Monday, November 19, 2007

True love never runs smooth

Patty here…

Back 1595, William Shakespeare wrote a play called A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which the father of protagonist Hermia forbids her to marry Lysander, the love of her life. Lysander comforts her by saying, “Aye me! For aught that I could ever read, Could ever hear by tale or history, The course of true love never did run smooth.”

I bring this up because of two recent e-mails I received from readers about Tucker Sinclair’s love life. After finishing SHORT CHANGE, one woman said about my heroine’s conflicted romance with homicide detective Joe Deegan: “Why did you have to make it like real life?” Then a couple of days ago I got an e-mail from another reader who suggested that I add a new love interest for Tucker, just to give Deegan something to think about. Coincidentally, I did just that in my fourth book COOL CACHE, which is due out on June 3, 2008.

I don’t like fictional romances to run smoothly, especially in crime novels. Case in point, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch has a tortured love life. The poor guy just can’t seem to get it together romantically, and I feel for him because of it. Happy couples are lovely to have as friends, but they aren’t very interesting to read about. I prefer two evenly-matched people who have an underlying love for each other but differing agendas that keep them apart, at least until the end.

I also like reading about people who are thrown together because of circumstances beyond their control, and then are forced to stay together until the crisis is over. In his book, How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James Frey calls this phenomenon a crucible, a term he attributes to Moses Malevinsky in The Science of Playwriting (1925).

“Think of the crucible as the container that holds the characters together as things heat up. The crucible is the bond that keeps them in conflict with one another. Characters are in the crucible to stay if their motivation to continue in conflict is greater than their motivation to run away from the conflict. You know you have failed to put your characters in a crucible if your readers are apt to ask questions like: “Why doesn’t the knight just go home and forget about slaying the dragon?”

“Without a crucible to contain the characters there can be no conflict, and without conflict there is no drama. Any time you put your characters in a crucible, the antagonist and protagonist, for their separate reasons, are committed to continuing the conflict until there is a final resolution—until the marriage takes place, the battle is won, the fortune is divided, the pirates have been sent to the briny deep, or whatever.”

Diana Gabaldon throws her main characters into the crucible in her novel The Outlander, a book that combines history, romance, and a touch of woo woo. Claire and Jaime are strangers, but they’re forced to marry in order to save Claire’s life. The law (or the politics of the time) is their crucible.

In Paulie’s novel Solomon vs. Lord, Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord are opposing lawyers in a court case. Duty to their clients is their crucible.

I’m considering sending Tucker on a cruise with the two men in her life, someplace exotic—St. Petersburg or perhaps Costa Rica. The boat will be their crucible. Shuffleboard anyone?

So what about you? Do you like romance in crime fiction? Are you partial to happy couples, or are you a fan of the Hepburn/Tracy and Moonlighting’s Maddie/David sort of relationship?

Happy Monday!


  1. Opposites attract? I have to admit that I liked Moonlighting partially because Cybill Shepherd was so totally hot in it. But what I really like is pairings where the match has what seems to be a fatal flaw, and yet there is an unmistakable attraction.

    Like when the brainiac nerd ends up with the hot guy/chick, an intriguing woman is drawn to a discerning younger man, or the sophisticate melds with the wrong side of the tracker/hick from the sticks--and each of them learns something about life.

    I suppose that's just me, because life always has hurdles...and anything simple surely would neither be a challenge--nor emotionally rewarding.

  2. Jeff, I don't remember Cybill being that hot (a good thing, I think). All I remember is the snappy repartee. And, as I recall, the series stopped working when the two got together.

  3. I'd be a Tracy/Hepburn fan. I do like unlikely pairings in mystery fiction. But damn if they aren't becoming trite and expected at this point.

    Hurrah for the boat as crucible in the next book, Patty! That one has all kinds of possibilities.

  4. Patty,
    I like the way you handle the romantic details.

    I wanted to make the heroes of each of my series have different problems in romance. Bill Tasker is divorced and still hung up on his es-wife and Alex Duarte is just a little socially awkward.

    I prefer things to be a little difficult just like real life.


  5. I'm a big fan of Nick and Nora Charles. There's clearly a lot of love there, but they're not sappy about it.

    And, I think all relationships are better off for a little conflict - not mean conflict, just a few differences to keep things spicy....

  6. I love your characters, Jim, even Alex who needs a little coaching about his home life, but whatever. Louise, really? You think romance is becoming a cliche? Rae, like you, I love spice. Nick and Nora were so much fun.

  7. Tristan and Isolde. Heathcliff and Cathy. Alvy and Annie. For the life of me, I have trouble thinking of couples for whom things went well except for the March sisters and their mates in LITTLE WOMEN. But how I loved that book back in the day.

  8. Mims, did you weep when Beth died? My pages are still stained with tears.

  9. It always makes me smile to think of Moonlighting (though I seldom watched it at the time) because my normally gruff father-in-law had a bit of a sneaker for Cybill Shepherd. My mother-in-law, meanwhile, cherished a concurrent passion for Tom Selleck.

    They had a wonderful time teasing each other about it, especially after we gave her a plastic hanger for Xmas with "Magnum's" face affixed to it, life-size and just below the hook, so he seemed to be grinning at her every time she opened the closet.

    I'm not a huge fan of romance per se in mystery stories, unless it's made truly integral to the plot and has some kind of edge to it.

    The edge can take various forms, for me: noiresque persons of train-wreck incompatibility savoring a brief carnal flash in the face of imminent death and/or betrayal... Ginsu-tongued repartee between highly charged equals, neither of whom deign to acknowledge their abject, seething, reptile-brain mutual horn-dogness no matter how the tension sparks and crackles, filling the room with a whiff of ozone...

    ...stuff like that.

  10. I thought David and Maddie were obnoxious, but I loved Mulder and Scully, even at the end. So I guess I'd agree with Jeff: "But what I really like is pairings where the match has what seems to be a fatal flaw, and yet there is an unmistakable attraction." Those are the kind I can relate to the most.

  11. Mutual horndoggedness. Gawd, I love it. Christa, I agree D and M could be a trial. Can't remember how long of a run they had...

  12. I didn't like Moonlighting because Maddie seemed to get the whiny lines, while Dave got the snappy comebacks.

    Most of the people I know are married, or are in a relationship. To to me it makes it more realistic fiction if there's a thread of a romantic relationship in crime books because everyone struggles with relationships, no matter what stage of that relationship, so that is more a universal problem than stumbling across dead bodies.

    PlusCouples in mystery

  13. Lori, you're too young to remember Moonlighting. Just saying...