This morning I was flipping around the channels on the TV after finishing reading the newspaper, and I happened upon an old movie. I thought maybe the actress was Barbra Stanwyck, so I watched for a while. It wasn't her, but then came a scene that surprised me and got me thinking.
The hero thinks his wife's been up to no good while he's been working nights. She hasn't been fooling around on him, but he's too angry to listen to her explanation -- not that she offers any. She immediately says, after his first accusation, that he won't listen anyway so she won't bother trying to explain.
It occurs to me that this is the sort of thing a lot of readers find frustrating in romance novels. You probably know the old complaint -- if only the couple had a simple conversation, all would be well.
But then she says why she won't explain. She declares that he married her to "save" her and he's just been waiting for her to fail ever since. Essentially, nothing she says will make him believe she hasn't betrayed him because that's what he wants to believe.
Whooo! I was impressed that (a) she gave it right back at him. She wasn't going to grovel or beg him to forgive her when she hadn't done anything wrong. And (b) she realized the "wrong" was all in his mind and nothing she said would make him believe otherwise. Basically, he was never going to trust her.
I think that readers get frustrated by this type of scene if that sort of motivation is missing or unclear. Either the author hasn't bothered to get beyond "I need conflict!" in her thinking of the story, or it's already there but the readers miss it, or isn't as clear as the author thinks it is.
Also, if you've heard editors, agents or other writers talk about layering of plot and character? This is a good example of another layer. With it, the heroine's motive for not explaining is believable and sympathetic. The conflict is deeper, and more personal, more unique to these characters and their backstories. Without it, she looks stubborn or childish -- in a word, shallow.
Alas, I didn't get to see the end of the movie -- had to take out the garbage, leading the glamorous life of a published author as I do. However, I looked it up. The film was called "Virtue" and starred (a very young) Carol Lombard and Pat O'Brien. It was made in 1932 and wow! The Carol Lombard character meets her husband after being released after being charged with solicitation. She wasn't innocent; the judge is, basically, lenient. I didn't expect that sort of plot point from a film made in 1932.
Unintentional funny that dates the movie? The Big Bad's name is Toots.
Read the full synopsis here and I'm hoping I can catch it again sometime -- the whole thing.
Lady Elizabeth d'Averette chafes at the restrictions of a noblewoman's life, and her yearning for adventure seems to be coming true when she meets the remarkably handsome Sir Oliver de Leslille. But Sir Oliver is no true knight, and the handsome Irishman has other secrets, too. Soon Lizette finds herself embroiled in a rescue, as well as the chance to stop a treasonous conspiracy and protect her own family from men out to use them for their own evil schemes.
The Irishman who comes to Lizette's aid may be more honorable than many a knight, but he's still an outlaw. When they fulfill their mission to save his brother, her family, and the kingdom, they'll have to part...or will love -- and a clever thief and determined young woman -- find a way?
"Moore's medieval starts on an exciting note and maintains that sensation over the course of the whole book. She's created a great hero and heroine who take on a vile, well-written villain, and the love scenes, even though they're mild, add a great deal to the story."