Let’s Talk About Sex(ual Tension)

JUST KISS, DAMMIT

JUST KISS, DAMMIT.

Perhaps I’m asking too much when it comes to romance in my books. Perhaps my standards are too high. Perhaps I am doomed to be forever unhappy and discontent with love stories in the books I read. But I swear, I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I ask for relationships founded on mutual respect and trust, and passion founded on pages of sexual tension, not lust.

Wait, you might decry, are we at the right blog? Did JJ just mention ‘sexual tension’?

Yes, yes I did. And I am going to illustrate for you just how I like it. (We won’t be able to escape the innuendo, so hell, why don’t we just run with it?)


For me, a satisfying romance is comprised of the following components:

Ingredients for a Satisfying Romance

  1. History: In which our lead pair establish and build a base of mutual respect, trust, and then regard (in that order). “History” can be a little misleading, as some of this can happen before the story opens, or the entirety unfolds as we read. Regardless, the point is, the pair have history: conversations, private jokes, an established language of interactions, etc.
  2. Sexual tension: In which the lead pair hovers on the edge of realizing the true nature of their feelings for each other.
  3. Swoon: In which the lead pair has discovered their feelings, and at which point interactions can take on a charged significance, all building in intensity until…
  4. Consummation: Hallelujah!

Lately, a lot of the submissions I’ve been reading skip steps 1 and 2 and head straight into 3 and 4. Except for me, without steps 1 and 2, 3 and 4 lose context and lack emotional punch. Swoon is all well and good, but swoon without context is just FEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELINGS. And we all know how I feel about that.

If you’re skilled enough, History can be backstory. The book can open with the lead pair already knowing each other, already having established some sort of relationship. They can be colleagues, classmates, or childhood friends. The type of relationship isn’t as important has having one in the first place. For example:

Beatrice and Benedick from Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: They bicker. Oh how they bicker. But it’s clear they bicker because they have history. Much is left unsaid, but it can be inferred that they may have had a romantic relationship and it went sour.

Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth from Austen’s PERSUASION: They were once betrothed, but Anne broke their engagement because she was persuaded by someone else that marrying a penniless Naval officer was a bad idea.

Flora and Udo from Ysabeau A. Wilce’s FLORA SEGUNDA: Childhood friends!

Even if you write History as backstory, the characters still need to build upon the language of previous interactions, so instead of being told our lead pair know each other, we must read it for ourselves.

Okay, so you can possibly skip step 1. (Sort of.) But step 2? I don’t think so.

The best writers can weave Sexual Tension and Swoon together simultaneously. But although they can be written concurrently, Swoon is not a substitute for Sexual Tension, or at least, Sexual Tension as I want it.

It’s hard to articulate exactly what Sexual Tension is, but I usually define it as the moments in a manuscript when I’m shouting at the characters. Usually said shouts go like this:

“Aw, how adorable; s/he likes you!”

“OMG, how can you not see s/he likes you????”

“JUST KISS ALREADY, DAMMIT.”

The most delicious part about reading books with great sexual tension is that the reader usually has a better sense of what’s going on than the characters. I love when characters inhabit that liminal space between knowing and not-knowing exactly what their feelings are for each other, and the uncertainty, longing, and hope that comes with that in-between state. You can almost hear the characters question (but without explicitly doing so), Does s/he like me? What does this gesture mean? Do I want to know? Do I think I know? How do I handle that not-knowledge?

Since explanation is pointless without an example, here’s a great snippet from the master of sexual tension Charlotte Brontë:

“Good-night, then, sir,” said I, departing.

He seemed surprised—very inconsistently so, as he had just told me to go.

“What!” he exclaimed, “are you quitting me already, and in that way?”

“You said I might go, sir.”

“But not without taking leave; not without a word or two of acknowledgment and good-will: not, in short, in that brief, dry fashion. Why, you have saved my life!—snatched me from a horrible and excruciating death! and you walk past me as if we were mutual strangers! At least shake hands.”

He held out his hand; I gave him mine: he took it first in one, them in both his own.

