[personal profile] floorpigeon
It is my ambition to write a normal-- yet epic-- romantic relationship sometime. Like, a romance-- not the beginning and not the end, but like, a love story that is epic and yet believable. It was my ambition back when I tried to write 'One Good Reason' (my first H/D attempt, back before I even read the books), and it's my ambition in a broader sense still-- but that was the first time I thought it sucked that I could read so many romances and yet never write one except in the 'poetic fragments of an angsty affair' sort of way.

The thing is to reach that pinnacle where relationships feel epic yet believable.
    I mean, simply to be believable, I'd just go for realism, right? Meet-up, chemistry/attraction, awkward dancing around (which I do well), some initial angst, 'established relationship'-- but that's where I'm afraid it gets boring. So I write all this messed up angst, which is boring in its own way. That's sort of why I still haven't finished my epic Death Eater!Draco. I mean, I have the middle and the end, but it's hard to write a beginning because I want it to be plausible for a relationship and yet what they have in that novella is anything but a healthy relationship. So what seems suited is actually a messy hormonal fling, but it gets old writing those all the time. I don't know! This is why I used to admire writers who could be pretty OOC but so well-versed in making love palpable. I feel like I lack that ability; I'm more suited to making angst palpable, but that's so passe.

It's such a subjective thing, of course-- I mean, I thought Ivy, Aja & Amalin & Cassie Claire (even) could do that well in H/D fandom, but plenty of people would disagree. Probably only Aspen!Cassie wrote fic where the characters felt both IC and 'in love' in that 'now I believe it' sort of way, maybe because she definitely wrote shipper fic in the sense that it was rarely about how they got together. I can't think of anyone who wrote get-together fic both believable romantically and IC... partly because I think that link-up is just so subjective. So maybe it's pointless to deconstruct what it takes in a general sense-- how can you make love both realistic and epic? Maybe it's just that it always takes a leap of imagination to add them up. Like, you can go back and say like, 'Shakespeare did it' or 'Hugo did it', but that's not 100%, especially in the realism dept.

Ultimately, I think that the definition of 'genius' may be this very ability to write something that convinces most people most of the time, and yet reveals a marriage between an epic and emotional realism in characterization. It's very hard 'cause humans aren't mythic in reality, and yet on some level we are. If you portray humanity over-precisely in terms of realism in limitations, you lose the universal entirely, I think, and ultimately the fiction is disposable except as a source of pleasure for some. If you are too lofty, you risk losing all connection to the everyday, and your writing is irrelevant. So perhaps my inability to write my ultimate 'One Good Reason' romance is that I have all this baggage attached to the idea of what I want to communicate. And, I mean, even though Aja (for instance) 'did it' for me, I'm aware this is largely 'cause we spoke the same romantic language.

The more frustrating thing is that I struggle so much in speaking it-- my own 'language'. At my most idealistic and expansive, that's probably when I'm most blocked-- I reach a certain height and get vertigo; even success becomes scary. I don't know, it sort of blows up out of control in terms of scope, detail, etc (epicness!). But then I reached the other extreme, and gave up on my romanticism and wrote pretty dark stuff, which wasn't much more 'realistic' and yet satisfied me the way one scratches an itch; really, it was just reactionary to everything wrong I saw around me and my own naivete. I had wanted to say so much, but ended up saying nearly nothing. People used to praise me for being IC, though, ironically. I was just failing in taking risks, though this was probably unclear to anyone but me-- and not even me. Risk, in this sense, is writing things that are truly difficult to make believable for me (ie, healthy H/D) and invite 'failure' to some degree, but are thus worth writing.

In part, I wonder if writing healthy relationships requires being in one, or just being a certain kind of person, or having lots of life experience, or what have you. But all that sounds like excuses. Besides, let's be honest: I wouldn't beat myself up even if my only achievement is to write something like 'Wuthering Heights' (and I'm more experienced than Emily Bronte, at least). The trick (I think) is to put all your heart into it, not just half-measures-- and at the same time, being brave and seeing people as clearly as you can bear. I want to read that, so I want to write that: if we could finally grow up, if we could fly freely as Peter Pan even in adulthood-- what would that look like? What would that be? Who can we become, and who are we, really, anyway? What does 'change' mean, anyway?

