Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Friends or Lovers? (Can We Say Lovers On This Blog?)

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I’m a little hesitant to bring this up, because I don’t know if I’ll be able to communicate my thoughts properly in a blog. But I want to try.

I watch a television show (a cop show that shall remain nameless) where the two main characters are male and female. They’ve been described as “best friends,” “extremely close,” and “emotionally dependent on each other.” However, it’s never been romantic. Every once in a while we see the protectiveness and deep caring they have for each other and that gets all the online boards buzzing about whether there’s more between them than they are admitting.

So I had an idea for a book that had two best friends as the lead characters, but I was going to keep them as best friends. No romance. Yet, when I was talking to another friend of mine, she gave me several reasons why I can’t do that. Here’s sort of how the conversation went.

“So I’m thinking of making my new novel about a guy and a girl who are best friends that get involved in an international cover-up. But they’re just friends. No romance.”

“But they get romantic later on in the book, right?”

“No, no romance at all. Just friends.”

(snort of laughter) “There’s no such thing as just friends. Someone always feels more. And besides, it’s an LDS fiction book. The romance is a given. Wanting to see how they get together is what we read for! And wouldn’t you feel bad since all your other books had romance in them? You’d be cheating your readers.”

So as I thought about her comments, it all boiled down to three things.

1. From my previous novels, my readers apparently have an expectation of romance with the suspense. They might feel cheated if I don’t write a romance in.

2. There is a perception that LDS fiction usually has the guy and the girl getting together in the end of the book or series. She felt that wanting to see how the characters got together was a main motivation for readers. There’s never really an “if” in LDS fiction because it’s a given. (Is that true? I was honestly trying to think of an LDS fiction book where the two main characters didn’t get together or have a hint of romance. I couldn’t come up with one that I’d read recently. Can you think of one?) Do you agree that the romantic element is a main motivation for LDS readers?

3. It won’t be realistic because single men and women can’t truly just be friends. Some claim that they can, others say it’s impossible. But it can be difficult to write without writing an undercurrent of more than friends. But do you want to write an undercurrent of more than friends because that’s what people are reading for and wondering about? It would keep them turning pages, but then it might make them mad when there’s no payoff in the end and they’re still just friends.

So, with TV it’s all about the ratings and the buzz. The ‘are they more than friends’ mentality keeps people (women, mostly) tuning in week after week to see if there are any more “moments” that could be construed as more. (I’m sure the majority of male fans are just tuning in for the cop part of the show.) But with a book, it’s a different story. Sort of. Don’t you want your readers to wonder about your characters and keep turning pages to see what’s going to happen with the main characters? Or, because of previous expectations, is it wrong to have no romance when you’ve written romance in before? Is love the essential element in making a good story?

Love makes the world go ‘round, but is romantic love the one needed thing in an LDS fiction book? And do readers expect that? Is my best friends book doomed before I start it because they're only friends and not lovers? (Can I say lover on this blog? If I can't just cover your eyes and pretend you didn't read that part.)

Friends vs. *whispers* Lovers (or more than friends for our gentle readers.) In a compelling story, does it really matter?


At 11/12/2009 11:58 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

I think if you had a male-female best friend situation, you would absolutely delight some readers (who would find it refreshing to read a book that didn't follow the expected pattern) and disappoint others (who expect romance and feel cheated if it isn't there).

I think there is an expectation in the LDS market that a book will include romance, and sometimes this expectation frustrates me. Not every male-female relationship needs to end in romance by the end of the book.

At 11/12/2009 12:04 PM, Blogger Heather Moore said...

Yes, but I think you would need the characters to explore the romance avenue, and then it doesn't have to click, so they stay best friends.

This angle reminds me of recent books/movies that do this: The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale, and the movie: P.S. I Love You.

So it is definitely possible. And in the above book/movie, the romance angle is explored (in both, a simple kiss tells them there are no sparks afterall), then the characters realize the "lover" part isn't there and they stay best friends.