“You have saved my life: I have a pleasure in owing you so immense a debt. I cannot say more. Nothing else that has being would have been tolerable to me in the character of creditor for such an obligation: but you: it is different;—I feel your benefits no burden, Jane.”

He paused; gazed at me: words almost visible trembled on his lips,—but his voice was checked.

“Good-night again, sir. There is no debt, benefit, burden, obligation, in the case.”

“I knew,” he continued, “you would do me good in some way, at some time;—I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you: their expression and smile did not”—(again he stopped)—“did not” (he proceeded hastily) “strike delight to my very inmost heart so for nothing. People talk of natural sympathies; I have heard of good genii: there are grains of truth in the wildest fable. My cherished preserver, goodnight!”

Strange energy was in his voice, strange fire in his look.

HE’S TOTALLY GOT THE HOTS FOR YOU, JANE. CHRIST. (For your edification, I have highlighted all the choicest bits.) At this point in the novel, Jane hasn’t yet realized what she feels about her employer, although they’ve already established a rapport–one strong enough to compel her to save in life in case of a fire. Sexual tension? NATCH.

But nobody, but nobody can write all four components of a satisfying romance like L. M. Montgomery. Anne and Gilbert have it all: History, Sexual Tension, Swoon, and Consummation. The History (and the tiniest bit of Sexual Tension) is built up over the course of two books, so when we finally get to JJ’s Most Romantic Book Of All Time, the Swoon is OFF THE CHARTS.

Here we have the closing of ANNE OF AVONLEA, in which Anne and Gilbert attend the wedding of Miss Lavendar.

“Of Miss Lavendar and Mr. Irving,” answered Anne dreamily. “Isn’t it beautiful to think how everything has turned out . . . how they have come together again after all the years of separation and misunderstanding?”

“Yes, it’s beautiful,” said Gilbert, looking steadily down into Anne’s uplifted face, “but wouldn’t it have been more beautiful still, Anne, if there had been NO separation or misunderstanding . . . if they had come hand in hand all the way through life, with no memories behind them but those which belonged to each other?”

For a moment Anne’s heart fluttered queerly and for the first time her eyes faltered under Gilbert’s gaze and a rosy flush stained the paleness of her face. It was as if a veil that had hung before her inner consciousness had been lifted, giving to her view a revelation of unsuspected feelings and realities. Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps…perhaps…love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.

Then the veil dropped again; but the Anne who walked up the dark lane was not quite the same Anne who had driven gaily down it the evening before. The page of girlhood had been turned, as by an unseen finger, and the page of womanhood was before her with all its charm and mystery, its pain and gladness.

Gilbert wisely said nothing more; but in his silence he read the history of the next four years in the light of Anne’s remembered blush. Four years of earnest, happy work…and then the guerdon of a useful knowledge gained and a sweet heart won.

Once more, I have helpfully highlighted all the best bits. (Also, GAAH.) In most of ANNE OF THE ISLAND, Anne spends most of the time unsure of how to deal with the changing nature of her feelings for Gilbert, which results in JJ shouting through a lot of it. “YOU IDIOT! YOU TOTALLY LOVE HIM. STOP BEING SUCH A MORON.”

So I suppose what I’m really asking for here is for a manuscript to shout at it. Good to know.

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46 Responses to Let’s Talk About Sex(ual Tension)

  1. Laura Howard 11 Apr 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    This is my most favorite topic of all. I couldn’t agree more about needing that tension… It is something I require as well. It is such a fine line, but when done right, I am not sleeping that night PERIOD. Of course Persuasion is a prime example, too. My chest hurt after that book. And I LOVE that. In series, despite the main plot, if a relationship subplot is wrapped up too soon, I lose interest.

    • Tiferet 13 Apr 2011 at 1:12 pm #

      I think there’s a delicate balance though. Lynn Flewelling wrote an m/m series that I about threw into a wall because the UST went on and on so long and, ISTR, for a really stupid reason–yes, the other character was younger, but also, not an elf, so, more mature and going to die sooner too!