I used to think I could write H/D epics about how love can change you, but my problem was that I couldn't admit I didn't know what change meant, regardless of love. What does it mean to change? I could only barely imagine. Then, later, I told myself it meant to 'grow up' and stop being an idiot/prejudiced, but that was just being flippant, though I think that's a part of it.

Maybe it's not love I want to write about, then. Really, I want to create a vision of change that isn't a defeat. How can someone become freer by living, without fear, without ossification and aging into complacency? What role do romantic or simply human bonds of love play in this process? 'How can love renew us', yes, but ultimately I just want to know how we can be renewed, no matter what. Not to never grow old physically, but to never surrender mentally.

I was talking to [livejournal.com profile] cellia about this last entry-- Harry being Dursleyfied by the end of the HP books-- and that's exactly it, yeah. He grew up, and like with most people, it was a disappointment, a loss of potential. A defeat.

But what are our other options, as human beings?

Does it become easier for Harry to be free if he's queer, if he's not an Auror, if he's not with Ginny? Really? Why should that be true? (No, I think it may be, but I also think it's an unexamined assumption people make about outsider status individuals/relationships, too; plus, it's a dead-end-- if you can only be free while you're excluded, that's pretty hopeless for the rest of humanity).

So this is why I can't write love-stories. There's all this philosophical baggage-- while at the same time, I remain convinced it's really the simplest thing in the world: Spock's 'simple feeling'. That simple feeling, so elusive as to be a myth.

Date: 2011-11-08 10:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cellia.livejournal.com
Aw. But I think you're onto something. This idea seems v cool: Maybe it's not love I want to write about, then. Really, I want to create a vision of change that isn't a defeat.

I guess the defeat--it depends on your pov. I mean, I see Harry's and, say, Ender's final adulthoods as wasted potential. But obviously their authors thought they'd made them amazing hero-types. I just disagree with the authors' world-view about what's awesome.

I wonder what we're really looking for in an epic love story. Or any love story. What makes it "epic?" Grand stakes like war and lives in the balance and superpowers and your people being mortal enemies? I do think there's something in 2 people coming together to build something together greater than they could alone. Synergy. Defeating something huge together, bridging some social gap the audience feels shouldn't exist.

I can say for me personally het romance novels are about the woman "winning" at life. Slash is... idk relationships with a certain social leveling, but also a built-in obstacle. Emotional porn in ringing certain societal role changes with character types.

But I can't think of any love story I would describe as epic, actually. Can you think of any? (Besides the fanfic ones you mentioned, which I liked, but weren't really epic for me. Emo teens and their hormones can turn my emotional crank, but no epic. I'm the heartless type that actually laughed and rolled my eyes at the final climax of His Dark Materials.)

Nothing that swelled my heart. Well, maybe Spock's death scene (idk if death scenes get to count, though, I cry like a baby at all death scenes). Or, actually, parental love or pet-love touch me deeply and can feel epic to me. Like, ok, don't laugh, but Lassie Come-Home is an epic love story imho.

hm. I was about to write that... is there anything epic about love? Like Harry defeating Voldemort is epic, Harry/Draco is interpersonal shenanigans. But making love less important than killing a dude seems v wrong. Hm hm. But maybe the thing is that defeating Voldy has huge consequences and affects many people. Epic. Lots of people are saved or stopped. Harry/Draco just transforms them. Which is great if they become better people, and you can write a great character transformation piece, but does that count as epic? idk idk /ramblings

Date: 2011-11-08 06:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] floorpigeon.livejournal.com
Traditionally, I think what makes love epic is its mythic significance. That is to say-- Adam and Eve, there you go-- epic. There is a power that stories about two individuals have to encapsulate whole periods, nations, ideas. It's a tricky thing, clearly, as it turns them into ciphers, symbols rather than people. I mean, also, Napoleon and Josephine, Sid and Nancy, Robert and Liz, John and Zelda-- and that's just nonfiction. These stories come to define how we think about love, coupling, what it means to be humans in a relationship to other humans. So the 'epic' isn't necessarily something about the story (nothing all that special about John Fitzgerald and his wife), but what it meant to people in that culture in that point in time and beyond. John and Zelda were representative of a age and a moment in our history. Remembering them, we remember our great-grandparents, and ultimately we remember who we are as well as hope/fear for what we could become.