At 11/12/2009 12:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sienfeld and Eliane. Best friends. They talked about a possible relationship. Teased the viewer about it. Then moved on to being best friends. And everyone enjoyed watching Sienfeld advise Elaine about her boyfriends. And Eline advise Sienfeld about his girlfriends. And then there was Kramer. What do you tease him about?

You could tease the reader with some very fun, or even funny scenes about how this isn't a romantic relationship. The readers who would enjoy the "just friends" would read on. And the readers who are looking for "something more" would do just that. Keep looking for something more. And when they got to the end of your novel, they'd realize that you warned them this was just about friends, but they would go back, read it again, looking for something, anything that would prove their "you just can't be friends" theory.

Everyone wins.

PS: The phrase is "romantic interest". Remember, we're professionals here. Lovers is just so soap operaish. Stick with romantic interest. Then you never have to apologize.

At 11/12/2009 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Indiana Jones and the romantic interest. They teased the viewer with that funny dress scene when she was tied up and facing the gestapo character and Indy was trying to rescue her. And she fell into his arms in the middle of the snake pit. And she kissed all his aches and pains, including the one on his nose. And it was all in fun. And everyone got the idea that they were thrown together in an adventure with some fun, and very funny romantic interest possibilites thrown about, but they were, for the most part, partners in the adventure.

Don't be such a worry wart. Write a great adventure. Throw in some fun moments that allude to the romantic interest that a man or woman may entertain, but leave it at that, entertaining, and leave all the heavy "does he love me" stuff for a romance.

Write an adventure novel! A really great one.

And stop taking so much advice from these woman romance authors. You already know what they're going to say. So give them their wish list, but only a whisper of that list, a shadow of romance, a little hint here and there. And do the adventure like no one has ever done one.

At 11/12/2009 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that you should write the book you want to write. If writers--LDS, national, or otherwise--are locked into writing only one kind of story, their writing will become predictable. They will never take risks or grow. This reminds me of the past debates on what constitutes "literary" fiction.

Literary fiction takes risks. It experiments with point of view, tense, plot structure, controversial social issues, etc. It doesn't necessarily adhere to traditional, linear narrative progression. And it is rarely, if ever, predictable.

So what am I saying? I think that, if a love story is crucial to the story you want to tell, write it. But if the story percolating in that head of yours calls for the two protagonists to remain friends, don't force a romance where there is none. Your story will suffer.

In the national market, with the exception of Harlequin and other romance-fiction authors, nobody cracks open a book with the expectation that there will be a happy love story. Sometimes there is. But sometimes there's a fable, probing character study, or action-packed intrigue instead. Other times, there are strange, protean narratives that take major risks and literary licenses, thus prompting literature to evolve.

So, long story short: if you're feeling trapped by the romance-driven conventions of your niche, maybe that's a sign that it's time to try something new. Even if it never sees the light of day, breaking out of an established mold can only be liberating to any writer!

At 11/12/2009 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An addendum to my previous post ("I think that you should write the book you want to write..."):

Think of it this way: history's great writers rarely, if ever, played it safe. So get down with your Platonic self, Julie. ;)

At 11/12/2009 12:57 PM, Blogger Don said...

I don't think you could put a single man and a single woman in a close, even intimate relationship without any romance whatsoever. The tension would be there.

I think you could possibly get away with the guy and the girl NOT being together at the end if you had a very good reason for them to stay "just friends," but to deny romantic interest altogether would, for me, fall flat.

At 11/12/2009 1:24 PM, Blogger T.J. said...

Ok, so many people say that a guy or girl can't be friends. And if they are, the guy is more than likely (well, you know.) I'm not (you know) but I have had plenty of female friends that I'm just friends with. It's taboo in 21st century. Oh wait. No, that's not the taboo. There was a television about a group of 6 friends (that I'll not name) and how they were all just really good friends. I'm a guy who thinks that the two characters on the detective show will get together because that's what people want. But sometimes, it's nice to read a book that surprises you or see a movie where the guy and girl don't end up together. I said that and someone said name one. I can quickly name three: One with Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt, one with Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and one with I believe Julia Roberts and someone's wedding. People still like them i thought.

