A Tollbooth classic
When the editor told me she wanted me to rewrite the novel and ramp up the romance, I quailed. “We love romance,” she wrote, “The drama, the uncertainty.”
Uncertainty. She’d really caught the shaky essence of new love, but I didn’t have a clue how to capture it. I know how to write action and adventure, how to keep the obstacles coming until the hero fights the final battle. But romantic uncertainty? How would I even plot that beyond Boy Meets Girl (or Guy)? Wasn’t it just a lot of angst and neurotic, teary, self-talk?
When in doubt, I read. And several YA romances later, I realized that romance is just the Hero’s Journey from inside the heart.
The hero/protagonist lives in her Ordinary World untouched by love, when one day, bam! She meets The Guy or The Gal. She doesn’t expect to meet anyone, and she’s attracted to them, but this feeling is like entering a new world.
It’s her Call to Adventure, but she’s not sure about taking it, because she’s so surprised and he/she isn’t what she expected. She’s thrown off balance, because she thinks she knows the person she wants, but now she’s met someone who’s completely different.
So she pulls back and Refuses the Call. But he or she keeps talking to her and she’s tempted to let herself feel something. So she Crosses the Threshold into vulnerability and love.
It is a time of Tests, Allies and Enemies.
She doesn’t trust how she feels and she doesn’t know if they feel the way she does. There are circumstances and personal histories, exes and rivals she doesn’t know about. She’s afraid they might be involved with someone else, and she wants to protect herself, because she doesn’t want to be humiliated and can’t bear being hurt.
But at the same time, she senses they may understand her in a way that no one else ever has ever. And she lets herself fantasize about what things could be like, because love is Arthur’s sword, the Holy Grail, the kingdom’s crown.
She’s lost in this new land, trying hard to navigate, and looking for clues in every gesture, how close he or she leans in to her, if they pull away. Her girlfriends weigh in on everything he or she does, and like courtiers to the heir apparent, not all of them have her best interests in mind.
Then a moment appears when something is definitely happening and she can sense it. The relationship is about to change and she’s ready to take a chance and lay her heart completely bare. LIke a deep symbolic Cave, she approaches, knowing the danger of getting her heart broken. She’s ready to kiss this person, even if they make no move to kiss her.
But when that kiss doesn’t come, because something incredibly horrible comes between them, she pulls back. Love has turned into an Ordeal.
She doesn’t want to get hurt like the last time. She can’t count on this other person, what they’ll do or won’t do. She’s not even sure that they’re the person she thought they were.
Fight or flight. She has to choose.
And when she does choose love, when she fights for it, she Seizes the Sword and claims their love. She is magically transformed and forever changed. She understands love in ways she never did before.