This is exaggerated, I think, as well as a bit undermined in fiction. Many more people knew/cared about Napoleon in the 19th century (say) than read Shakespeare (probably). Love is easy to relegate to the realm of the romantic and the fantastical (thus, in the 19th century, 'Romantic' and 'Realist' fiction may both address relationships, but only one came close to epic or would want to). So in a literary sense, 'epic' is the desire and willingness to turn love-stories into symbols of nature, mortality, the divine, etc. Like, in reading Hugo's 'Les Miserables', I think it's easy to see that Cosette is a very idealized personification of innocence, and the redemptive potential and purity of the Beloved. Both the main protagonists love her because they can't help but love her, and in loving her alone, they can find a measure of peace and of redemption. She is a great example of 'epic'-- she alone makes Marius' feelings epic where they could never have been no matter how much he'd have loved Eponine (say), who is just this sort of semi-sordid, semi-pitiful tramp. Which is funny, considering the whole rest of the pro-tramp feel of the book, but it is a Romantic novel, and that shows. So epicness can definitely be felt in the writing style and characterization choices (idealization), which is why I said realism sits very awkwardly with the concept. Further, it's tied in to audience reception more than anything to do with the text or relationship itself.

Actually, Adam and Eve is a great, archetypal example. They are epic in part because they are symbols more than people, and in part because they've reverberated throughout history, inspiring countless retellings and reimaginings (see: Milton, etc). They are containers for our dreams, fears, vessels for propaganda, depositories for spiritual meaning, representatives for the meaning of male and female, etc etc. Ultimately, 'epicness' to me is a shorthand for expressing something that touches upon this possibility for containment of dreams, of the universal (which is what I was trying to get at above, talking about the term). To be sure, H/D is a poor-seeming container (hormonal teenagers, etc), but that doesn't matter-- originality may hurt, not help. You were onto something with Lassie, considering her mythic status in the latter half of the 20th century. She captured something in us, too.

Spock is a great example too-- he's definitely become greater than his show, his context, and his death-scene is a very iconic scene (I think!) in the history of cinema. Of course, meaning and change and all these things aren't really universal and instead deeply subjective and cultural and even individual, as you said. But at the same time, we do have a shared idea of what it means to be human. And in the end, Voldemort is a lot more irrelevant-- this whole good vs. evil thing that passes for epicness in fantasy is just lazy shorthand for what myth really does, and I'd levy all my myth-major powers to argue with anyone claiming otherwise. :>

Date: 2011-11-09 08:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cellia.livejournal.com
Hm this is very insightful and I can't disagree with any of it.

BUT! This might just be semantics, but when I hear epic I want something that gives me a deep feeling inside. That grabs at my gut or heart. Adam and Eve, all those couples you mentioned don't do that for me at all. I def see their cultural importance. How they contain multitudes. But I want something that makes my heart clench or soar. I think this is harder to do (imho) with symbolic characters. Which is probably down to personality, what will do that for me, but... yeah.

Date: 2011-11-09 08:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] floorpigeon.livejournal.com
Hm, really? Did you read Les Mis? Oh man, I think I cried like, four times over that stupid book, and I never cry over books. (Just the Waterloo section alone....) I'll admit that it's not Marius I felt most for but Valjean, but that's some intense stuff right there. I think, also, that Marius is real and Cosette is real (to me) at the same time as I can see the Romantic underpinnings and the larger framework behind the characters (which is even true of Harry Potter, and JKR is no Hugo). Marius especially feels like someone you could know (and clearly reflects Hugo's personality quite a bit), and Cosette is really silly and genuinely warm and human and relateable even as Marius keeps trying to see her as a pure goddess and can't even imagine her being Valjean's daughter. Les Mis is an amazing achievement, 'cause it does in fact (I claim!) combine a soaring sort of realism with a vast, kind humanism that is grounded in Romanticism. I mean, I've now read it 3 months ago and it still pumps in me, resonates. Maybe my translation was especially good (it's the latest one, by Julie Rose). It's just this overwhelmingly epic story about war, life, death, redemption, hope, love and everything, and yet it's just so personal and sweet and sad. It made me love everyone. It made me in love with France! It made me a better human being. haha. Myth-making, when it's effective, is only meaningful because it's a channel to provide that sort of intense personal response; that's why these stories matter-- they matter in the gut. I mean, generally, Adam & Eve don't matter to me either, but to the people they do matter to (quite a large percentage of humanity, it seems), it's a punch-gut sort of response. Our myths define us at the gut level, 'cause we tend to be exposed to them so early, and so often. "Symbol" sounds like a remote word, but a real-- personally relevant-- symbol is so closely ingrained in one's psyche that one's barely aware one's operating in its sway. You can only later realize-- once you're at the other side-- just how intense this tie is, to the ideas you take for granted, the concepts that shape your world. A lot of rational people think their world is shaped by their individual experience and rational thought, which only make the mythic basis of consciousness dig deeper into unconsciousness. I think. Not that people aren't really rational, but it makes sense to me that consciousness is memory/energy-intensive and it's useful to have a whole lot of auto-programming to streamline functionality. So that's what these symbolic stories do: write our code. Then, we just run it.

