Monday, March 30, 2009

Love Stories: Forbidden Love

Okay, I'll admit it. I write love stories. Sure, there are a lot of other elements to my books, but there's always some kind of relationship at the center. So I thought I'd try to look all smart and talk a little about what I've learned from all these books I've written.

I know we all want to think our ideas are the most unique things in the entire world, but there's really only a few kinds of "love stories" out there: the Forbidden, the Reluctant, the Blind, the Deception, the "Traditional." (Huh, the five I'll be covering this week, go figure.)

You can have elements of several in your book, but one will usually dominate. And don't get depressed if these sound familiar to something you've written. These "formulas" have been used for centuries. For some reason, they tug at the human heart—just what you want in a sappy dappy love story. (NOTE: I'm focusing primarily on the romantic element, though every love story has more going on around it.)

So, let's get this show on the road:

Forbidden Love
The Formula: Guy meets girl (or vise versa). Guy can't have girl because outside force forbids it. They get together anyway—drama unfolds in the form of guilt/deception/discovery/punishment. In the end, they either die for their love or they figure out how to be together and they are finally able to love each other freely.

What is it about forbidden love that always has us rooting for the thwarted couple? Really, we know they aren't allowed to be together—that they are going against family wishes, nature, society, or whatever it may be in that particular book. They are being irrational and reckless. It's WRONG...then why is it so right? Do we all, on some level, feel like "love" is made stronger when people forsake their very identity for it? Do we want love to triumph over everything because it so very often doesn't?

Let's jump a looong way back—Romeo & Juliet. I know: it's really a tragedy, they're just horny emo teenagers, blah blah blah. BUT. You wish they were able to stay together, don't you? You know you do. Deep in your gut you just can't help it. Save a few people (like, maybe Ebenezer Scrooge), I'm willing to bet no one was yelling in The Globe, "Juliet, you fool! Pick Paris! Pick Paris!" (I can see the "Team Paris" t-shirts now.)

Fast forward to the ultimate forbidden love on the shelves right now—Twilight. Um, holy crap, it's Romeo and Juliet with a pretty bow ending! I know: it's really a tragedy, they're just horny emo teenagers (okay, one of them is ninety...but work with me here), blah blah blah. BUT. You still want Bella and Edward together—against all your good sense you STILL WANT IT. Ack!

What? The formula STILL works? You bet it does. Whether you like this kind of love story or not—this story sells. A lot, apparently. Everyone likes a good "WHY CAN'T THEY JUST BE TOGETHER?" book. (Alright, that might just be girls.) And if you write love stories, you better bet you'll be using this one at some point.

I did—Allure was my forbidden love story. Keira Connelly falls for a dragon outside of her Clan. They want to be together; they can't. She tries to accept her betrothed; she can't. She finally gives up and picks Rune—abandons her whole life at the risk of death. Things work out after a while. It totally works. I love that story and so did the people who read it (despite it not being polished enough).

So, welcome to the formula. What can you do as a writer to make this not sound like half the books on the shelves? It's all about the characters and world—that "fresh spin" thing. A forbidden love can unravel in so many ways based on the unique characters that fall in love and the world around them. Um, hence the overwhelming success of a vamp falling for his "prey."

Is your MC looking for the forbidden aspect to rebel? Or is your MC a rule abider taken off guard? Does the love interest feel guilty for making your MC risk so much? Or is the love interest reckless and flauting his or her affection? The answers to those question swing the story in vastly different directions, as do all the other things you can bring to a book. Time, place, society, etc. It's about what you can bring to the formula—the new life you can breathe into it.

Sigh, those poor forbidden couples. Oh, the million-dollar angst.


  1. Dude, I totally wanted Romeo and Juliet to break up. Or die.

    And I was so completely Team Jacob.

    Looks like I'm not one for forbidden love...except Allure, which totally had me suckered ; ) Go you! You beat out Shakespeare AND Meyer!

  2. Lol, Ebenezer. You're exactly why I made sure to qualify my statements.

    I'm not much of a "forbidden love" person either, but I think it's the frustration with the whole idea that makes this form compelling...sometimes downright addicting.

  3. The forbidden love thing works for me when it is obvious that the relationship is a good one and it is the outside forces that are clearly flawed. For instance if Edward hadn't been such a gentleman and if he had a little nip of Bella every now and then - we wouldn't have rooted for him. I stopped rooting for Jacob wen he forced himself on Bella (which I think was appalling) - and it didn't matter what he did after that I just didn't want Bella to go anywhere near him.

    Allure kicked butt on the forbidden love thing because Rune was the more heroic character. Giving characters flaws makes them more believable but giving them strength of character and ideals makes the reader root for them all the way through their adversity.

  4. Oh you guys are going to give me a complex! I'm starting to miss Allure, sniff.

    Janey, you're exactly right. The "outside forces" have to be clearly flawed for it to work best. And the couple has to be redeemable in some respect.

  5. Soooo did not want Bella and Edward together. Garsh.

    I'm planning a blog post on the forbidden love relationship theme I have seen developing...when I will post this blog, I do not know.

  6. Personal opinion – I don’t think it matters so much about the forbidden love (that concept works, obviously) as it is about the other plot in the book. R&J is not a good example because it’s a play – not a book – so therefore, while we have the extenuating family drama, it runs along a basic single romantic plotline.

    Twilight is not a good example either in the fact that her secondary plotline was brought in WAY TOO LATE. It would have made a much interesting book if the “other” vamps were there from the beginning. It would have helped to build the tension.

    But let’s use it as an example for now. Without that secondary plot the first half of the book is about B & E getting together. Once they’re together – there’s nowhere to go. The book essentially ends. There is no more angst or tension. Then she used a second plot and created a second book tacked on to the end.

    A good romance will always have a second plot of some kind that is the propelling factor of the book. The romance actually takes a secondary role (even if it’s primarily written about) to that plot.

  7. Heather, you are totally right. A second plot it essential in every romance. Of course I used some that came to mind first, but there are lots of "forbidden love" stories out there that are "better" examples of the formula.

    And that's also where you can make your book different from the standard form. Use a new, compelling second plot.

  8. Fantastic post! I certainly have an element of this in my two books. I write love stories, too. Hate to admit it, but I do.


    I look forward to your future posts on this!

  9. I'm all about forbidden love. At least when it comes to reading. When it comes to writing it tends to be more about my characters finding the emotional strength to allow themselves to fall in love. I know it's cheesy, but I love it. My first book actually only has a hint of romance. There's not even a kiss in it, but the situations are romantic. My second book has my MC kissing more than one guy.

  10. Candice, no kissing? I think my heart just stopped. lol. How in the heck? My sappy brain is baffled.

  11. My MC has to betray her love to save the world. Does that make it forbidden? I like formulas in books. A+B=C=awesome book. Bring on more formulas. I need a cheat sheet.

  12. Jessie, I don't think that plays into "forbidden." Though it sounds quite compelling. I think it might fit one of the others:) Stay tuned...

  13. Mm mm, I love me some good forbidden love. :)

    Well . . . not in real life, not for me. *eyes shift around awkwardly*

    Ah, you know what I mean.

  14. Haha! I know it's kind of crazy, but my first book is my family's favorite (including my two sappy sisters). Kasie on the other hand loves my second book.

  15. The only redeeming quality to the book is that is has the ring of truth, but that truth lies more in the fact that there actually are relationships like these than that such a relationship could turn out happily ever after.

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