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Love at first sight is one of the most ancient and familiar romance tropes. But contemporary genre romance has its own spin on the matter. There, the first impression is decidedly physical: once the main characters meet, they can hardly keep their hands off each other. It follows that there must be obstacles that prevent them from getting together at once, and it is through meeting them that they learn about each other. What does this tell us about whether love at first sight is real?
In many stories, a romance is founded on a Big Lie. Resolving that discontinuity—bringing the relationship safely onto a firmer footing—tends to become the main issue of the storyline. And because at least some of the characters are mistaken about what’s going on, incongruities abound, and the natural home of such stories is romantic comedy.
Our story approaches its climax: Our Hero prepares for the cataclysmic action on which all depends. She tenses her muscles, tightens her fists, screws up her face into a tense grimace. Or does she? There are actually two ways to imagine how one achieves some brilliant feat. We have conflicting ideas about how we can make action most effective.
The ancient prophecy is a staple of fantasy. The source of the information is often vague, but once we've heard the prophecy, we know it's going to come true - somehow. There's also a comparable science fiction trope: the long-term Plan. But the Plan functions rather differently. Here we take a look at the two together.
Witty wordplay is fun to find in a story. Conversational sparring comes in a number of varieties—and especially in exchanges between romantic interests. The combination of verbal sparring and affection reaches its apex when the two participants are in love with each other, whether or not they know it yet.
It’s hard to root for a romance if you don’t care about the characters. What happens when we don’t like the person the main character’s supposed to be interested in? Just as there’s peril in making the romantic interest too perfect, there’s a corresponding set of pitfalls if the object of our protagonist’s affections pushes imperfection to the point of no return.
Why are SF writers so fond of equipping future societies with kings, emperors, and aristocracies? The reasons include the appeal of colorfulness; stability; personal loyalty; and individual agency. But we can only concede such power if the king is characterized by virtues such as humility and selflessness.
Why is Star Wars so fond of Death Stars? What’s the mysterious attraction of this plot device? The choke point is a great plot convenience. We can focus the storyline so that an entire campaign can be resolved in a single concentrated set of actions, ideally carried out by a few individuals.
Writers have to name a lot of characters. Coming up with the right names is tricky; some writers are better at it than others. Name styles can range from the convention to the fantastic, and different writers’ approaches contribute to the distinctiveness of their worlds.
Some stories—especially comedies—include a character who seems to have the job of making sure everything comes out right in the end. We can call them the Master Contrivers. A Contriver naturally falls into the niche of the benevolent uncle or aunt—a kindly older person who isn’t typically a player himself, but an enabler of other characters’ fulfillment. In a comedy, it’s reassuring to have someone around who can be trusted to untangle all plotlines to a happy ending.
One of the specialties of science fiction and fantasy is to evoke a sense of strangeness. In dealing with the alien, the cosmic, that which is far away in space or time, SF can make us feel we are encountering something that passes the limits of our knowledge or understanding. This isn’t as easy as it looks.
Since advanced weapons are available in much science fiction—the famous "ray gun" is iconic—it’s surprising how often a fight comes down to the humble, and archaic, sword. Some examples show us how this is justified in a science fiction context, and why authors and readers may be fond of swordfights.
Ever find yourself approaching the end of a new book—and you realize there’s no way the author can tie up the plot in what remains of the novel? It’s that moment when you realize: we’re in for a sequel. But the story alone hasn’t told us there will be a sequel. Rather, we’re drawing on something outside the text itself—our knowledge of how much of the book remains—to tell us something about the story. We can call this process of drawing on outside information “meta-reading.”
A dialogue scene has to perform some function in the story, or it shouldn’t be there at all. But it also has to be realistic—it has to sound like the way people talk. It has to flow the way real conversations do. How can we achieve both things together—story function and plausibility?