Never Too Old To Learn

>> Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tired of squirming yet? I know, for many people, the whole topic ("boys love") is pretty squirmy. I think that's one reason I jumped on it. Topics that make us uncomfortable, that make us squirm, as it were, are too often glossed over or ignored, leaving them open for ridicule, stigmatizing, indifference, stereotyping, and, frequently, abuse and ostracism.

Admittedly, some squirmy topics are purposely picked up and brought center stage to highlight important issues by different writers and such. Sometimes, when done with a deft hand, such treatment is quite effective. When done with a heavy hand or in over-the-top ways, they tend to work against their own goals. But I digress. I wanted to pursue a topic that was a little uncomfortable for me until I understood it better, that maybe made me squirm a little. It's easy to become complacent in one's own little perspective, looking out at the world through a single set of lenses and thinking you see things clearly. Until you've tried on a few sets of specs, though, you're just fooling yourself.

It wasn't just the differences in romantic characters here, either, or the similarities I didn't expect. Many of these are shorter works, stories told in a handful of chapters, if not just one, as opposed to the volumes of chapters I'm used to to portray a moving story. That was instructional in and of itself.

I'm grateful I pursued a little different perspective and hope to use what I learned in my novels.

What did I learn?

(a) That my view, that real love is about devoting yourself to the happiness of someone else besides yourself, is not gender specific. Jealousy, to an extent, is fine for romance, but to the point of ownership? - well, there you lost me. So that really didn't change, except that I saw some ways I never thought of before to be romantic. So, cool beans.

(b) I still hate rape. I don't care how prevalent it is in this or that literature. You will not hear any of my characters being forced, gasp, "No! Wait! Stop! Please!" and snuggling up to their rapist later. I know it happens plenty in today's heterosexual romances, too. Still hate it and you won't find it in my books (unless I"m killing the rapist later). I will remember, however, that not everything that looks like rape really is. Motivation does matter (though perhaps not as much as some people think it does).

(c) People can have sex in the craziest positions, places, and times. Seriously, wow. Doubt, admittedly, that that will be a key element in my writing, however.

(d) A story must be more than a showcase for episodes of sex or even for a romantic hookup. Real love is frequently physical, but rarely just physical. If it's all about the love story of two people, but we don't really know who they are or care for them, if it doesn't affect the world around them (or isn't affected by the world around them), chances are it's pretty dull. I knew this already, but it was amazing how two different stories with similar story lines could vary in appeal, enjoyment, and overall readability. Even if the art was inversely proportional in quality to the story. 

(e) Characters, characters, characters. I knew this too, but there's a world of difference in the importance and impact of what happens to characters you're invested in, that you really like, and ones who leave you cold. Even if you don't always like what they do.

(f) No one said you get to choose who you love. Sometimes who you love is damn inconvenient, utterly hopeless, entirely inappropriate, or downright embarrassing . You might never act on that love, either for fear for yourself or in consideration of the object of your affection, but that does not make one's love less compelling or painful or powerful.

(g) No one said you get to choose who you love. Even, sometimes, if the one you love is entirely bad for you, it doesn't mean you can't love them, don't love them, won't love them. I've always been fairly harsh on women who let themselves be abused, at least if they had children. Seeing couples where children aren't a factor reminded me that, even if you leave to save yourself, that doesn't mean you necessarily stop loving someone, no matter how unhealthy that person is for you.

(h) A real connection between people is important for any kind of character interaction (not just romance, though definitely for romance). Stories are more interesting if there are other differences and challenges to overcome (personality, economical, social status, etc.). A story with people who respect each others' work or capabilities, who use those skills to do more than just romp in the bedroom, but interact effectively with the world at large, is far more rewarding than tossing too mismatched people in a room together and calling it love or even friendship. And you have to see those characteristics and strengths, that connection, not just be told the connection exists.

(i) People who are very quirky/off nominal pairings can make for extremely compelling stories. I read one author who's drawing style I don't care for in the slightest, even after reading more than a dozen works. So, why did I read a dozen works? I found them incredibly compelling. Some supernatural, some so freaking original I never saw it coming, some unbelievably sweet. Most were quite short but I found the universally ugly characters won me over time and time again often within a couple pages. I cared about them and always rooted for these often extremely weird couples. I've got more to read and what fodder for livening things up for my own work it is! Proof positive that every love story ain't the same.

(j) Very effective portraits of a characters personality can be drawn (with words in my case) very quickly, often with only a few tiny acts, little things that say something important about who a character really is. It's true when they're drawings, too, but often the gestures and expressions, the little acts, were far more telling than the conversation. You don't need pages of description. I knew that as a short story writer. It's easy to lose sight of that as a novelist, but that quick portrait can be just as effective in long prose (even if, for some characters, who want to study them and learn them over time). I needed the reminder.

(k) Life is messy. If you make it too tidy, it either feels contrived or dull. Neither is good in a story.

(l) Humor makes everything better. I have quite a list of favorites, and the quality you'll find most frequently if you troll through those favorites is funny. Extra points for those mangas that can laugh at themselves.

I enjoyed it, overall. I love to learn, you know. I wonder what I'll stumble into next.


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