  2. Sheenah 11 Apr 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    I think I’ve been having the same problem. Though I wrote a blog post a week or so ago complaining about the huge influx of hot boys. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with hot boys, but lately some of the relationships go like this: Heroine sees hot boy and is now stuck with him. Heroine may be annoyed by hot boy’s offhandedness for a chapter or two. Suddenly heroine realizes she is in LOVE with hot boy and they must now makeout. There’s just no BUILD UP like in The Awakening by Kate Chopin or Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

  3. Rae Carson 11 Apr 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    BRILLIANT!! And I totally concur. There is nothing in all the world hotter than a couple who falls in love with utter knowledge of each other.

  4. Malinda Lo 11 Apr 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    This is so funny! I just told an interviewer that I read Persuasion in order to study how to develop a romance, and the interviewer seemed taken aback, as if Persuasion wasn’t all that sexy. But it is! It is chock full of swoon, which is all the better for being restrained.

    • JJ 11 Apr 2011 at 3:23 pm #

      Well, I suppose PERSUASION isn’t “sexy” in a modern sense, but that novel is drenched and I mean drrrrrrrrenched! with such LONGING. (Sa-woon!) It still makes me clutch at my heart.

    • Breda 11 Apr 2011 at 10:36 pm #

      I’ve long loved PERSUASION because it reminded me of my own sad tale of middle school romance; reading it in late high school, when that boy had returned to my life, broke my heart in all the best ways. My own tale ended less satisfactorily, but PERSUASION has lost none of its power – I think it’s the most affecting of her books. It still brings tears of happiness and heartache to my eyes, and it’s just so deeply true.

  5. Emy Shin 11 Apr 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    YES.

    This post gets to the core of why I am so disillusioned with current romance in YA novels: they skip all the history and the sexual tension, when those are the best parts of any romance. As a reader, I want to be driven to frustration by the sexual tension; I want the characters to earn their romantic relationship. If they already know they love each other one-fourth of the way through, and are emotionally/romantically together mid-book, I lose interest, even if the entire world conspires to keep them from being together physically.

  6. Zoë Marriott 11 Apr 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    You have no idea – I mean, NO IDEA – how useful this has been to me. Talk about the right post at the right time. I’ll give you sexual tension, just you wait and see!

  7. Kristan 11 Apr 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    “So I suppose what I’m really asking for here is for a manuscript to shout at it. Good to know.”

    Indeed it is, lol.

    And PERFECT examples. Both of those are among my faves. (MUST SEE JANE EYRE, GOD. This weekend, I’m hoping. It only opened here last weekend.)

  8. Christine Ashworth 11 Apr 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    See, I have to say a yes and a no to your post and I’ll qualify it. Yes to everything you’ve said above, but no to the order in which it comes. At least the way I learned it, respect comes before trust, not after it. Trust, after all, is one of the biggest hurdles to love – can you trust the person you’re with to keep your heart safe? This is especially true with your more damaged heroes and heroines. If you cannot respect the person, you cannot trust them. (I’ve worked for more than one boss whom I couldn’t respect – and therefore couldn’t trust. And that has nothing to do with love.)

    So inside your History, Sexual tension, Swoon, and Consummation, where would you put my four: Awareness, Respect, Trust, and finally Love?

    I guess we could lump History and Awareness. Once the two are aware of each other, even if they don’t like/Respect each other yet, there can be Sexual tension. In my opinion sexual tension must thread through all four points so I’m kind of dismissing that one off your list (sorry!). I’m thinking Respect has to come before Swooning, though, and Trust and Consummation go hand-in-hand. (Would you hit the sheets with someone you don’t trust?) Love can either come before Consummation, or after – especially in this day and age where lots of stories end with happy for now.

    While I completely believe in all of the above, I don’t pretend that I’ve gotten this down in my writing; but I do heartily thank you for the reminder, and for the chance to geek out over an obsession of mine.

    • JJ 12 Apr 2011 at 12:50 am #

      I defined History as the bit where the lead pair establish a base of respect, trust, and mutual regard, so I do agree with you that respect must come before trust.