As for my other summer read, 'Wuthering Heights', that was certainly epic and heart-clenchy for me as well. And this probably sounds weird, but when I read the big reveal in Paradise Lost about how Adam rejects Eve (after choosing to fall because he loves her so much!), that was pretty affecting (in a sort of angry way). I have a list of personal icons (Spock and Jim, Peter Pan and Wendy) in part because I wasn't living at the time of Napoleon and Josephine, in part because I hadn't read Milton till last spring (for instance), in part because I too take cultural influences for granted. One thing about myths is that they 'activate' when needed-- like, Sid and Nancy mean next to nothing, are background noise, and then suddenly you have a bad relationship with a rocker or fall in love with Spike and Dru, and boom! Relevance! Intensity! And so on. Symbols are like parasites-- they require you to live, yet are eternal.

That said, I am just pulling all this out of my ass, so maybe I'm like, dead wrong. :>

Date: 2011-11-11 03:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cellia.livejournal.com
Aw man, I want to respond to this epic comment... but I've never read Les Mis or Wuthering Heights! So uncultered :( Just never had the urge since every French novel I've ever read has made me want to slap everyone in it, and Wuthering Heights... well I know the plot, so... (still, I do feel I should one day give both a try since they are such classics).

I can get what you mean for personal symbols. I just don't think I have any for romance :( Which is weird since I love romance novels and slash, but... well. I'm weird? idk I'm the type of girl who's always like "um look do I have to spend so much time with the guy I'm seeing? Cuz it's cutting into my romance novel reading time."

I can't really think of any book I've read that really changed my life. I always feel jealous of people who can. But, well, I think I might have imprinted on superheroes when I was young? Oh man so lame lol. Junk lit of male adolescent fantasies with crap writing and plots has had more emotional impact on me than anything else? So sad. For all that I'm really pessimistic about the world, the old-time superhero narrative of powerful people being good because they can is stuck in my gut. Like, I don't care this character's carefully drawn shades of moral gray and impossible social forces--Spidey wouldn't give up! *facepalms* lol I probably need to grow up.

Hm, this has ended up just being me talking about myself, and not so much the point, but I guess that's valid since we're thinking about inspiring emotions? Maybe? Um, I feel now, though, like I'm too much of a weirdo and outside the norm to be a valid data point. Aw man. :P

I will still look forward to reading your great epic though :D
Edited Date: 2011-11-11 03:40 am (UTC)

Date: 2011-11-11 04:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] floorpigeon.livejournal.com
Haha, here's my trick for reading Wuthering Heights: treat it as if it was Irresistible Poison, and just go for it. Angst! Passion! Byronic heroes by the moors! Ghosts and love lost, etc etc etc. Oh man. It's so so cracked out. It is *ridiculously* cracky. Julie Rose's Les Mis, I'd recommend any day of the week and twice on Tuesdays. Just go and like, rent it or something-- it's enough reading for half a year of dentist's offices, bus rides and so on. It is totally whoah but isn't 'classicky'. It's not like spinach or anything. It's totes all about drama and like, woobies and like, sad puppies and ok, also revolution. haha. No, I should say, it's about Revolution. So it's not a love story except it also really is. Almost anyone can find something in it. really, I think people should just give it away for free as a means of a) brainwashing people into being part of the Revolution; b) ...ummm I'm not sure what b is. But yeah. It's like, whoooooah. I don't think it's just for people who cry at romantic movies or anything. It's like, this totally intense *thing* of... intensity. It helps that it's like, 1200 pages long, so by the end you're like, immersed so much you can't tell up from down or your nose from Valjean's crotch. Or something. ...or not....

