I’ve been thinking about romance in general and in Nita’s book in particular. Romance is tricky stuff to write even if both of your lovers are alive, so making one of mine dead complicates things.
But two things in the past month have made me look at it again. One was a comment Elisabeth made, and the other came from watching Galavant again, this time with Krissie.
I’d made a comment in one of the WiP posts about Nick not having emotions because he’s dead, but that wasn’t quite right. He’s not emotionless because he’s dead, he’s emotionless because he doesn’t have a body. He creates the illusion of a body, but there’s no mass there, no blood, no nerve endings, just a skeleton and a lot of illusion. And that means he can’t feel anything, not just hot and cold and pain and lust, he can’t feel emotions because emotions live in the body. We don’t have emotions apart from our physical beings; they’re called feelings because our bodies feel them. I knew this from studying with Ron Carlson, the originator of “Emotion lives in the body,” but it wasn’t until I wrote a guy who didn’t have a body that I really grasped what that meant.
I mean, think about the last time you were in the grip of strong emotion. Saying, “I was shocked” or “I was sad” doesn’t tell anybody anything. But saying, “I couldn’t catch my breath” or “I cried, those big hacking sobs, ugly crying” tells your listener just how surprised or grief-stricken you were.
Which means if you don’t have breath to lose or tears to cry, you can’t feel anything. You can make judgements in the abstract–“”That was a bad thing that just happened, I wish that hadn’t happened”–but you can’t feel bad. You can’t feel anything. You’re dead.
And that’s why I said Nick doesn’t feel emotions; he doesn’t feel anything. He’s dead.
So when Elizabeth wrote: “One way in which your current Nick and Nita intrigue me is that they’re connected more by plot than by character, unless the point of your post today is that character ties will develop. I think you implied that this is not a romance because Nick doesn’t have emotions because he’s dead,” I thought, I didn’t explain that right, that’s not quite it.
Because Nita’s book is still a romance, it just starts with two people who are disconnected from their emotions. They’re good people, they’re just cold and unfeeling. They’ll do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do in the abstract, they’re guided by morals and values, not by feelings. Nita isn’t quite as cold as Nick–she still has a pulse–but she’s shoved her feelings away since she was a toddler so she has no idea how to access them now.
This is the point in a book where I look at what I’ve set up and think, Why the hell did I do that? I’ve learned my lesson about depressed heroines (never again), so instead now I’m doing not-quite-dead-yet heroines? And dead heroes? And yet, my instinct says that’s where to go, so that’s where I’m going.
It was right about that time that Krissie came to visit and we watched all of Galavant over two nights. Galavant is lousy with romance: King Richard sees Madelena and carries her off because he’s fallen in love; Galavant agrees to help Isabella so he can get Madelena (his one true love) back; Galavant and Isabella fall in love; and Chef and Gwen take a chance on romance even though they’re serfs. All of that’s before we get to the second season and two more love stories, one featuring the beautiful ballad, “Maybe You Won’t Die Alone,” and the immortal words “Put. Down. That. Cat.” Plus Uncle Keith and Destiny, and Richard and Tad Cooper. It’s like Love, Actually with hangings and armor.
But my favorite romance in Galavant was one I did not see coming. SPOILERS FOR THE SECOND SEASON AHEAD.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
SERIOUSLY, BIG SPOILERS.
Galavant’s first love, Madelena, is a stone cold bitch, and I love her. Her first love song is a love song to herself–“No One But You” — and when Galavant finally finds her again and says, “Do you still love me?” she sings “I love you as much as someone like me can love anyone.” At the end of the first season, she’s betrayed King Richard (the guy who kidnapped her, who she then married because he was rich, she liked the clothes, and she wanted to be queen), put him in prison and taken up with his brother, then stabbed his brother in the back and elevated Richard’s bodyguard as her new consort. And during all of that–four hours of story–she never feels anything. As Galavant says at the end of the first season, “Oh, god, she’s the worst.”
Richard survives her betrayal only because his bodyguard breaks him and Galavant out of prison and tells Galavant to take Richard back to his own kingdom (they’d invaded the one they’re in) so he’ll be safe. His bodyguard, a thug named Gareth, has been watching over Richard since they were both ten, acting out of duty and a sense of mission, pretty much killing anybody who gets in Richard’s way. Not a big guy for feelings, although he has a moment at the end as Galavant sails away with Richard.
So at the beginning of Season Two, we have Madalena and Gareth sitting on the throne as the new antagonists, both of them detached from humanity. And yet theirs is the love story I loved best. I just didn’t realize why until I watched it in the context of writing this book: When people who are not good at emotions suddenly discover that they have them, they become tremendously vulnerable. And vulnerability is the key to great romance. (And great characterization in particular, but we’re talking about romance. Focus, people.)
I said this is would be a spoiler, but I can’t ruin the magnificence of the moment when Madalena becomes a (semi)human being, except to say it involves an event so traumatic that it almost breaks her heart, and Gavin realizes it and brings her a gift to make her feel better (best gift ever), and she’s so touched, she kisses him on the cheek, and it’s one of the top five Best Romantic Moments Ever. Of course, they’re hopeless at expressing feelings, so Gareth finally resorts to yelling “I love you” to the troops when he and Madalena are reviewing them before a battle, and she panics, but then she finally smiles and blushes, and they’re just so darn cute. Sociopaths, of course, but so much in love. And at the end when she’s leaving, and she looks back at him and says, “Thanks for the love,” trying to be cool about it but still loving him so much . . .
Where was I? Right. Vulnerability.
Everybody has feelings, but it’s the characters who don’t know how to deal with those feelings that kneecap us. (Think Shaw on Person of Interest standing by Root’s grave, not knowing what to do.) If you combine that with the “Oh, hell, not you” moment, another vulnerability kneecap, you’ve created a powerful dynamic for a great romance. And that’s what I stumbled into with Nita and Nick.
Of course, I still have to WRITE it, but hey, the dynamic is there, so points to me. And now back to typing . . .