In honor of Valentine’s Day, let’s talk about relationships.
In particular, let’s talk about relationships in fiction, and walking that tightrope of having romantic tension between characters without giving in to the inevitable relationship too early or too late.
Most stories have at least a touch of romance in them (either to make them more complete or more marketable, depending upon how cynical you are), and most of the time it runs along the lines of: boy meets girl, boy and girl flirt, boy loses girl, boy ends up with girl. If they end up together too soon, the romantic tension and suspense of will-they-or-won’t-they disappears, and suddenly story loses its wind. For example*, in The Office, for the first three seasons there is the suspense of whether or not Jim and Pam will get together. Then they do, and suddenly the writers were without a significant subplot. So much of the first three seasons was the story of Jim and Pam, that until this seventh season, it has seemed that the writers have been floundering around for substitutes. And any fan will tell you that it’s obvious; the show went downhill.
Some writers try to combat this by keeping the suspense going forever. For example, since episode 1 of Bones, it has been obvious that Booth and Bones belong together. At first, it was enjoyable to see them flirting without realizing they were flirting. But now it is season 6, and they still aren’t together. Each episode has the potential for putting them together, and each one ends with them still apart. The fans are getting antsy. All the forums are saying they only keep watching it to see when they will end up together, and that’s the reason I keep watching. Pretty soon, people are going to give up.
There is a balance between prolonging to romantic tension long enough to keep the story going, and resolving it soon enough to satisfy the reader or audience, and finding it is key to writing a successful fictional romance.
*This isn’t the best example because I don’t think they got together too soon. If the writers had kept them separate any longer, fans would have become dissatisfied like with Bones. However, it does show that once the romantic storyline is resolved, the story might do better to end.