do with relationships or not. Pretty much any way you want to spin it: nicknames bestowed by the Special Other, names with direct significance, secret names discovered, shifts of intimacy signaled by the use of given names -- names, names, names, I'm all over them.

Which, y'know. Is only ALL OVER the four books I've got in print, and a fair number that aren't. Nobody could guess that's one of my favorite tropes, nosirree.
torigates
Jul. 4th, 2010 01:46 am (UTC)
I like the idea of love being someone knowing your true name: and when someone calls you that, you have to answer.

This is very, very lovely.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 19th, 2016 11:55 pm (UTC)
I think pretty Kaitie would taste so good while someone put their fist in her.

I'm sure you taste like sweat and desperation all the time.
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kellyrfineman
Jul. 4th, 2010 03:45 am (UTC)
Man, do I love your analysis. And the "letter from Darcy entitled 'You May Be Interested to Know the Villain Of This Novel is Mr Wickham'" bit has earned you my undying affection. Says the woman writing an Austen bio.
rockinlibrarian
Jul. 4th, 2010 01:05 pm (UTC)
That was the bit that got me in this post, too! I'm not sure why, but it cracked me up.

Will write a proper response to the main post when the kids get breakfasted.
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