At 11/12/2009 1:24 PM, Blogger Anna Buttimore said...

Howabout if one of them is very firmly LDS, and determined only to marry in the Temple, and the other one isn't. Then all your LDS readers could know that there couldn't or shouldn't be any romance. At least, not until the sequel when he gets baptised...

Alternatively, leave it in the lap of your editor. Write it with no romance, the way you want it. And if your editor then insists you put the romance in, a little tweak of the final chapter might suffice. After all, editors know what sells, and might want to keep romance in to play it safe.

At 11/12/2009 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's all kinds of advice all over here so I won't add a ton. I just think you should write the story you want to write. Critique groups and readers are great for telling you if it works or not. The main thing should be getting excited about a story. If you feel strongly about it, write it. Worst case scenario is that you'll have edits, and what writer doesn't?

At 11/12/2009 2:16 PM, Anonymous Jordan McCollum said...

I just read a great book where the MCs were best friends (and, oddly enough, partners on the police force). The guy went through a tough time, slept with the girl and absolutely ruined their friendship. (I liked the book.)

And as Anon pointed out, having them have other love interests would preclude them from having to be interested in one another. (And actually, Jerry and Elaine's characters back story was that they had dated, so they didn't have to go there now—another alternative.)

I don't expect every LDS fiction book I pick up to have a romance. But then, I do read a lot of LDS romantic suspense—and those I do expect to have a romance. Make sure the book is categorized correctly. (Most books do have a romantic subplot, but it's not the main focus of the story.)

(Also note: on TV shows, the will they/won't they aspect keeps readers tuning in. If they actually get together (like Ross and Rachel, another of Anon's examples), ratings go down until they break up.)

At 11/12/2009 2:49 PM, Blogger Cluttered Brain said...

I would totally read a book about a best friend boy/girl friendship. If it is written well who cares if they never fall in love. You might want to tease the reader a little with a possibility, but then again maybe not. If it is well written I don't think the reader will mind.
I bring up examples:
1.Harry and Hermione (even though I wanted them together they never did get together)
2. Your cop show buds (I think I know the one you are talking about.)
3.My brain is giving me brain farts at the moment when it comes to LDS fiction, but like I said if you have a good plot, people will read it. I say, GO FOR IT!

At 11/12/2009 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's my two sense worth: I work at Seagull. I hear a lot of opinions about a lot of books and people are always telling us what kinds of books they want like the employees of Seagull have a say in the matter. :) If a customer loves or hates something about a book, I get to hear about it. The fact of the matter is, more women buy books than men, and most of the women want at least some romance in their book. That being said, I've definitely noticed lately an increase in customers who do not want a book with romance, or who want a book with a tiny bit of romance (but the plot isn't focused on it). I also have A LOT of moms coming in wanting to buy books for their teenagers that are exciting and riviting but have no romance in them.

I like the idea people have been suggesting of having the characters explore a romantic relationship but decide against it, and I also think readers would be okay if the characters were best friends and perhaps dating other people at the time. I personally would love a romance between the two (because I will always be a romantic at heart) but I think people would still be totally okay if the two didn't end up together in the end. :) It would definitely be something new and fresh in the market!

If I'm remembering correctly, I believe Shadow Hunter had a minimum of romance in it. Altered State also had a limited amount of romance in it, but the main characters were still married. Both those books were popular with customers.

Hope that all made sense...

At 11/12/2009 5:20 PM, Blogger Sariah Wilson said...

Without reading any of the comments yet (but I will, because I find this a fascinating question), and assuming you're talking about Law & Order SVU - here's my two cents.

I read for the romance. I'm not interested in a friendship between two people or how it develops. That's more like the women's fiction category to me. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a straight suspense novel or women's fiction, but for me personally (and taking into account that I write and read romance constantly), I would be way mad about a book where I had an expectation of a romance and it never delivered (or had one of those she loves herself best and doesn't need a man kind of endings. Blah. Blah, I say!)

With your questions:

1. You may have an audience expectation that may be disappointed. But perhaps consider that there are others who read just for your suspense and may not like the romance parts of it. This is a valid consideration, but I don't suppose you'll really know until you try (I'm assuming angry letters will be coming if lots of people are upset about it).

