Monday, January 14, 2013

True Romance

Given my proclivity for penning romance novels, it might not come as an earth-shattering shock to know I spend a good deal of time thinking about romance and what makes it believable. True romance, if you will. But what is it?

Romance stories often (but not always) feature a Grand Gesture. In a romance novel, the Grand Gesture will probably appear close on the heels of the Moment of Despair. You didn't know a romance novel had so many capitalized components, did you? Now you do. You're welcome.

The Grand Gesture is the moment in which everything is laid on the line. The hero or heroine does something to demonstrate their undying devotion to the other. What tips a Grand Gesture into the category of true romance is when it is exactly perfect for the recipient. Flowers and poetry and moonlight sonatas are great for some people, but not for others. A wonderful Grand Gesture demonstrates real understanding and a connection to the other person.

Oh, look! Yet more jewelry from Sir Lardbottom.
Lovely. Too bad what I really need is a kidney donation.
In Eloisa James' lovely novella Storming the Castle, the heroine, Philippa, expresses a long-held fantasy of being swept up by a knight in shining armor, riding a white horse. Her desire, however, isn't about wanting to play out a story book cliche: "It was only very recently that I realized the fairy story had more to do with escaping Rodney than being carried off by an acrobatic prince," she says. As the hero, Wick, comes to know Philippa and learn her reasons for wanting to escape her old life, he decides to help her. Enter the Grand Gesture. After Philippa thinks she'll never see Wick again, he suddenly appears and... well, I won't spoil the rest. You should read it for yourself.

Another Grand Gesture is delivered by Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. He hunts down and pays off the detestable Wickham so he'll marry Lydia, thereby saving the Bennet family from public disgrace. On the surface, his actions are almost banal. It's all legalities and finances. What makes this a Grand Gesture is the motivation for his behavior. We see over the course of the novel how Darcy generally disdains the Bennet family. Why does he pull them out of the fire? Darcy does this for Elizabeth, to save her from the scandal and the estrangement from Lydia that would arise from the younger sister's elopement. He knows how important Elizabeth's family is to her, how devastated she would be by Lydia's ruin, and he can't bear the thought of her enduring such pain.

Children playing on a see-saw, aka The Devil's Fulcrum
This is the heart of true romance. It might be a knight charging in on a white destrier, or it might be forcing a rogue to sign on the dotted line and marry your beloved's sister. The gestures are wildly different, but they both arise from truly knowing and understanding the loved one.

In my own life, I have been on the receiving end of a Grand Gesture that might strike others as absurd, but meant the world to me. On a particular date with Mr. B, he and I went to a park for a stroll. There was a playground nearby, and I suggested we play on the see-saws I remembered as being there. We walked over, only to discover the see-saws had been removed. I was disappointed, but we went on about our date. A week or so later, Mr. B invited me to his house. He led me into the back yard to unveil a surprise: He'd built an adult-sized see-saw in his yard. For me. It was perfect. It wouldn't be right for lots of other women, but it was exactly right for me. To this day, I'm the only woman I know who has been wooed with playground equipment. But it's the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me. Right then, I knew that a man who would build me a see-saw was a man I had to hang onto.

What are some of your favorite examples of Grand Gestures from books or movies? How about a real-life example of true romance? Share in the comments!

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