Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Combined Problem

This one stems from my last two entries.  It's about something I think I'd like to write but don't know if I really want to, and it's theoretically about romance - okay, it'll be about romance if I write it, but it doesn't have to be.

I'm talking about arranged marriages.  (In fiction.  In real life it's something I have trouble with, but that's neither here nor there.)

This is a trope I've worked with before, in two different books.  I wanted to make it part of the main characters' pasts in a way that would get them to realize they wanted it to happen, despite the issues it had caused way back when.  It was . . . kind of awkward in both stories, and looking back, it seems out of place.  When I started to consider an idea I dug out of my file that also has this element, I gave it some heavy thought and wondered:

Is this really something I want to do?

I don't like the idea of forcing characters together.  Despite joking about the idea in my last entry, I think that sort of thing is both bad for the story and has far too many unfortunate implications.  But at the same time, an arranged marriage is a remarkable plot device for all kinds of shenanigans, romantic and otherwise.  There's a lot you can do with it.  As I write this, I'm considering using it to fuel an escape plot.  So, like most story tropes, it's not something we writers should dismiss out of hand.

One of the main issues I'm having with the arranged marriage thing is that it can come off as contrived.  I realized this when I was trying to see how the story idea could form a plot - everything I came up with, there were ways to make it happen without the arranged marriage, and those ways often made more sense and were less likely to make the people involved seem like enormous jerks.  To make it work, I think it would need to be a cultural or legal thing, something with precedence, rather than just a clause someone puts into a contract to fuel later romantic tension.

Of course, someone could throw it into the contract just because they're manipulative and/or evil.  I did think of that.  I don't know if I'd go with it, unless the main antagonist was in for some serious mustache-twirling.

I think the main thing to ensure with this trope is that the characters involved in the potential marriage are the ones who determine how things play out.  Whether they find a way to break the arrangement, decide that they'll go through with it for one good reason or another, or find a third option, the result should come from them.  A favorite line of mine from Writing Excuses is "your protagonist must protag", and that's especially true with this trope.  If there's an arranged marriage involved, no one who's part of it should go passively along with it.

Unless it's part of their own greater and more devious plot.  I'm okay with that.

Next week: A Combined Problem, Part 2.


  1. If something is important to world building, character building or plot, then it should be included. But if it is just there to be there for the idea of it, it's unnecessary and should be taken out. Although now, I'm getting some great plot bunnies dancing around :)

    1. That's a really good way to think about it. Problematic or not, if it's what a story requires, it needs to be there. Thanks.

      And I'm glad to help provide some inspiration. ^_^