      I suppose these steps aren’t steps so much as a progression: the steps can overlap and blend with each other. As I said before, Sexual Tension and Swoon can happen simultaneously, although for me, there must be a base of respect before I can believe the Sexual Tension. The “I don’t like you but I am attracted to you” trope doesn’t go over well with me. In fact, I believe that there must be the barest establishment of trust before swoon can happen; again, I am not fond of the “dangerous ” love interest.

      For me, Comsummation is really the mutual declaration of love, not physical consummation. Sex is all well and good, but I am much more interested in emotional consummation. (Although as to your point about hopping in bed with people you don’t trust…well, let’s just day I was a rash and impetuous youth. ;))

  9. Christine Ashworth 11 Apr 2011 at 11:21 pm #

    P.S. You won my heart with the Anne of the Island reference. I read ALL of those books – first editions of my mother’s – until I was in my early 20s and my hubby made me box them up. Sigh.

  10. Shauna 11 Apr 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    In which the lead pair has discovered their feelings, and at which point interactions can take on a charged significance, all building in intensity until…

    Although it’s not that straight forward, is it? A lot of classic love stories, including a few of the ones you just mention, have one half the pair pining from near the very beginning. Gilbert falls for Anne early and hard, if I recall correctly, and Darcy for Elizabeth. Anne is always in love with Wentworth, she just doesn’t believe he could possibly still care for her.

    It seems more about what the characters perceive each others’ affections to be, than what we as readers know they are.

    • JJ 12 Apr 2011 at 12:56 am #

      You are absolutely right in that it isn’t so straightforward. I think part of what I see as sexual tension is where a character’s perception of the other’s feelings hasn’t yet caught up to the reality of what the readers know. Yes, Gilbert falls for Anne first, but so much of the enjoyment of reading their interactions is knowing that, even if Anne is as oblivious as a post (or in total denial).

      (Personally I don’t find Pride & Prejudice all that romantic, although I do think it’s delightful. On the other hand, much of my amusement in the first half is derived from knowing Darcy totally has it bad for Elizabeth, even if she doesn’t know it. The scenes in which he’s staring at her and she’s totally misreading him are hilarious.)

      • Shauna 12 Apr 2011 at 9:27 am #

        I also think that it’s a tightrope for the author to walk, making the characters oblivious to each other’s feelings (or their own) while not making them seem, well, kind of stupid.

        I think that’s why Persuasion is so effective, because Anne does have every reason to believe Wentworth will never love her again. Every action of hers is perfectly sensible, until she realizes he might still care for her, and then she makes every move decorously possible to let him know she feels the same. Rock on, Anne.

        (Conversely, love you Anne Shirley, but I do think a little less of how your love of romanticism somehow blinded you to the brilliant, adorable, kindly awesomeness that is Gilbert. I buy your UST, silly thing, but I do not identify with it.)

        I also think this has something to do with my love for slash back in the day. Fear of homophobia or certainty that the person you love isn’t even attracted to your gender also very real and valid reasons to keep quiet about your feelings and let the tension simmer.

        When I read a story with a bad romance in it, frequently the “reasons” why a character can’t express their own feelings or doesn’t believe in the feelings of another are just… poor. A sudden deep insecurity when the character is otherwise totally confident is usually the lazy writer’s solution.

        • JJ 12 Apr 2011 at 9:40 am #

          I do so dislike the artificial contrivance, or as the Smart Bitches put it, the “Big Misunderstanding” keeping the lead pair apart. The one I hate in particular is the male keeping himself from the female because he’s too dangerous for her. Or something. Ugh.

          • Emily Chapman 13 Apr 2011 at 11:42 am #

            Well her silly little lady head can’t decide for herself! He must protect her, because he is a manly man who does manly things. *eyeroll*

  11. Elissa J. Hoole 11 Apr 2011 at 11:57 pm #

    YEAH. This is getting bookmarked. I so so so entirely agree about the skipping of the first two steps. I don’t swoon for anyone without them. I love the manuscripts that make you shout at them!

  12. R.J. Anderson 13 Apr 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Fantastic post. And to me, much as I do love a good consummation moment, some of the most powerful romances I can recall were the ones that seemed stuck indefinitely at the late-Sexual Tension early-Swoon stage.

