Tuesday, April 17, 2007

It's about emotions, not magic

There's a discussion that goes on in Romanceland from time to time about heroes who make love with other women after they've met the heroine. For some readers and authors, that is an absolute no-no.

Jennifer Crusie blogged about this, calling it the "literary convention" known as the "glittery hooha." Basically, the GHH theory proposes that the heroine is endowed with a sort of magical vagina that leaves sprinkles of glittery magic, and the spell cast ensures the hero never strays again.

Okay, this is kinda funny, but it's also kinda sad, because too often, I see this as the only possible explanation for what happens between some heroes and heroines in romance novels. The hero and heroine meet, have wild sex and...it's love and no other woman will do because, well, she must possess a glittery hooha. And the book's in the romance section. There is no other explanation or motivation for the hero's fidelity.

Here's how it works with my heroes:

The hero has had lovers in the past, sometimes several. He may have great affection for them, but he has not, and never will, fall in love with them. He knows this, and he's fine with that, because he doesn't want to get that close to another person. He doesn't want emotional intimacy; he'll certainly accept and enjoy physical intimacy, but that's as far as it goes. In fact, for many of my heroes, emotional intimacy is something they fear more than a physical wound. To them, it makes them vulnerable, and vulnerability is the last thing they want or need. Love is a weakness, not a strength, and in their world, weakness is unacceptable.

Some of my heroes simply believe that love isn't really possible, for anybody. It's a charming fable, but not "real life."

Then the hero meets the heroine, and from the first moment, this woman both attracts and frightens him (although he would never, ever admit that fear, even to himself) or at least shakes up his world, because he realizes that with that particular woman, there is a chance of a deeper, emotional, truly intimate relationship beyond the physical.

Whatever the reason for that new and different connection (and yes, there must be at least one and it comes from the hero's backstory), the heroine appeals not simply to his lust, but to his heart. Because he fears emotional intimacy, he fears that a relationship with her will make him vulnerable, and that makes her a woman to be avoided or rejected. If he thinks love is just a pleasant fantasy, he finds his whole world view shifting, and that's not a comfortable feeling.

Yet however the heroine disturbs him, he still craves that emotional relationship with her because it will fill what he now recognizes as a void in his life.

Now any other sort of relationship, especially one based solely on the physical, is lacking and unsatisfactory. He doesn't make love with another woman not because he's been stunned by some kind of spell, but because he no longer wants to. He sees the difference between the shallow relationships he's had and the possibility of a deeper, more fulfilling relationship with the heroine, and deep in his heart (how deep depends on the hero) isn't willing to settle for the lesser of the two.

Should a hero never make love to another woman in the course of a romance, then? Why not? I've written such a scene -- and what such a scene does for me is show the contrast between the hero's past relationships and his relationship with the heroine. It shows the reader why he didn't fall in love with the other woman. The sex may be great, but now he's had a glimpse of a very different, deeper intimacy -- one that has a lot less to do with hoohas than with his heart.

This is also why I don't always write heroines who are beautiful, because the hero's attraction to the heroine should be on a more profound, emotional level than her physical appearance. If the heroine is beautiful, that physical appearance may be the first thing he notices, but he very quickly realizes there's a lot more to his attraction to her than that.

This is also why I don't write totally alpha heroes who never have a moment's doubt that the heroine will love them and want to be with them. I want that moment where the hero wonders if she's right to reject him, that maybe he's not such a prize after all. I want him to be emotionally vulnerable, or what does he really gain by winning the heroine's heart? A sense of triumph? Oh, yes, I am the greatest? How has he changed? I want my heroes to be both ennobled and humbled by their relationship with the heroine.

So it's not magic that makes my hero want to be with only one woman for the rest of his life. It's not physical intimacy that keeps them together.

It's emotional intimacy.

But if a romance novel doesn't show that? All we're left with is the glittery hooha.


Kimber said...

Being an alpha female married to an alpha male (and honestly, most of my closest friends are alphas too), I dislike the romance myth of the emotionless alpha male.

Most alphas have their public face and their private face. The public face is a defence mechanism, built up from decades of being in charge and, as a result, being criticized. It could be emotionless or overly emotional (my current boss is an overly emotional alpha - who uses passion as a weapon).

And you hit the nail on the head with once the heroine reaches that private side, the hero is committed and often very loyal. I can count the people I show my insecurities to on one hand. The hubby can count them on thumbs. Those people I would die for rather than deliberately hurt.

The difficulty with romance is creating a situation where that trust building is fast tracked.

Sinead M said...

Love the Glittery Whohaw reference.

Brilliant. And Love your approach to showing the course of the romance, Margaret.

Thanks for the insight.