Thursday, April 18, 2019

Power Imbalance in Relationships

Salutations, my curious congregation~ I left off last week talking about how power imbalance in relationships can make them interesting, and right now we're going to talk some about romantic conflict and imbalanced ships.

If you are sitting here thinking "I want to write this pairing but one of my characters is a bit of an asshole and I don't want the internet to come at my throat", this might be the blog entry for you. But, just FYI, part of the internet is going to come at your throat no matter what you do so just relax. And read this blog entry. -wiggly persuasive fingers-

Content Warnings: A healthy dose of irreverence, probably some swearing, and secret messages encoded in this blog meant to activate the secret nanobots in your blood stream. But you don't have to worry about that.

Okay look. I see a lot of people ranting about pairings where one of the characters is fucking amazing and the other one is kind of frumpy. I get it. Those pairings aren't believable. But that's also the extreme example and I see just as many people complaining about pairings where one character is significantly more powerful than the other in some way.

Guys, that's the conflict.

But okay here's the important caveat; other characters have to notice and point it out. You can't let the world the story is set in treat the imbalance like it's okay or normal. Edward Cullen did a lot of stalky creepy shit and the only person that seemed to be bothered or care was Bella's dad and he was treated like he was being a big dumb jerk for it the whole time.

Do not do this. Recognize that your character being overly possessive is not normal and have your protagonist's friends be like "No". Don't have everything about the world try to justify this romance like it's right.

Go the fuck over here for an excellent essay on essence and identity and what that means for characters.

Here's the TL;DR: In a romance plot line, both characters are trying to be something that goes against the grain of who they really are and in order to make the romance work they have to reconcile with themselves and become who they are because it is who they are (and not what they are trying to be) that really works.

Essence = Who the character is inside and who they really want to be.

Identity = The Mask they put on to shield themselves and the face they want the world to see that isn't necessarily the healthiest for them.

Now where does this leave you  with characters in the story? Where does this leave you with your imbalanced romance?

Don't try to Justify the Problems;  That's Your Character's Identity, Dumb Ass

Remember. It's okay to write your asshole hero but there has to be something deeper under the surface to justify making us want to get to know him. That prickly pear outside has to be concealing a deeper essence. Don't try to justify the facade he puts on. Let it be what it is; a point of conflict.

And more importantly, he better shed it at some point, and early enough on.

You do not want to make it look like your character is a jerk because you just didn't notice and for whatever reason neither does their love interest. No. You want it to be controlled the whole way  through. And you want the setting to respond to this character like their problems are real problems.

Think About How it Puts Strain on the Relationship

Okay. What kind of power does one character have over the other? Like, is it financial? If one character has a butt load of money and the other one doesn't that is definitely a power imbalance. Is it physical? If one character is a supernatural badass and the other isn't, then yes, that's definitely a power imbalance. Is it an issue of rank or social standing? Also counts.

Now think about the specific kind of strain that puts on the relationship. Because maybe the character in question isn't even being a jerk about it, but if they have all this status or wealth and the other character does not it is going to leave them feeling kind of inadequate.

Lean into it.

The problem isn't "these characters are imbalanced" the problem is "these characters are imbalanced and we're just going to pretend like that's not the case?"

Think it through and show the consequences.

If The Character With Power is Lording it Over The Other, Make it a Point to Have Them Learn Better

When your asshole character learns their lesson make it stick. There's a certain point where it stops being worth it. I for one, am not going to read a character whose putting hands on their love interest like that. Not my thing. I'm not really in to insulting them, either. And yes, there's a difference between teasing and really insulting them.

Just think about why your character is doing this and if the answer is control you have  a toxic mess.

But you know what? The point of a romance arc is just as much for the individuals to figure themselves out as it is for them to figure out who they are together.   And the more of a mess this character is the more they have to sacrifice to make up for it.

Both (Or all of the, I don't judge) Characters Should Bring Something to the Table

They don't have to bring the same things to the table. They don't have to be perfectly equal in every way. In fact, they shouldn't be. There are different kinds of power, and just because a character doesn't have one doesn't mean they don't have another.

Physical Strength
Political Power
Dizzying Intellect
A Will of Iron
Raw Charisma
Mad Skills (think about a master thief for example)

If you want your pairing to have one character have a massive physical advantage over the other, consider making the second character stronger in a different way so that their strengths make up for the other's weaknesses and when they gel, it makes them unstoppable.

Watch me be a boosted animal and shamelessly cite my own work.

In Torchlighters. Joey and Ophelia Trezza have been ruling the dock district together as an outsider power couple for years. Joey is a cunning mob man, knows when to play his cards close to his chest and knows when to go for the throat. He makes things happen. And often he makes things happen behind the scenes. It isn't that he won't take action; it's that he knows the rules of engagement were written to give the advantage to the other person.

He has a whole gang of shoeshiners to do his bidding. He has political power in the underground.

Ophelia, on the other hand, was trained in the Hellwatch. She's an armored fighter with the power to manifest wings powerful enough to rock bullets off course and she is very much the kind of person to pick the straight up fight every time. She's also the daughter of an aristocrat and eventually ends up inheriting that money.

In a straight up fight Ophelia would completely hand Joey his ass. But he can politic circles around her and has a lot of manpower that she doesn't. They're both powerful. Both more powerful than the other. And they're powerful in different ways.

This is just something to consider when you make your pairings; power is alluring. Power is hot. Consider what kind of power your characters have and consider mixing and matching because then both parties can be at a disadvantage at various points in the story and that is just delicious.

Fortune Favors,
Megan R. Miller

P.S. Torchlighters is still over here and only 99 cents. Free if you have kindle unlimited. Go check it out.

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