2. If the biggest readership for LDS fiction is woman 30+, it is reasonable to assume that many of those readers want to read a book that has romance in it (romance currently dominating the national market at 55% of all fiction sales). It may be more of a playing to your audience than something that has to be included.

3. I think single men and women can be friends. I might have more of a problem with the scenario in question if one of the people were married (and LDS). I would hate to think that a married man's best friend was a woman other than his wife.

If you are talking about SVU, the undercurrent is not the reason I watch. I never want Benson and Stabler together. When he was broken up from his wife, I still didn't want them together. They are partners, and that's how I like them. I like the show because of the twists and turns, and I love all the characters on it (I'm going to be so sad when they finally force Richard Belzer (Munch) to retire).

There's also nothing wrong with moving into a purely suspense book if that's what you want to write and what moves you.

At 11/12/2009 5:30 PM, Blogger Sariah Wilson said...

Oh, I forgot to add, you could also alter your name a little bit. Instead of Julie Coulter Bellon, you could be Julie Bellon, one being used for romantic suspense and the other for just straight suspense - that would help your audience to know what was what and still keep something close to your brand name.

At 11/12/2009 9:19 PM, Blogger Melanie Jacobson said...

I don't expect it just because it's LDS fiction, but I love a romantic element and I'm always bummed when it doesn't pan out, LDS or not. And yeah, I kind of do think it's inevitable when you have a male an female of a smilar age spending lots of time together so I don't think I'd bellieve it if they didn't get together.

At 11/12/2009 10:43 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I like what everyone else has said. If it's not written or marketed as a romantic suspense, no one should be expecting a romance.

On the other hand, you'll get some people expecting one regardless.

I had several close guy friends in high school, and to this day, one girl I know laughs at that, saying, "I can't believe you STILL think they were just friends."

Um, yeah. Sorry. They were. One of them at the time was dating a good friend of mine and MARRIED her. (Call me crazy, but I think that's a pretty good indication he had no feelings for me.) There were lots of other examples. We had a big group of guys and girls that hung out together. I know there were some crushes among the group, but not everyone crushed on everyone, for Pete's sake. Some of us really were just great friends.

At 11/12/2009 11:28 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Wow! I step away from the computer for a bit and come back to really amazing comments. I love what you all had to say. There are such differing opinions, yet the over-riding sentiment seems to be just write a compelling story (and maybe stop worrying so much). And anon, thank you for saying "romantic interest." I will remember that one for sure.

I just want to say I really appreciate everyone weighing in on this issue. It's given me a lot to think about with the things that you've said. So, thanks again!

(Annette, I saw this quote from Oscar Wilde right after I read your comment. Very very interesting. Haha.)

"Between men and women, there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship." -Oscar Wilde, writer (1854-1900)

At 11/14/2009 9:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could do it, but you would have to be very careful (skillful) because THAT is a hard sell.

Depending on the week, I might or might not believe Elliott and Olivia are "just" friends.

Anyhoo, read Shannon Hale's The Actor and the Housewife for a good (IMO) how-NOT-to guide. She tried it and, IMO, failed miserably. If you read it and disagree, then I guess it's a decent how-to guide.

Again, I think it would take great skill to do this and even then, it might not be believable on its face.

At 11/15/2009 12:57 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

1. I think you've become synonomous romantic suspense in the LDS market. Your readers will expect it and most likely be dissappointed if there's no romance.

2. Personally, I wouldn't mind if there was no romance. Okay, well maybe a tiny bit, but it doesn't have to be between the two of them.

3. I like the idea of changing your name for a straight suspense—maybe J. Coulter?

4. Maybe you could have one of them be abducted by aliens and come back anatomically changed in some way—that would be a good reason for no romance, right?

5. When are you going to put a vampire or werewolf in one of your books?

At 11/16/2009 7:45 PM, Anonymous mean aunt said...

Why not make them cousins? Then the reader would know up front not to expect anything and you could throw in the grandma as a bonus.


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