It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down

I’ll assume that most of our readership has either seen the most recent episode of The 100, or doesn’t watch the show at all.  So if you did see it, you know that any slight hints of romance that might have been blossoming between Clarke and Lexa have now been pretty well stomped into the mud.

Pictured: The RMS Clexa

Pictured: The RMS Clexa

What’s interesting to me is how quickly people in the fandom started shipping the two of them.  Obviously the writers have decided to go in a different direction, but until Lexa decided to stab Clarke in the back, there were a fair number of people who totally wanted them together.  This despite the fact that, as S constantly reminds anyone who will listen, Clarke had to kill her beloved Finn because of Lexa.

I find it fascinating because, as someone who has written romantic comedies before, and will probably write more in the future, I try to think carefully about how to set up a romance.  What can I do with two characters so that the reader will think, “Oh, I hope those two end up getting it on”?

Now, obviously fanboys and fangirls can be a bit insane.  If a fandom gets large enough, eventually every possible pairing in the story will be shipped by someone, somewhere.  So to a certain extent, this problem takes care of itself.  But as a writer, I want to make sure that any romantic relationship in my story is properly set up, just the same as I would with any major plot development.  I don’t want to suddenly have characters getting together out of nowhere (like Clarke and Lexa did, if I may say so).  So here are a few possible techniques:

Surprising, yet Obvious
You set up the characters as clearly suited for each other, though with some sadly immovable obstacle to their love.  A good example is Mr. Knightley in Jane Austen’s Emma.  He’s so clearly the right person for Emma, but when you first read it, you assume they can’t get together, since he’s older and more of a avuncular figure.  When Emma suddenly realizes that she doesn’t see him that way at all, there’s no more obstacle to their getting together, and they do.  It’s only at that moment, when that switch flips in Emma’s head, that the reader can look back and realize it was all being set up from the beginning.

Promoted from the Friend Zone
This is similar, but you often see it in episodic series of novels or on TV.  One character is the loyal sidekick to the other, and he (or she) is just so gosh-darn helpful and dependable, that the reader inevitably starts thinking, “Gee, what would it be like if they started dating?”  Probably the best example I can think of is Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter books.  Of course, Ron’s relationship with Hermione also shows the potential pitfall of this sort of set-up: once you’ve spent book after book with two people being portrayed as just being friends, with nothing more between them, it starts to look as if there’s no chemistry there at all.  Then, when they do eventually get together, you leave the readers scratching their heads and muttering, “No, she’s obviously more suited to Harry.  Duh.”

The Old, Comfy Slipper
Again, a sort of variation on the two types above.  Two characters spend years and years together, obviously caring about each other, and settling into an almost quasi-married relationship.  If you watch Downton Abbey (and you should), you’ll recognize this as what happened with Mr. Carson the butler and Mrs. Hughes.  S and I just ran across another great example of this with Alexandra and Carl in Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!, which was the book we read for S’s book club this month.

Best of Enemies
As a friend of ours often remarks, hatred can be an attractive force just like love.  One of the best ways to set up a future relationship is by having the two characters at each other’s throats.  The classic example of that is Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.  The more they bicker, the more the reader wonders if they aren’t just doing it to hide their TRUE feelings.  This is actually one of the easier ones to pull off, as a writer, since alert readers can see where the story is going, and start actively rooting for the pair to hook up.

Lightning Strike
This is the most difficult of all, because it’s basically the option where you don’t set it up at all.  No one ever did this quite so well as Shakespeare did in Romeo and Juliet.  If you see a good production, you literally get to see two people fall in love almost instantly (the 1996 Baz Luhrmann movie version, though wanting in other respects, does a phenomenal job of showing the lightning strike between Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes).

I’m not sure which of these the writers of The 100 were going for with Clarke and Lexa.  Best of Enemies, perhaps?  Or Lightning Strike?  But it looks like it doesn’t really matter anymore, since that ship has now sailed, sunk, and sits at the bottom of the ocean.

J

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