Anyway. It's just not like anything else you've come across before, I'm pretty sure. It's like if you crossed Dickens with Blake with Marx with, I dunno, Gene Roddenberry. Crazy stuff. Ok, I won't claim it changed my life. It just reminded me of all the best parts of myself and set them on fire. I mean, that's an ok second place prize, probably. :> Note: I won't guarantee you won't want to slap people in it... they act pretty self-destructive/insane at times, but always for the best reasons, and it's just. I don't know! It's like, you know that feeling of hating JKR's view of the world? Well, imagine the opposite, and times by 3000.

It's more that I think *I'm* weird for being so fixating on my personal symbols for romance... most people have them without obsessing/being aware of them, I think. It's sort of to go with the whole 'unconscious' territory (I'm guessing....).

Haha superhero stories is sooo like, the updated Norse myth cycle, or myth reborn. Sometimes literally (with Thor), sometimes more obscurely, but always (to me) pretty obviously. One reason those stories are so powerful is that they are ridiculously archetypal (one clue, of course, is that they're so easily rewritten/retconned-- it's not the 'story' that matters, it's the Hero's Journey behind the story, which can be told in like a zillion different ways for any given hero). I think superheroes would be pretty popular in ancient Iceland, to be honest... :> Heroes--! See, ok, stories (I think) basically have had two birthplaces and ultimate sources: sex and heroism. Yes. Heroes are it. Also villains. And like, women. Ok, and daddy issues. Really, I think Genesis is one long heroic saga about the badass line of hardcore righteous dudes started by Abraham and culminating in David & Solomon. heh. It's always been about, 'once upon a time, there was a righteous dude... who smote all evil and was best beloved of everyone and was like, totally awesome... and then some asshole and/or woman tried to get in his way'. :>

Anyway, rest assured you're totally normal. (whew??) :> :> My great epic! Hell, I wish someone read anything of mine, it's all good, honestly, haha.

Date: 2011-11-11 04:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cellia.livejournal.com
lol If I read them, I'm going to bother you w my ~~opinions about them as I read ok >:)

Oh yeah, I know the idea of the superhero idea as the heroic myth cycle reborn, but, and this might just be splitting hairs, what I love is the morality. Like, a lot of the old fashioned "heroic" tales are just powerful guys being really horrible. And Genesis is like, historic propaganda. Though you could argue this is just times changing and in 200 years "superheroes" will seem as douchey as Aeneas or Hercules or (imho) Abraham (sorry the guy did some douchey things!). And Thor isn't that much better. lol he annoys me in the comics too, though he's v cute in the movie. The best ones are dudes who question themselves and try really hard to do the right thing, and are sometimes emo feel guilty about stuff, not the ones who are all self-righteous and assured (imho).

And something about silly "superheroes," well it's a very American thingy imho. I can't describe it, but in my few international trips, it's just feels like that could be true. Other countries are maybe too sophisticated for this ~literary idea? It's so silly and optimistic and arrogant and idealistic. Like compare US tv to others... ok I'm stereotyping and getting off track...

I'm also alternately frustrated and entertained by the breadth of superhero canon. Like decades and all different writers. And concurrent stories going on where multiple people have writers who consider their character the "main character." Yeah things are continually retconned and reset, but everyone and their multiverses gains layers and layers of complexity. It's like, the stories are often thin, but the characters are rolled in them over and over, building up layers. And this happens over such long periods of time that the shapes and patterns that emerge aren't really from anyone's plan, but maybe more from unconscious ideas. I guess you could compare it to how the idea of Star Trek and Starfleet and aliens in that verse has evolved over decade?

There's probably something to the fact that there aren't many great female "superheroes." A lot of the tropes don't work as well. Sexism etc etc

Aw man, sorry I got started about superheroes when this was about romance. My mind's a little taken over by them and nostalgia.

