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You know you're getting old when....

January talking meme, Jan 23. From cactuswatcher: If you were asked to write a series of novels with the same central characters, what qualities do you think a protagonist's significant other should have and why? Should they be faithful, duplicitous, honest, suspicious, helpful, boring, good listeners...?

As it turns out, I am in fact writing a series of novels with the same central characters (more or less). And what I am struggling with is giving aforementioned central characters any significant others at all. These are healthy young women in their early 30's. By all accounts, they should have love lives or sex lives or something. And yet I am much more interested in the mystery they have to solve than who they are sleeping with or dating.

Trying to squeeze significant others into a story where I haven't made room for them just because it is weird for them not to be there is kind of a pain.

There was a time when the romantic relationships in my stories were front and center, and the sci-fi/fantasy elements were window dressing around them. And when that was true, the significant others could have any of the above qualities. The plots were character-driven, so the traits of the significant others weren't chosen to be helpful to the plot, the plot was chosen because it fit the characters.

My stories are still character-driven, but not by the romantic relationships in them. So Significant Others tend to be more plot-driven than the main characters, who drive the plot. Now, my characters' romantic/love/sex interests must have some other role to play in the story, just so they don't feel tacked on. For example, the story has a police officer character. So what if one of my main character's exes is that cop? The story has a person from a mysterious group spying on my other main character. So what if he's the guy she picked up in a bar and had a one night stand with, and now he's starting to fall for her a little?

Only problem with this approach is you need to follow up on the relationship repercussions of Significant Other's independent connection to the story (as opposed to the regular plot/character repercussions), and sometimes I forget to do that.

Maybe it's not that I'm getting old. Maybe my priorities are just shifting. I've read enough fiction to know a lot of time the Significant Others are just tacked on (especially the wives). But honestly, if your main character goes through Changes, you need to show the person they are intimate with reacting to those changes, which in turn the main character reacts to. The best written stories make SO's an active part of the plot in some shape or form, even if it's peripheral.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 23rd, 2014 08:41 pm (UTC)
I think you've given an interesting answer.

Obviously, stories don't necessarily need a significant other. So there were actually more like three questions. First, whether you'd put an SO in. I think you answered that. Second, do you generally think having a significant other can add anything significant to a plot more than, say, A rescues B. You didn't exactly answer that, but if I'd asked it directly I'm sure you would have. Third (which I wasn't thinking about) does the relationship of the main character and the significant other matter in a story. That you answered thoroughly.

I think there is a major disconnect between men and women over the word "relationship."

I think a lot of men think of 'relationship' as a static thing. So I would tend to write a wife, boyfriend etc. as a steady influence. They can become closer or farther apart, but the individuals aren't going to change much. I don't know if you ever saw any of the "Rumpole of the Bailey" series. His wife (otherwise known as She who must be obeyed) was about as tacked on as a wife can get. But she did have a personality and even off screen her presence was made felt as an important constant in Rumpole's life.

On the other hand, I think a lot of women think of 'relationship' as something dynamic. That doesn't mean one character has to go to pieces because the other sneezes. But to paraphrase you, if something major is going on with the main character it's important to show how that affects their relationship, assuming they have one.

Am I totally off base?
Jan. 23rd, 2014 08:54 pm (UTC)
In answering your question, I came to realize what had changed for me during the years between now and when relationships took center stage for me in my stories: relationships have started to become static things. I have my main characters doing stuff, and either I give them no romantic/sexual relationship at all, or I have a tacked-on SO. And then I feel self-conscious about the tacked-on SO. Like, if I leave the story that way, it'll be criticized for that. Criticized as unrealistic, or criticized as "but s/he's so static."

But I honestly am not interested in my character's love lives.

I don't know if women see relationships as more dynamic than men, but I know women tend to notice static relationships in fiction more, mainly because when there are few women characters to begin with, they look to the SO for some active participation, and the SO, as written, isn't active. I doubt in a story with a lot of interesting characters, male and female, they would notice one tacked-on SO of either gender, either.

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )