Podcast

211 – Romance Mistakes

The Mythcreant Podcast
Everyone loves a good romance, yet storytellers aren’t that great at depicting them. There are a whole host of technical mistakes that can make a romance boring or annoying, and that’s before you even get into all the ways a romance can be creepy or gross. Don’t worry, we include some solutions for these common problems. We even hault our criticism to mention some positive examples!

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Ezri Dax

Julian Bashir

Harry Potter 

Ginny Weasly 

Secret Circle

Aang

Katara

Zuko

Throne of the Crescent Moon

Captain Picard

Doctor Crusher

Zoe

Wash

Mal

Inara

Abductions as Romance

Octavia

Seven Great Sources of Conflict for Romances

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Transcript

Generously transcribed by Darian. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

[intro music]

Oren: And welcome, everyone, to another episode of the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Oren, and with me today is…

Chris: Chris…

Oren: And…

Wes: Wes.

Oren: And because I am nothing if not timely, love WAS in the air a couple of weeks ago, when it was Valentine’s day. It is not anymore.

[laughter]

Oren: But I still think we should talk about the common problems in love stories, because there are a lot of them. And if I had scheduled properly, this episode would’ve come out earlier, but, you know, this is how it is.

Chris: In time to ruin the holiday.

Oren: Yeah, yeah!

Wes: Like love, podcasts are messy.

[laughter]

Oren: In fact, we could say that my Valentine’s day present to everyone was doing this podcast now, instead of in time for Valentine’s day? There we go.

Wes: Yeah. I accept.

[laughter]

Oren: So, at least in my mind, the problems with romance stories, of which there are many, fall into two distinct categories. You have your technical mistakes, which can certainly be a problem, but these are issues where the author is just not following best practices, and they are, you know, causing chemistry problems or what have you, right? And those are a problem, but they don’t make me mad, they just kind of make me go, “uh, this romance story isn’t doing it for me.” And then there’s the creepy mistakes. And that’s where you have all of your social justice issues, and your stalking, and your abuse. And those things make me mad.

Chris: Yeah.

Oren: So first I thought we could talk about some technical mistakes. One of my personal favorites is the No Buildup Romance. I’ve seen this happen a couple of times where like, two characters are suddenly doing it. And I’m like, “what? Were those characters… into each other? What, when did this happen?”

Wes: Mhm.

Oren: And it feels kind of weird. A well known example was on Deep Space Nine with Bashir and Ezri. Like, I think they literally just in one ep… and maybe I’m misremembering this, but I swear there’s just one point where they just are like, the scene cuts to them after they slept together and they’re like, “Oh, we’re in a romance now.” I’m like, “Oh. O… okay?”

Chris: So, that one was frustrating to me when I watched it because it was… I mean, I’ve talked about this in a previous podcast, the weird romance where you never see them together?

Oren and Wes: Mhm. Yeah. [laughter]

Chris: And last time I was ranting about Harry and Ginny, but this is actually a pretty good example of that too, because Ezri and Bashir, basically, we didn’t see them in a romance. And then they had an episode where they were apart, and they talked about their possible feelings for each other with other people? But we didn’t actually see them together. And then we cut to them being in bed together.

[laughter]

Oren: I feel like the writers thought they could cheat on that one because they’d established like six seasons ago that Bashir had been crushing on Jadzia. And, I mean, thank God that ended, ‘cause that was not a great thing for the show. And they were like, “Oh, well, we established that. So obviously everyone will just accept that he’s crushing on Ezri again.” And it’s like, no. No, you need to do a little more, writers. A little more.

Chris and Wes: Yeah.

Wes: I think that they rely on us to fill in a lot of the gaps, particularly on shows. Visual media. Like I feel like that’s something they do. It’s like, “okay, you get it, they’re together now. Fill it in as you will.” And it’s like, ugh, no. I don’t want that. It’s your job to entertain me. [laughs]

Chris: Yeah. I do feel like a lot of these problems come from the… romanticization of romance…

[laughter]

Wes: Yeah.

Oren: Aha!

Chris: This whole love-at-first-sight idea. And it’s like, it’s fine if you believe that happens in real life, it’s still not a great thing for a story. If it’s true love, then as soon as they see each other, it’s just like, head over heels. And, you know, that’s just not convincing to the audience. The audience needs to actually see that the relationship is real. You know? Just assume that they’re skeptical, and you have to give proof.

Wes: It’s not convincing. And it’s also kind of damaging to have people see that enough. They’re like, “Oh, that’s how it’s SUPPOSED to work.” Right? And it’s like, why haven’t I completely done this. Like, seen somebody and just fallen wildly, madly in love. And it’s just like, well, they’re just taking the easy route on their narrative, and not portraying things as they actually are.

Oren: And it’s like, here’s the thing. If you want to have a character who just… hops into bed real fast, like that’s just the thing they do, that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that in real life. You can absolutely do that, but if you want me to CARE about the romance, you still have to do the best practices, and one of the ways, typically, that you do that is by showing that there was some interest between them. There are other ways, like if you want a character who’s like, “yeah, we go to bed first. And then maybe we have a relationship afterwards,” you can also do that, right? That’s also fine. But this idea that they just jump into bed and suddenly have a fully formed relationship without any of the work you would need to do to establish that is just kind of… at that point, it’s just not interesting to me. It’s like, yeah, I guess you can tell me they did that, but I don’t care.

Wes: Mhm.

Chris: Yeah. And I also just want to point out that the idea that two people are deeply in love when they don’t even know who each other are? It just feels very superficial. Right? It’s like, they have to get to know each other, to then know things about each other that they like. You know, care about each other as a person. And, yeah. And we’re seeing a lot of stories in speculative fiction that try to get away with this by making it like Fate, in some way?

Oren: [laughs]

Wes: Yeah…

Chris You know, Secret Circle, it’s like, “oh, it’s just written in the stars that our two families come together.” It’s like we don’t have to build a relationship if we just… say it’s kind of like magical, right? And it just feels very lazy, in the end.

Wes: It is lazy. They’re just like, “Oh, okay. Like, we’re not going to do any of the hard work here. You’re meant to be together. You’re soulmates. Oh, okay. Great. I guess I love you now.”

Oren: Yeah. And speaking of the hard work, I think the hardest part of the romance, and at least just based on how few romantic couples actually accomplish this in stories—and not just couples, technically this would apply to poly relationships as well, but those are so rare in any kind of media that it’s hard to comment on them—you have to show, like, what the characters have that makes them better together than apart. That’s, like, the simplest thing that makes people want romances to happen. And it is just… not there, so often? And I think a large part of the reason it’s not there is that, especially with hetero couples, we are just so accustomed to the idea of “yes, boy girl meet; boy girl kiss; have sex; babies. Yes,” —that the idea that there needs to be some reason for us to want that to happen just doesn’t occur to most people?

Wes: Mhm.

Oren: So you just need to show what it is that both people are getting out of this relationship. And when authors do that, they almost… they very often make the mistake of only showing what the guy’s getting out of it. Like in—I love Avatar, Avatar is fantastic, but the relationship between Aang and Katara is like—I get what Aang’s getting out of it. I get that Aang thinks Katara is really rad and that Katara is super badass and supportive and helpful. But… what is Katara getting out of it, exactly? Like, I never even really got the feeling that Katara was particularly into Aang in any real way.

Wes: Yeah.

Oren: Especially ‘cause Aang is like, three… two years younger than she is? And at that age that’s a huge difference.

Chris: Right. And that one really kicked them in the ass because their viewers were not the little boys that they expected. For the most part.

[laughter]

Chris: So it’s like, you thought they would have little boys who wouldn’t care that Katara wasn’t getting anything out of it, and that’s not the audience they had. I mean, I think ideally you have it so that… you know, it’s totally possible to set up a romance so that audiences who identify with either character can get something from it. Right? It’s just storytellers who are only thinking about themselves and their own demographic that mess this up. You can thoughtfully make it so that both… everybody involved in the romance is attractive and appealing.

Oren: Yeah. I mean, with Avatar, it was just a little bit of a bad setup because they wanted Aang to be kind of childlike, but Katara is not childlike. Katara is very mature, and so they just aren’t a match. It doesn’t feel like Aang is the kind of person Katara would have a romance with. Which is I think a big part of why they ship her and Zuko so much. Because they are the two main characters who are, you know, the mature dating age, who aren’t related to each other.

[laughter]

Oren: Plus they have that scene where she offers to use the wish water to, like, cure his scar. And I’m like, yeah, that’s cute. You know, all the people who were dying who could have used that water probably think maybe it’s not the greatest use for it, but, eh, you know.

[laughter]

Chris: We just finished reading this book, Throne of the Crescent Moon, which has this romance between these two characters that… you know, I think that you could either set up a romance between people who are similar, and their similarity is how they bond, and people who are different, and their difference is how they bond. In this case, the idea is that they’re both very similar, that they’re completely very duty focused, right, and not frivolous, and that kind of makes them different from other people. But the romance is just still so underdeveloped. I feel like that was probably a good start? But then we don’t actually… they’re so duty focused that they don’t want to talk to each other.

[laughter]

Chris: Or, like, about dating at all. It’s like maybe we should’ve tweaked their personalities just a little bit, so that what they had in common wasn’t a refusal to engage in a romantic plotline.

Oren: Oh, there are so many things working against that relationship in Throne of the Crescent Moon. I mean, and this is another common problem, is agonizing over the relationship too much? Because they do that in Crescent Moon. Both the characters and their friends—’cause this book has a million characters—are all constantly being like, “oh, will they get together or won’t they get together? Ooh, there could be problems!” And it’s like, okay guys, I get that we have all angsted over our relationship. We’ve all been there. It’s fine. I’ve done this too, but I’m pretty sure that if I was in the kind of life or death struggles that most of these stories take place in, that would take priority for me. Like, I would be less concerned about my super crush if I was also fighting demons. Just as a rule, I feel fairly confident saying that about myself.

Wes: This is straight up Sabrina again. It’s like, it’s hard to really believe in your high school drama when there’s so much evil in the world.

[laughter]

Chris: I mean, I feel like you can get away with ONE scene of angsting and then move on. Like it just needs to change in some way. Have them have a scene together, they can voice some of their feelings, have just this… the status. And the conflict just needs to keep moving. It has to keep moving forward. It’s like any other conflict where if you have the same conflict happen over and over again, it gets really boring, really repetitive. And so throughout a story, you have to either escalate the stakes, or you have to change the nature of the conflict. And with romance, if you just have them continually angsting, but there’s no forward movement, the status of the conflict—the nature of this romance conflict—is not changing. It just gets really old really fast.

Oren: Right. And it also doesn’t help that in most situations where they’re doing all the super angsting, they’ve also failed to establish why I should even want these two characters to be together. They just feel like that’s not a step that they need to take. And so it’s like, I don’t really care if these characters make out or not? I’m not super invested, but we’re going to keep going back. And angsting about it.

Chris: I mean, I think in this case there was a similarity between both of the characters that was distinctive, but a storyteller failed to translate that into seeing why that… how that really benefited them. Right? It’s the kind of thing where if they found out, “oh, we actually work really well together in our ghoul hunting, because the other characters want to stop and, like, rest and eat food all the time, but we are just super duty focused and so we just want to keep going. And so then alone, that might’ve been too dangerous, but we can keep going together” or something that it’s like we can see a tangible benefit to how the fact that they’re similar makes them work well together. In this case, the book was really saturated with characters and so we didn’t actually get to see these two characters really work together very much, actually do the ghoul hunting.

Oren: Right. That would have been the obvious solution on how to build romantic chemistry between these two, was to have them go ghoul hunting together and, like, sparks fly and they save each other’s life or whatever. But no—because most of the book is spent talking to people and eating, there wasn’t any time for that. Which is another of the things that worked against the romance in that story.

Chris: Mhm.

Wes: Yeah, I think on a broader level, there’s kind of like… definitely a mistake is to mine the relationship for just cheap, kind of petty forms of conflict that don’t do anything. It’s like, “oh, well, I need more conflict to keep people interested. So this romance is a good source of it.” And then you just get petty things that don’t really matter to it? And it’s just like, why is this a romance? What’s the point? I don’t need yet another moment of just, like, nothing happening, or the same thing showing up. And I mean, it’s, I think generally it’s a good thing to illustrate  difficulties as part of a romance. But when you rely on that too much for your sole source of conflict in a story, it just comes off as cheap.

Oren: Yeah. I mean, it’s also super easy to push audiences from being like, “oh no, there’s a problem in this romance, how will they resolve it?” to “Eh, they don’t seem to like each other that much. Maybe they should just break up,” You know?

Wes: Cut and run!

Chris: [laughs]

Oren: It’s like, yeah, okay. I guess you guys’ relationship is over, ‘cause you seem to hate each other, so that’s fine. Just break up, whatever.

[laughter]

Oren: I mean, maybe, if they’re… again, I think a lot of writers lean heavily on this idea that we will automatically want them to stay together, and maybe that’s a cultural artifact of a time when, like, marriage was the ultimate goal and you were a bad person if you didn’t stay married forever? But I can’t comment on that. I wasn’t around for that time. I know that’s not the time NOW, and that’s definitely not the values that a lot of people consuming your stories are going to have.

Chris: Yeah. Certainly, the other thing is a lot of writers are—again, with this sort of “love at first sight” thing, there’s also the “true love” fallacy, right?

Oren: Mhm.

Chris: Where we have to also make them PERFECTLY fit each other. I mean, I think mostly the audience needs to see that there’s a benefit that they have for each other. And then if you want it to last longer—I mean, it depends on how much of your story is taken up by the romance and how much is taken up by the other plot, because almost always, unless it’s really short, there needs to be another plot in there—depending on how much you want to take up, then we spend the time whether bonding, having them adjust to each other and become better fitted to each other, as opposed to being a perfect fit in the beginning, right? They learn how to work together. This is kind of like the buddy cop pattern. Like, more romances would really benefit by just… okay, let’s think of a buddy cop plot line. Watch some buddy cop movies.

[laughter]

Chris: Okay, now just do that, but then they kiss at the end.

Oren: It’s amazing how many good romance concepts can just come from a normal character relationship that then ends with kissing. It’s like a lot of the same lessons apply. You just have them smooch at the end, and now it’s romance.

Wes: Right.

Chris: [laughs] But you know, I think the nice… the important thing about the buddy cop is that we have people with the same goal, conflicting styles of accomplishing that goal, and then they go through a process in which they learn how to work together and benefit each other.

Oren: I know one thing that I really love in romances is when they just, like, stretch out the question until everyone’s sick of it? That’s my favorite. And they just refuse to commit. TV shows tend to do this more often than novels do, because I think they just feel like they have to keep their options open for whatever reason? Or maybe that was just TNG, ‘cause God did they stretch out the Picard/Crusher romance forever. And even at the end they refused. They were like, “no, we’re not going to commit to it.”

Chris: Yeah, I mean, the central problem with TV show romances is that the romance creates a lot of tension while they are MAYBE getting together. Once they get together, the tension is all gone. And you know, TV shows can last a really long time, so… you know, some TV shows, they hook up, then they break up or somebody dies. Then they move on to the next romance. Otherwise… And some try to cultivate the same romance for the entire show. I mean, that’s a tough position to be in, I gotta say.

Oren: Yeah, I mean, you’ve just got to acknowledge that you’ve used up the interest that was in this romance and they’re just together now. You have to have to have them do other things.

[general agreement]

Oren: Trying to hold onto that is just hurting the story, like a hundred percent of the time.

Wes: And then to keep the conflict going or to try to keep renewed interest in the romance itself, then the story writers try to like, just sabotage it from the outside, like arbitrary or outside forces, you know, like… that was, uh, what’s coming to mind for this? Oh, yeah. I was thinking about so much of The Office, with the Jim and Pam stuff, and then they get married. And then, I remember in later seasons where just it was like all these things seemed a little contrived just to try to make us care about that relationship again? By trying to sabotage it. And that just didn’t feel very genuine to me. But like you said, the shows go on for such a long time. It’s like, where are they going to go to keep interest… “oh hey, remember when this was such a popular thing? Maybe we can bring it back by, I don’t know, setting an arbitrary reason why now their love is, like, taboo, or why it doesn’t work, or…” I don’t know. I think that’s just a common problem that I see in stories that don’t quite know when to end.

Oren: I have a suggestion for writers who aren’t sure where else they’re going to find conflict. Aliens. Try aliens.

[laughter]

Chris: Just add aliens to the story.

Oren: I mean, all stories should have, like, spec-fic elements. It’s just so much easier when you don’t have to be constrained by real life. You can have aliens show up. It’s fine.

[laughter]

Wes: And then the aliens seduce EVERYONE. And solved.

Oren: Yeah. Obviously. That was definitely where I was going with that.

Wes: Yes! I knew it.