    Mulder and Scully were voted Sexiest Couple on TV long before they actually kissed in canon, but once they’d got together and had a kid nobody really cared anymore; Syd and Vaughn in the first season of ALIAS were just aching with UST but when they got together the electricity fizzled out almost immediately; and (I keep saying this but it’s true) to me the most overwhelmingly sexy moment ever committed to film is the butler’s pantry scene in REMAINS OF THE DAY (http://movieclips.com/WKXgc-the-remains-of-the-day-movie-a-racy-book/), where Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins (who isn’t especially attractive in this role at all) have a mild tug-of-war over a book he’s reading and there’s no kissing and the only thing she touches are his fingers as she’s prying the book from his hands.

    So I think the key is to keep the reader waiting on tenterhooks, and work every angle of the first three steps, as long as you possibly can before bringing up that consummation.

    • JJ 13 Apr 2011 at 11:46 am #

      I agree that it’s about having the reader ache for that consummation as much as the characters, and holding it off until the last possible moment, BUT without “missing the boat”, as it were. The problem with The X-Files was that I think the show missed its crucial moment to get Mulder and Scully together (between seasons 5 and 6, right around the time of the movie, actually) and the problem with Alias is that Syd and Vaughn got together too soon. (I won’t even talk about seasons 3 onward.)

      After a couple is in an established relationship, I want to see different things test the relationship and make it stronger, but I hate when couples break up due to internal insecurities. HATE IT. My favourite example of a couple weathering awful circumstances and emerging stronger for it is Phèdre and Joscelin from Jacqueline Carey‘s KUSHIEL’S LEGACY series.

      • R.J. Anderson 13 Apr 2011 at 12:04 pm #

        The problem with ALIAS was that Vaughn was such a jerk by S3 that I suddenly realized what I wanted more than ANYTHING was to see Syd and Weiss get together instead. Because they were such great friends and he was so fantastic at supporting her, it struck me he’d make a way better boyfriend than Vaughn had ever been.

        But we all know the slightly tubby sidekick never gets the girl, even when the handsome angsty hero has gone and married somebody else and abandoned her. So I had to write seven chapters of epic Syd/Weiss fanfic to make myself feel better and then move on. :)

        And so much word to the hatefulness of dumb misunderstandings and internal insecurities. “O noes, I peeped through the shrubbery and saw him kissing another lady! Clearly he has betrayed me!” or “He is too beautiful and wealthy for the likes of poor, awkward me, so I shall save him by jumping on a boat to America!” Both of which, to me, only make the MC look stupid.

        • JJ 13 Apr 2011 at 1:20 pm #

          I too, was a Syd/Weiss shipper for a while, but that show jumped the shark for me at Season 2, unfortunately. I tried to stick with it for a while, I really did, but I felt like it was a totally different show after that.

    • Tiferet 13 Apr 2011 at 12:42 pm #

      Ugh, sorry, I hated Mulder/Scully and was against it from jump (for many of the same reasons I hoped Hermione would end up with neither Harry nor Ron). I like to see men and women work together in teams without having to be sexually involved and that can’t happen if every series with a male and female lead gets them together–and I also hate to see really competent, smart women with childish men who depend on them because they cannot maintain fecal cohesion without them.

      • Zoë Marriott 13 Apr 2011 at 12:48 pm #

        You know what would have been awesome? If, just really casually and with no set up or fuss, Scully had gone home to her apartment one evening and been greeted at the door by a woman, who handed her a glass of wine, gave her a little kiss, and made her smile by telling her the pasta was nearly ready. And then the door closed behind them and we NEVER DELVED INTO SCULLY’S PRIVATE LIFE AGAIN. That would have made my life. A professional woman who does her job and has adventures without having to get all involved with any of the male characters – yes please.

        • Tiferet 13 Apr 2011 at 12:54 pm #

          Oh lord I would have died of happiness. :)

      • JJ 13 Apr 2011 at 1:10 pm #

        I think Benson and Olivia from Law and Order: SVU make a good case for an intense platonic male/female dynamic. :) For several seasons now! (And I would not have it any other way–they’re kind of like siblings at this point.)

