Monday, October 15, 2012

Sustaining Passion

Last week, Lisa blogged about the bio-chemical aspects of love, telling readers that being in love is similar to a drug high. Well, if new love is like cocaine, what’s “old” love like? Quaaludes? Valium? Shock therapy?
I’ve been reading Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age by Pamela Haag who posits that, after the honeymoon, most marriages fall into the “low-conflict, low-stress unhappy marriage.” In the face of mortgages, kids, careers, and carpools, intimacy recedes like the Red Sea before Moses and passion fizzles out.

No wonder women read so much romance and, my personal favorite, romantic suspense (RS). We’re starved for a “love high.” But, how does the romance author keep her fictional couples madly, passionately in love in a multi-book series?

I’ve identified three basic models with some overlap. There are probably more, I’ll depend on you to tell me, but here’s my shot:

Keep ‘em Danger – There is nothing like the rush of danger to spark passion. Roarke and Eve Dallas (J.D. Robb) epitomize this model. Eve has a dangerous job, Roarke helps out and they both carry a lot of angsty-baggage which cranks up the flame.

The Crisis of the Uncommitted – Can’t fully commit to the relationship, can’t completely quit. Breaking-up to make-up. My R8 chums turned me on to a few good ones in this category Dr. Temperance Brennan and her detective boyfriend Andrew Ryan (Kathy Reich);  Boston-based PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro (Dennis Lehane).

Marriagis Perfectis – Pam Haag describes most marriages as melancholy and this model is the reason why. In “marriagis perfectis” (not a real Latin word) the committed couple deal with mortgages-careers-carpools-kids and still have energy and desire for the bedroom. (See? Gotta be fiction.) They’re best friends having a torrid love affair. Where to begin? Jesse Stone and his gal Susan (Robert Parker); Sheriff Joanna Brady and Butch (J.A. Jance); Wimsey and Harriet Vane (Dorothy L Sayers), and Nick and Nora (Dashiell Hammett).

How do you keep passion burning after the first book? Share it here!


  1. Hi Shellie!

    I read a lot of continuing relationship series in the paranormal romance/urban fantasy vein. A lot of those fall into your first category - keep the h/h in danger.

    What I like about this category is that the danger keeps the h/h working together. They have to communicate in order to triumph over the big-bad. Communication is a huge part of intimacy. The more the couple communicates with each other, presumably the more connected they feel. The more connected they feel, the more likely they are to trust. The more they trust, the more apt they are to...keep communicating.

    A lot of times the couples in these series get into trouble when they stop communicating - they want to protect their partner from something, they have a secret they want/need to keep, etc. Resolving that issue always seems to involve re-opening the lines of communication.

  2. Shellie, I LURVE a series where the h/h are still working out their relationship, book after book. One of the many reasons I love it is the danger or mystery confronting them really puts life into perspective for them--and thereby for us, too. What's more important than our relationships? That includes all kinds, like mother/daugter, best friends, etc, but the importance of relationships in real life really comes through loud and clear when a romantically involved h/h keep working on being together over several books. Love it!

  3. Dear Keely,

    You're so right about the link the between intimacy and communication. Once one of the partners starts clamming up, the whole couple is in trouble. I read Hallie Ephron's "Never Tell a Lie" this summer and this lack of communication was at the heart of the couple's unravelling--uh, that and crazy woman, who wanted the heroine's husband for her own.

    Yep, folks, you heard it hear. Share your skeletons and all your closets with your soul mate or it will come back to haunt you.

  4. Hey Nichole,

    True, danger does put it in perspective, but it can also warp the potential stability of the relationship. In Sandra Bullock's 1994 movie "Speed" with Keanu Reeves, the h/h get together on a speeding bus. Keanu's the cop that's trying to save the wired and ready to blow bus driven by Bullock. As the movie reaches its climax and Reeves and Bullock save the bus, the people, and parts of Los Angeles There is a quick little exchange about the dangers of cops and hostages starting relationship built on their extremely intense and dangerous experience. In real life, that's probably true, but in fiction, its a recipe for heat wave of passion.

  5. Every relationship has times of smooth sailing and days of stormy seas. I agree that to make any multi-book relationship interesting, there have to be things that they are working out. If things are perfect, it's just sickening. On the other hand, I think that they can't have the same problem from book to book. That's just boring. The chemistry has to be there, even when the characters are getting along. Pair this with a great plot and you have a winner.

  6. Shellie ~ Brilliant post. I think the series couples that work the best for me are those that don't quite get together--there's still some barrier keeping them apart in each book.

    They might be working together and they might or might not realize the irritation they're feeling towards each other is attraction, but on some level, they just can't hook up. The barrier can be physical, emotional, or even professional. Whatever the reason, the sexual tension is there because they're just not available to each other.

    Of course we all all know that this doesn't work in real life. These type of real barriers end relationships if not worked through. But when we're talking fiction, we're *always* dealing in fantasy. It's one of the reasons we read. So looking for those ideal relationships is what we do as readers. Great post! Thanks for sharing. ;0)

  7. Hi Lisa,

    I like this phrase: If things are perfect, it's just sickening.

    :) That's my one complaint about Nick & Nora Charles. too perfect -- great clothes, she's thin, nice dog, and witty repartee. If it wasn't for Nick obvious alcohol abuse, I'd have no empathy for those two.


  8. HI Candy,

    You comment made me think of "His Girl Friday" and the irritation and attraction that exists between Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant.

    There's a pair that sparked on all cylinders! Because its a comedy all that witty repartee (again with the repartee!) was funny.

    In a more serious movie, that wit could become sharp and edgy. Would that up the sexual tension or just make RRussell seem like a bitch? You have to do the sharp-tongue woman correctly to evoke empathy for her and still keep your hunk's reactions to her sharpness perfectly balanced, neither hen-pecked or abusive.

    Personally, I like a man that can take what she dishes out and still be loving-- Jamie Fraser (Outlander) (who ruined me for all real men_ being a perfect example.