Oh and I guess no one's really "normal." There's just the average and the mean. :>
Edited Date: 2011-11-11 04:40 am (UTC)

Date: 2011-11-11 08:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] floorpigeon.livejournal.com
Hee, you know I'd really enjoy that (your opinions, I mean). I've only talked to my professor about these books. It's ~~lonely. :(

Hmm I think it's not so much splitting hairs as a natural part of the process. Like, it depends how intrinsic a part of the old myths their outdated morality was-- I've thought about this a bit recently since writing about Achilles, Lucifer and Prometheus, etc. When you compare Shelley's Prometheus to Homer's Achilles, the cultural component to the representation of the ideal hero becomes apparent. The whole conception of the world, of the culture's values and religious/moral norms is reflected in the idealized hero figure. Besides that, at least in 'The Iliad' (not in Genesis, of course), Achilles wasn't supposed to be admirable human being from an emulation or 'moral' perspective; the whole poem, everyone keeps telling him what an idiot he's being and how he's condemning so many Achaeans to death, etc. So basically every time-period and culture puts their own stamp on defining heroes, setting standards, re-evaluating codes of honor and so on. Otherwise, the archetype of lose all relevance and be an empty container-- since a hero figure is supposed to represent some aspect of the universal, yes, but we can only connect to the universal through the present and the personal, I think.

And I didn't the fluidity and retelling makes the story arcs as they are irrelevant or anything-- it just situates the superhero comic tradition more firmly in the old storytelling methods and standards, if anything. Back in the days of Homer, there was a sort of 'ur-narrative' of The Iliad (say), which is what eventually got written down, but every telling for each audience was subtly different, in this case because the whole thing was meant to be memorized. Every time he'd retell the story, there would be certain central themes and refrains (like 'rosy-fingered dawn') that'd stay constant, and other things he'd invent on the spot if he forgot a line or wanted to mix it up. I think these stories (the oral histories and myths) actually grew in exactly the way you described-- building layers, gaining complexity slowly over time. Recent scholarship on Greek epics supports this idea Homer didn't so much write 'The Odyssey' and 'The Iliad' as record a polished version of very old ballads/epics. This is also true for Greek drama-- they had cultural myths or stories 'around', and various dramatists made a famous version that then became associated with them.

I do think there was growth and development historically in terms of focusing on individual growth and change (which started with the Enlightenment and especially the Romantics), so the modern focus on deconstruction and self-questioning and all that is part of this trend in how we relate to power, self, leadership, etc. It used to be (culturally) that the idea of a hero was quite far removed from the everyday world, in part because of the broad disparity in terms of social empowerment and capacity between economic segments in say, Homer's day. So the heroes weren't quite human (half-divine) and clearly marked as 'separate'. Nowadays, there's a lot more traffic between socio-economic segments and a lot more openness in our cultural conception of self and what we can endeavor to become, which is reflected in our conceptions of a male ideal.

But I also agree that superhero comics are very American, too-- although that too isn't surprising or unusual in terms of how archetypal stories work-- 'The Iliad' was very Greek, for instance, manga is very Japanese (even as influenced as it is by American comics & cartoons, they diverged pretty widely in thematics, style, character types, etc). If you ask me, stories in general work this way, really-- it's just more obvious in like, fandom or in comics-- but all stories everywhere build on each other, though generally across long spans of time (like, centuries, thousands of years).

Date: 2011-11-11 08:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] floorpigeon.livejournal.com

And yeah, the tropes don't quite work the same for female heroes, though I'm not sure if it's sexism. That's probably a part of it, but I can't help but trot out the archetypal/Jungian explanation as well-- I mean, for thousands of years, we (well, mostly men but also women) conceived of female characters and behavior in a certain way. It's not simply prejudice, being more deeply ingrained and instinctive in how 'femininity' is perceived and codified. I don't know to what degree that can naturally change, though certainly to some. Still... I wasn't kidding when I said the superhero is really an idealized male (self-doubt and all).

(Sorry for rambling so much about my pet subject, but I figure it's only fair if you ramble about yours, which btw I'd love to discuss without this filter, haha, but since this is my undergrad thesis, it's really on my mind.)


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