Blog post by Magnus Victor
It has been pointed out by experienced authors that characters in a novel only somewhat resemble real-world people: the actual depths of the human mind are far more complex than even the best authors could describe, if given an infinite number of pages in which to do so. Real-world people make choices and perform actions based on reasons that would seem utterly nonsensical if read on a page, and which they themselves would often find difficult to explain.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the topic of romance.
Writers and philosophers have struggled for millennia to explain why and how people fall into (and out of) love, and with precious little to show for it. This is true for real-world people, but for the written novel it is still a risky decision at best for an author to say ‘and these characters fell for each other, because that’s just how it went.’ People understand that romance is a ferociously complex subject, but for those minutes or hours when those ‘people’ become ‘readers,’ suddenly they expect ‘clear reasons’ and a ‘character arc’ that ends with two fictional characters in love.
This is not a bad thing.
Many people can think of a friend or acquaintance of theirs, about whose romantic choices they have wondered ‘What did s/he see in them, of all people?’ If a real-world person were to be asked such a direct question, often they would find it difficult to answer honestly – human attraction being such a confusing mess of thoughts and emotions. But an author can explore the twists of thought and tides of emotions that lead one fictional character to see past the outer layers of another fictional character, to find the compatible soul within. This can often end up being a more ‘elegant’ story than the disorderly jumble of real-world romance. (The inverse also applies: it can be easier on the reader to be given explicit reasons why their favorite paired characters drifted apart instead of the sudden break that characterizes so many real-world breakups)
In all, remember that a majority of readers immerse themselves in novels in order to experience a world that is ‘better’ than the real world. Readers want heroes to be more successful, technology to be cooler…and romance to be more understandable at all understandable.