Friday, February 13, 2015

Do You “Ship” Your Characters?

I recently read a blog post entitled Ship it like FedEx: What Writers Can Learn from the Fandoms. The premise got my brain turning, but the article didn’t come at it from the exact angle I was expecting. It wasn’t a bad article; it had some good points. Feel free to check it out. Anyway, as I said, the article got my mind going, so I thought I’d develop some of my thoughts for you.

“Ship” is a shortened, verb form of the word “relationship.” (And, supposedly, it’s now in the Oxford English Dictionary) If you’re part of any fandoms (or even if you occasionally check out the Geek sections of Pinterest or Tumblr), you’ve probably heard of shipping, which is basically matchmaking tendencies on steroids. Fandoms tend to go a little ship-crazy. They ship adorable things; they ship some super strange things. They ship it whether its actually canon or not. And the emotional investment involved in these ships? It can be intense.

Now, I’m not informing you about the craziness of fandoms so that you can wonder what the world is coming to (believe me, I wonder that myself some days). Instead, I mention “shipping” to point out something about our stories: Do your characters’ relationships excite you? Essentially, do you ship your characters? And do you set things up so your readers can as well?

Shipping Characters

There are a few elements to setting up a ship-worthy romance:

  • The Meet Cute – I first heard this term on The Writer’s Alley, courtesy of Pepper Basham, and, apparently, it’s a huge element of the romance novel. I realize many of my readers don’t write purely romance, but I’ll bet many of you do have romantic threads in your stories. How does your couple meet? Are there sparks? Do they instantly get the wrong impression about each other (Pride and Prejudice)? Where do they meet? Is it relevant to the story? If they’ve known each other a long time before sparks ever occur, what is that one scene where they become aware of each other? As a writer, you love these characters and should delight in showing their attraction to and love for each other. Think of Faramir and Eowyn in Lord of the Rings. I can’t remember their exact meeting in the book, but in the extended version of the films, it sets the mood immediately. Create a smile/squeal – worthy scene for your readers. They’ll appreciate it, I promise.
  • Interaction – Real relationships require interaction. Attraction is all well and good, but no relationship can stand only on the fluff of attraction. Make your characters talk to each other. This doesn’t always have to be serious. Banter is an awesome way to make a relationship fun. I love reading good banter between characters. Joking and lighthearted interaction adds a dimension that shouldn’t be ignored. There should also be some substance in that interaction, though. Do your characters know what each other’s values? What are their greatest dreams? Do they share them with one another? I love romance, but I would much prefer to ship a couple who learns to love each other through honest interaction than one who’s all fluff.
  • Tension – There are two sides to romantic tension, in my mind. There’s the good kind that can create excitement, and there’s the bad kind that just creates angst. In my personal opinion, angsty romances aren’t healthy, so I’d rather not create them in my stories. However, stories are driven by conflict, and that conflict can come in the form of subtle tension as easily as overt danger. Perhaps your characters aren’t sharing a part of themselves with each other. This drives a wedge that must be overcome. Instant conflict. And most relationships do go through a stage or two of uncertainty. Whether that’s because feelings haven’t been admitted or because change is occurring, uncertainty creates a great deal of tension in a relationship. We should be careful with this, though. Being true to reality is a good thing, and some tension will keep readers eager to find out what happens next. Making the relationship nothing but angst and drama, though, is neither pleasant to read nor healthy to experience.

I think what it all comes down to is being thoughtful about your characters’ relationships. Have you ever thought about shipping your characters? What makes you excited about a couple when you read/see them? Let me know in the comments!

Next time: Wrapping Up The Hobbit, Part 3

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