I just finished reading Pride and Prejudice. My Goodreads review is here, but I thought I’d try to figure out some key elements in this post while the novel is still fresh in my mind as I want to write a romantic subplot in my third Hana Walker thriller novel and I realised, er, I know nothing about writing romantic fiction. Or reading it. So, I figured it would be a good idea if I looked at a classic (the best?) courtship romance and figure out what elements I should pilfer to make my own writing work. The book is 200 years old, so of course there will be spoilers here.
Loyalty and Liberation
Protagonist Elizabeth has heroic qualities of feistiness, loyalty to her family, intelligence and biting wit. She can also walk three miles in muddy Derbyshire which for a certain class of 19th Century lady qualifies as kick-ass. She doesn’t quite fit in to upper-class society though, her family is comparatively poor having no inheritance to offer, so she’s an outsider in her world. She is of course good-looking but has one main character flaw – she is prejudiced against most men, especially rich handsome ones. Gosh, that could be a problem, Lizzy. Her character arc is to overcome this flaw to realise her goal of bagging a good husband. Otherwise, she will die penniless and alone. Not good.
Darcy and Arsey
Our romantic hero Darcy is handsome and rich, but at the start of the novel he is also an aloof arse. This is his flaw, his pride (pride and prejudice? Hey that would make a good title) and the question is whether he can overcome this flaw and realise that Elizabeth is the gal for him. His heroic actions are chiefly off screen, but he does heroic, that is to say, selfless things, and saves the day.
Rivals and Rascals
Darcy’s chief love rival is Wickham, a cad who is just after women’s virtue and their inheritances, but he is better looking and superficially better mannered than Darcy. Elizabeth takes an early shine to him. Think of your virtue woman! Elizabeth’s rival for Darcy’s affections is the Bingham sister (sorry, I forget her first name) who does everything in her power to keep Lizzy away from the dishy D. Though, interestingly, Darcy appears to have no interest in her. I guess if he did fancy a bit of toad-in-the-hole on the side, then he would be less heroic, less worthy of Elizabeth’s full-course affection. Moral for writers of sweet romantic fiction: No hanky panky please, heroine and hero, until the allotted time and place (after marriage and off the page) and no other partners in the meantime, no matter how much you or the reader would fancy it.
Friends and Foes
Then there are a bunch of characters who at various times help or hinder the two lovers on their trundle through the tunnel of love. Chief among the axis of evil is rich bitch Lady Catherine de Burgh who wants Darcy to marry her own daughter. Elizabeth bests her in a tasty verbal battle towards the end of the novel. Allies are Lizzy’s sister Jane, their ditzy mum and ineffectual dad, and an aunt and uncle. Darcy has a pal and his servants pop up now and again to put in a good word.
Tropes and Tribulations
Here, I must admit dear reader, to taking notes from the two excellent Story Grid podcast episodes on writing love stories. According to fiction editor Shawn Coyne, all great love stories have six obligatory scenes. Let me see how P&P compares:
- Lovers meet (yep, at a ball and it doesn’t go too well).
- Premature confession of love (yep, Darcy lays it on thick with Elizabeth at the mid-point of the novel, and she bolts).
- The first kiss (nope, if their lips mash it’s hinted at and very definitely happens off-screen)
- The lovers break up (yep, right after the premature confession of love).
- The proof of love (yep, Darcy makes a a massive sacrifice by paying off the cad Wickham who runs off with Lydia, Elizabeth’s teenage sister, threatening scandal and destruction of Elizabeth’s family name. Darcy made his play even though at the time he thought he had lost Elizabeth. Gee, what a selfless thing to do. Maybe Lizzy should reconsider?)
- The lovers re-unite (yep, Lizzy gets busy and Darcy clears it with her dad. All systems are go.)
As Meat Loaf might have had it, five out of six ain’t bad.
And there you have it folks, all that I can figure out from Pride and Prejudice that I can repurpose and make my own. But maybe you can find some ideas here of merit and use yourself?
I sacrifice them to you.
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