[laughter]

Chris: I think Firefly shows some pretty good scenarios where they have a married couple—who are married to start—and they have some episodes where they deal with their relationship. I just think that the tenor is very different once a couple’s together? It feels more like a pair of best friends, who then get in an argument one episode, and then we have a short episode arc where they get in an argument and they resolve that argument usually by the end of the episode.

Oren: Right. Well, and it’s also a… Firefly was different because it started with them together, which I think it’s definitely an option that more writers should explore. It’s just if you want to have a romantic couple, maybe consider having them start the story already in a relationship? That definitely makes certain things easier. You don’t necessarily HAVE to do that to get that same Firefly dynamic, but you really want to leave enough time for the romance to sort of just feel like a fact of life now. And that way it doesn’t feel like you’re undoing a thing that you previously did, right. Because in general, audiences don’t like it when you tell them, “oh, man, this plot was resolved” and then the next episode you immediately unresolve it.

Wes: Right. Yeah. Terrible.

Chris: Well, they also don’t get in an argument every episode.

Wes: No. And yeah, they’re married from the start, but they’re both distinct characters with their own motivations and approaches and things. And that shows their support a lot better, which… but then there’s also in Firefly the romance between Mal and Inara that… is and isn’t happening? That’s also kind of another counterpoint where we can see… I mean, the show ended probably before they did anything real with that if they were going to. But that’s another side of the coin too, where we just have actually a pretty good cast where there’s different aspects going on. I think Wash and Zoe—Zoe, right?

Oren: Yeah.

Wes: Yeah, they’re, I don’t know. I think they’re just one of the better examples we have of a true romance happening continuously that just decides to skip all the… foreplay, and move into the actual, like, “they are together and this is how you can maintain interest appropriately.” Because you have an invested interest in them and in their marriage, but also them as characters.

Chris: Yeah. I will say though, I don’t think that these kinds of established romances have the same level of emotional pull that a new romance with higher uncertainty can.

Wes: Yeah. And I don’t think you can… I think you can get moments where that happens, but it’s not… it doesn’t have to be exclusively in that established one. Think about the episode where Wash gets captured with Mal. You know, it’s like the imperiled loved one. But that’s not unique to that already established relationship situation, that can happen in the budding romance as well.

Oren: Yeah. And I do think it’s also worth considering the other major romance you mentioned on Firefly, which is Mal and Inara. Which definitely has some strong points. Like it for the most part is covering the kind of buddy cop arc that Chris was talking about, where they have two characters with different ways of doing things, who kind of, you know, give each other crap. It does have a weakness though—this particular part of the show has not aged well—which is that Malcolm gives Inara crap for being a sex worker. And there’s really nothing she can say to that. That’s, like, definitely crossing the line from a technical mistake into a creep mistake. And it didn’t have to be that way. They could disagree on other things. So you can still, like, learn a lesson from that relationship, I just think that that’s worth pointing out if we’re going to be talking about Firefly’s romance.

Wes: Yeah, you’re definitely right about that not aging well. I watched that the other month and was like, oh, okay. Don’t, yeah.

Oren: Yeah. A lot of Firefly stands up pretty well, but whenever Malcolm calls Inara a whore, it’s like, nope. Okay, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope.

[laughter]

Chris: Yeah. So with that, let’s talk about some creepiness issues that happen a lot. I haven’t talked about persistent suitors in a while, but persistent suitors are one of the most common creep factors.

Wes: That’s like the most generous way you could describe them. “Persistent suitors.” [in a posh voice] Oh. Oh, really.

[laughter]

Wes: For something that is… very creepy.

[laughter]

Chris: And the short of it is that a “persistent suitor” is when one of them—almost always the man, but it wouldn’t necessarily have to be a man, It’s not always a man—doesn’t take no for an answer and continues to harass the other person, or stalk the other person, wanting them to engage in a romance or a sexual relationship, even though the other person really has said no or is just clearly not interested. And there’s a couple of storytelling reasons why I think this keeps happening, because it solves some logistical issues that storytellers have when they are putting together a romance. Basically, first, of how to create conflict in the romance. Why don’t they just get together right away? Right? And so then one person, usually the woman, keeps saying no, just to create an obstacle. Which in itself is just super problematic because the idea that there’s a perfect couple and the only problem in their way is that SHE is saying no? It definitely encourages us to not take women seriously when they say they’re not interested. Or when they say no.