        • Tiferet 13 Apr 2011 at 1:14 pm #

          I agree; I love them so much and if they did the deed, it would destroy them (not to mention a lot of other people around them).

          But I want more of that. :)

          • JJ 13 Apr 2011 at 1:16 pm #

            Whoops, I meant Elliot and Olivia. :)

        • Tiferet 13 Apr 2011 at 1:20 pm #

          I knew who you meant :) Benson and Stabler, Elliot and Olivia :)

  13. Emily Chapman 13 Apr 2011 at 11:41 am #

    I get sent here via Sarah Rees Brennan’s tweet. This article is right on. What I so loved about the YA I read as a kid–the Pern books, for example–was that the romance was so secondary to the other things the characters had going on, and it was clearly justifiable.

    I’m recognizing the same thing in most of the TV shows I love as an adult. The X-Files is of course one of the best examples of that done well. The best parts are right as each character begins to realize that the feelings might be there and it gets playful. When you pull what Bones has pulled, and it’s just angsty and sad, that quits being fun. When you ignore even that and just get to the Twilight-style “he is in my life and I love him FOREVER AND EVER” it’s just irritating.

    • Tiferet 13 Apr 2011 at 12:53 pm #

      Hmm, I actually like Twilight quite a bit, because the interesting thing about Twilight is that there is immediate swoon, but then the respect takes a while to develop, and the relationship isn’t consummated until Edward has been forced to realise that Bella’s going to have her way about things whether or not he likes it, and that often Bella is right about things he is wrong about. Bella stands up for herself all the time and usually gets her way; I don’t understand all these people who think she’s weak-willed just because she’s attracted to someone domineering. You’re not weak-willed because you’re attracted to a dominant person and manage to hold your own; in fact I’d say quite the opposite.

      Immediate swoon without respect is a problem for me when the relationship is allowed to proceed to consummation before the respect is developed, but I’m actually quite fond of attraction between people who have to learn to respect and like one another as long as the initial lack isn’t expressed by the male character (or the character in the pursuer role) constantly belittling the interests and intelligence of the female or pursued character, or by constant annoying bickering.

      • JJ 13 Apr 2011 at 1:14 pm #

        Well, Bella certainly knows what she wants, that’s for certain. :)

        My problem with TWILIGHT was that because there was immediate swoon, I was immediately bored. For me, Bella’s declaration of love seemed to come out of left field, because I couldn’t remember them having a lot of meaningful interactions. (But my point about being bored again might come into play here.) It took me 5 tries to finish it and then I gave up on the rest of the series. My other problem with TWILIGHT has to do with the fact that it’s a romance. I don’t object to romances; it’s just that when it’s the primary narrative, I lose interest, and quickly.

        • Tiferet 13 Apr 2011 at 1:33 pm #

          I took Bella’s declaration of love as a teenage girl’s use of the word ‘love’ to describe an intense blend of physical attraction and emotional attraction, because at 16-17 I don’t think most people can differentiate the two. But I think one of the key points that a lot of people miss is Bella’s rather early statement that she’s attracted to unusual people because she feels alienated from ‘normal’ people and isn’t able to work up to caring much about things like sports, prom, gossip, &c.

          A lot of people dismiss this as ‘all teenagers feel misunderstood’ but I don’t think that’s necessarily true–most teenagers don’t feel as distant from their peers’ concerns as Bella does or as I did when I was a teenager. (Warning, I like Bella a lot in no small part because she reminds me of myself when I was younger, in bad and good ways alike. Both Bella and I had incompetent parenting for different reasons and the amount of responsibility we had to take on at an early age–for ourselves and for our folks–made it hard for us to care about the sillier aspects of teenage life and difficult for us to take seriously those people who took those things seriously. We are also both stubborn and attracted to weirdness because we feel weird. I am not that keen on Edward, but at least he is not the Nice Guy who thinks he’s entitled to a relationship with her because she’s been friendly with him and shares his interest and likes to do things with him.) Bella is immediately drawn to all of the Cullens, from her first sight of them, because they seem different from other people and also similarly alienated. Edward happens to be the one who is both unattached and confusing, which makes him an intellectual and emotional puzzle for her, and she likes that.