[general agreement]

Chris: So usually we’ve got some kind of weak excuse why she doesn’t think that they could be together, even though she likes him. And so she continues to say no. She’s not trying to make it work, you know? She’s just saying no. But then we also need a reason why they keep having an opportunity to interact with each other, and to resolve this issue. And a lot of times, if you don’t have a good premise set up with some other outside plot reason for them to actually see each other in the flesh, the excuse is that, well, he just keeps bothering her.

Oren: Yeah. I mean, how else are we going to get two characters together in a scene? There’s just no way.

[laughter]

Chris: So it’s just like some basic fixes to the premise at the beginning can easily solve some of these issues. Like, put them in a band together or something, you know? Put them on an investigative team together. Give them some reason they have to interact that can also create bonding opportunities that we just talked about, without one of them stalking the other person.

Oren: I think that the “put them in a band together” option is criminally underused in modern storytelling. This is definitely something that we need to see more of.

[laughter]

Chris: And then generally as for how to create conflict, I’ve got a post on that. That one can be a little tricky, but there’s definitely many, many options. They can start out disliking each other, which is a really easy option if they just have a reason to interact and work out those differences. It’s just, have them starting off not interested, and have them work through that. But there could also be other external obstacles that are keeping them apart, but the sparks keep flying anyway, even though neither of them thinks it will work, for instance.

Oren: I could be wrong here, but I feel like a lot of the reason why the persistent suitor trope is so common is because everyone thinks they’re writing a Jane Austen novel with, like, really, really restrictive social norms, and that’s the reason they can’t get together. But those norms don’t exist in most of these stories, so instead they just have the woman say no for… for reasons. It’s like, why? Why is she saying no? Mm, eh, she’s just kind of unreasonable.

Chris: Well, it certainly can be a trope that’s just repeated because people have seen it and, you know, when you’re not thinking about it we all have a tendency to just kind of regurgitate all of the tropes that we’ve seen, including the bad ones. Right?

Oren: Yeah. Um, so we’re almost out of time here, but there is one problematic trope that I see a lot that I think a lot of people just don’t think about, that I think really needs to be dropped forever, which is this idea that a woman cheating on a man is, like, the worst thing she could do to him.

Wes: Euch. Yeah, I’m so over that.

Oren: Because, okay, just to be clear, cheating on your partner if you’ve agreed to be in an exclusive relationship is bad. Like, you shouldn’t do that. But there are definitely way worse things that can happen, and the idea that it’s like THE WORST THING, that it’s some unforgivable crime, it just really plays into this idea of possessiveness and the woman belonging to him. And as you know, it’s just, it’s not good. And it also just seems very silly in a lot of spec fic stories, where again, we’re dealing with life and death situations, and the idea that that’s the worst thing that’s ever gonna happen to you in a story where you have to fight aliens for a living? It’s like, I think there are maybe some worse things out there, you know?

Chris: Mhm. Yeah. One more, Oren. We got a request.

Oren: Oh yeah?

Chris: Talking about kidnapping.

Oren: Oh, good, yes.

Wes: Oh boy.

Chris: Okay. So, sometimes we have, um, romances that involve kidnapping. And this is an extreme form of a very problematic, widespread trope where the… usually in a heterosexual romance, the man is controlling. And it’s usually framed as, like, he knows what’s best for her, right? And so the storyteller will arrange it so that every time he sort of manipulates the woman, he ends up being right. And it ends up being good for her? But she has no choice in the matter. And Twilight is an obvious example of this, where Edward starts, like, stalking Bella, right? Because, you know, “but she’s always in danger and she always needs to be rescued!” because of course Stephanie Meyer’s decided that. Right? But the point is that the woman should always be in control of her own life, and if she wants his help, she can ask for it, and she can make her own decisions. It’s very infantilizing to women to suggest that they can’t make their own decisions and that they need this controlling love interest to make choices for them. So then when we have an extreme form of that, we have [stories where] the man will even go so far as to kidnap her for her own good. The 100 has an instance of this where the character Lincoln kidnaps Octavia. And we find out later he can… like, we think at the time that he can’t speak English, and that’s one of his reasons, but later we find out he totally can speak English.

Oren: Oh, good. Excellent.