          I honestly didn’t expect to like Twilight, because I had read a lot of awful reviews, but my best friend said that I would like it and she’s usually right, so I read it and loved it. I don’t normally care for romances, either, but for me it didn’t hit ‘romance’ buttons so much as it hit ‘girl who feels out of place in the every day world finds herself in a strange new world with new people and rules’ buttons, and those kinds of books strongly appeal to me because as a teenager (and sometimes even now) I wished that would happen to me.

          And I grew to respect and like Edward better as he grew to respect and like Bella rather than just being attracted to her and having to fight the desire to drink ALL the blood. He isn’t someone I’d want to date now or want a friend to date, particularly, but I could grow to accept him because he does learn, despite being a product of the Edwardian era with the bonus problem of having his body and physical brain chemistry and emotional self-regulation permanently set at age 17.

          :) (I will probably never like Jacob. I accept that the ‘imprinting’ is biologically based and therefore not the same as paedophilia–but I think Jacob’s entitlement and self-esteem issues would make him a horrible person to have imprinted on you even if you weren’t a child.)

          • JJ 13 Apr 2011 at 2:06 pm #

            In the end, though, wasn’t Bella’s love the “forever” kind? Literally?

            I really liked Jacob in TWILIGHT because unlike Bella and Edward (who seemed more ciphers than people to me), he seemed like an actual person. Like a kid in my neighborhood. But I have been told I stopped reading before he turned into a douchehound. :)

            I found Bella to be too much of a martyr for my tastes. Wah, I’m going to go to a town I hate to live a Dad I don’t even know just so my mom can enjoy life with her new husband! I’m going to complain bitterly for the first half of my book even though it was entirely my decision to come to Forks! That’s the most obvious example I could think of, but she seems to take on a lot of her own woe, and then act condescending/whiny about it. (But don’t quote me on this–I only read this once, and a long time ago.)

            I too, didn’t like sports, prom, gossip, etc. and other typical teenage concerns, but I also had a large group of friends who shared my other interest in books, drawing, and “weird” stuff. (Gay films, weird theatre things, etc.) Bella’s judgmental attitude toward her peers turned me off more than anything else.

        • Tiferet 13 Apr 2011 at 3:18 pm #

          For some reason I’m not getting a ‘reply’ button to your last response, but you did ask a question. I would have to say that Stephenie Meyer probably sees Bella’s love as the forever kind. I’m not sure I do, but I also think forever loves start off in a lot of different ways. They can start with sexual attraction or close friendship or respect and admiration–and I don’t think it matters which you start out with–but you need all three to make it work forever.

          Bella is absolutely overdramatic and judgemental. You probably wouldn’t have liked me much at 17 either. The other teen character with whom I identify that strongly is Draco Malfoy! I get that you don’t like her attitude and that’s a legitimate reason not to like her, but some of the things that turn you off are the same things that I like in her. I’m not trying to change your mind. If you dislike a book you dislike it. But while I often find people who share my worst and hardest-to-overcome flaws really irritating in real life, I often really like them as POV characters. :)

          I sometimes wonder if Bella’s so popular with women my age (I’m 46) because she’s a character type that was actually more common back when we were teenagers than it is nowadays. It seems to me, interacting with teenagers and recent ex-teens on the internet, that it was much easier in the last 20 years to be a weird teen than it was in the 70s/80s. This is partly because of the increasing acceptance of GLBT people and partly because of the internet, which makes finding friends much easier if you live in a smaller town and have unusual interests.

          But unusual interests aren’t the whole problem. A teenager who has to decide where she wants to live based on which parent needs her and which one doesn’t, rather than deciding based on her own interests or being able to trust her parents to decide that for her, has a right to be whiny about it in the privacy of her own head, although I get that it’s annoying to read if you can’t relate to it.

          When parents are for whatever reason unable to protect their children and their children have to take care of them too early in life, those kids, regardless of interests, have a hard time relating to other kids who have normal-kid amounts of responsibility and place normal-kid amounts of importance on their interests, whatever those interests may be. We have not learned to trust adults to take care of us or put our interests first; we have learned to be wary and always look out for ourselves and the people we love, rather than to trust them to do that. The easy acceptance and trust normal kids seem to have of adults and of each other and of the world we live in seems completely misplaced and incomprehensible, and the ability to let go of their concerns and act as if something fun is of ultimate importance is beyond confusing.

          As teenagers, we do judge that attitude and reject it out of hand, even though it’s actually healthy. Teenagers don’t often have the breadth of experience or detachment to understand that the world is different for their happier peers, and that their happier peers aren’t actually incredibly stupid for being so trusting of the world and so attached to things that won’t matter 10 years from now. A world where the Volturi are out to get you makes more sense to that mindset than a world where prom or band or the book club or football or theatre is the most important thing in somebody’s life and where the hardest thing you have to do is figure out what you want to do in college. If the Volturi are out to get you, at least your constant anxiety compared to others begins to make sense.

          I am sorry for writing a novel on your blog and I’m not trying to change your mind about the books, if you don’t like them that’s fine. :) This is just about how I see it and why I do like and relate to this character.

          • JJ 13 Apr 2011 at 3:35 pm #

            Not at all! I love it when people talk on the blog! :)

            I think you may be right in saying that it’s “easier” to be outside “normal” (whatever that means) for teens today than it was 30 years ago. I would also say that my own adolescence was pretty unusual, which is probably why I have a little more difficulty reading YA set in contemporary times: I grew up in California and went to a small all-girls’ private school. No boys in class with me. :) The arts were a huge part of my school, to the point where you had to audition to get into the conservatories. We were one of those obnoxious prep schools that posted their Ivy League acceptance rates, etc.

            We all have a right to like the books we like and dislike the books we dislike. :)

  14. Christina 13 Apr 2011 at 11:43 am #

    I love this topic! It’s something that I’m dealing with right now in my manuscript.

    Also, having grown up on PEI where “Anne” is a bad word, it’s always nice to see people appreciate Montgomery’s work.

    • JJ 13 Apr 2011 at 11:47 am #

      Oh, that’s such a pity that “Anne” is a bad word in PEI! Of course, we New Yorkers say the same thing about Sex and the City

      • Tiferet 13 Apr 2011 at 1:10 pm #

        Anne of Green Gables >>>> Sex and the City, by a factor of about a zillion.

        I read Sex and the City to see what all the fuss was about and found it a very depressing, boring, prescriptivist book.

        • JJ 13 Apr 2011 at 1:18 pm #

          In the show’s defense, it’s not really like the book. And I liked the show when it aired at the time. But I am over the tourists flooding our streets to take pictures. Some of actually live and work here!

          But I’m not a fan of Candace Bushnell’s writing, personally.

          • Tiferet 13 Apr 2011 at 1:35 pm #

            The few episodes I watched were better than the book, but I’m more like Samantha than the others and found it really hard to identify with Carrie enough to keep watching :)

  15. Katie 13 Apr 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    Really interesting post and discussions, and I have to agree with you. I find most books that are primarily “romance” – especially YA, “Twilight,” and “Fallen,” etc. frustrating and rather nauseating because I don’t believe in a relationship based on fluffy feelings rather than knowledge, respect and trust of the other person. I found myself wondering what would happen to Bella once the honeymoon period came to an end, and she stopped feeling “in love” with Edward. Is there anything else to keep them loving each other except the “Being in love?”

  16. Kelley Marie 14 Apr 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    One of my favorite love stories is actually Rocky. Yeah that boxing movie with Sylvester Stallone. I challenge anyone to go watch it again if you haven’t seen it in awhile. Rocky is sweet and caring and tries hard to bring Adrian out of her shell. She is extremely shy and doesn’t think that she’s pretty. Rocky as a character is certainly rough around the edges, and he says they fit together because they both have gaps.

    I recently watched this again with my husband, and we talked about the ‘love scene’ where they kiss. A movie doesn’t have to have a semi-pornographic love scene to make a relationship believable or make a movie good.

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