Chris: So he could have just, you know, talked to her, but supposedly he kidnaps her because his people will otherwise kill her, but he keeps her chained up or, you know, keeps her prisoner, right?

Oren: Look, it’s very important because of these completely artificial things that the storyteller created that justified this kidnapping, okay. That’s, like, I don’t know what else to tell you. The storyteller had no other option but to create those things, it was just DESTINED.

Wes: [laughs] Oh no.

Oren: Predestined in the storyteller’s mind. So, you know, that’s just how it is. There’s no reason to think you could do anything else.

Chris: Yeah. And, well, Beauty and the Beast is famous for this—that, I feel like, is actually a less frequent version of the trope where I don’t feel like there’s at least any pretense in Beauty and the Beast where he is keeping her prisoner for her own good. It’s clearly for him, right. And you know, I think at this point I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of those, thankfully.

Oren: Right. I mean, Beauty and the Beast is definitely not as bad a version of this trope as others. It’s still gross and I still don’t like it, but I’ve definitely seen worse action movies. One of the reasons that we don’t see this as much, Chris, is that most of—apparently one of the places where this trope is the most common is in action movies. Action movies apparently just do this ALL the time. There’s a YouTube video, I believe, by Pop Culture Detective—but I may be misremembering my YouTube, I will link it in the show notes—that just lists a bunch of action movies that use this trope. More recently, in the spec fic genre, Passengers was a story where this happened, where the Chris Pratt character basically kidnaps this girl that he’s into from her life that she was supposed to have when they get to their colony by waking her up early and like she’s portrayed as the unreasonable one for being mad at him about that?

Chris: Yeah. I mean, in this case, they are heading to a colony, he wakes up early. Waking somebody up means that they will never be able to go back into cryosleep, from what I understand, and actually go to the colony like they had planned. So he basically makes a decision, that changes her entire life, FOR her, right? And then supposedly she gets mad at him, but either she’s being unreasonable, or it’s just an argument that goes long enough to relieve him of his guilt. So that she can then forgive him and we don’t have to think about what he’s done anymore. Very, very bad.

Oren: Well, we covered that, we are definitely out of time. So just, you know, end on that note, kidnapping is not romantic! Don’t do it! Don’t write about how it’s romantic!

[laughter]

Oren: And timely—speaking of which, I need to thank two of our patrons. First is Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of political science and women’s studies. So she can tell you not to do that. And she has a degree, so you should listen to her. And our other patron that I want to thank is Ayman Jaber, an urban fantasy writer and connoisseur of Marvel. Otherwise, we will talk to you next week!

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Comments

  1. Sam Victors

    Yeah, not a fan of the Kidnapping Romance genre, not anymore that is.

    Interesting that you brought up Beauty and the Beast, as I have plans for a retelling version of my own; Beauty is a shepherdess who was rescued from wild wolves from a great talking lion with invincible skin. He safely walks her home, and she in turn promised him that she will give him what he wants, swearing her word on it. The Lion’s request? to marry the Shepherdess. Horrified but unable to break her word, she marries the lion and lives with him in his woodland castle. In their bedroom, Beauty prepares to kill the Lion with a knife she smuggled, but as the sun sets, the Lion sheds his skin, revealing himself to be a handsome young Lord. He tells Beauty that only her loyal love can break the curse on him, placed by his wicked stepsister, and makes Beauty promise to never give away the secret or else the curse will never be lifted. The two fall immediately in love, and Beauty enjoys his nightly visits and waits impatiently for time to finish, but overtime she becomes gradually prideful in her savior role, so much that she breaks her promise to the Lion that he is taken away from her by his sorcerous stepsister. The rest of the story is Beauty going on a Redemption Quest/Penance Journey to rescue her Husband, even in the Underworld where she traversed to reclaim his soul.

    This version of mine borrows some elements from Cupid and Psyche, East to the Sun/West to the Moon (older variations of Beauty and the Beast).

  2. DragonsFury

    Kidnapping isnt the worst thing in the world when it comes to romance. I think kidnapping can create interesting character dynamics as the two character’s ideas clash and they try to reach a stable point. How they reach would make for an interesting romance story.

    • Tifa

      Agency dissonance, lack of respect, one person controlling the other, manipulation, and power imbalances are the biggest problems, but there’s also the whole toxic and super creepy ‘kidnapping = instant love’ idea.

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