Saturday, March 1, 2008

When Humans Collide: Reality vs Romance

My ten year old son, Baby Bear, has autism. He's five and a half feet tall and weighs close to 140 pounds. (I suppose I should change his nickname to "Big Bear." Maybe when he turns thirty.) He's come up with a new stunt that he thinks is a lot of fun, but I don’t: The Body Slam.

He likes to run up to me and wham! Bump into me with enough force to make me lurch back a few steps and leave me breathless for a moment. But he’s never done it hard enough to knock me to the floor. For that, he’d have to run a lot faster, and from a greater distance—at least as fast as a football pro dashing down a hundred yard long field to the end zone.

If Baby Bear had the strength of a quarterback (he’s getting there), I’d probably end up in the emergency room, clutching ice packs and a cup of milk with my front tooth clinging to life at the bottom of it. In fact, that’s exactly why football players, who knock each other to the ground on a regular basis, wear all that protective gear—helmet, mouth guard, padding, etc. The injuries they do sustain would be more serious without it.

And that brings me to the subject of today’s rant: Romance novels where the hero and heroine meet by literally running into each other. The heroine invariably lands flat on her butt with nothing to break or soften her fall, and except for her pride, she is never hurt. She never howls in pain, she never rubs her tailbone, she never limps away groaning, and she never wakes up the next morning wincing and mumbling, “Damn! I can really feel that bruise on my butt now!”--before twisting and contorting herself in front of her full length mirror to see how bad it looks.

Several years ago, while judging the
TARA contest, I read not one but two entries in a row, back to back, where the hero and heroine met by colliding with each other in a hallway. In both cases, the heroine was carrying a huge stack of papers that went flying everywhere, and she landed on her tush. In neither case was she injured—except for that delicate, fragile pride.

More recently I read a romance novel that started out with the heroine at a ball. With a rustle of her skirts, she rounded a corner where she ran into—who else? The hero!—and she “was knocked to the ground.”

Miraculously, she wasn’t hurt—save for the old pride. Possibly she wore enough layers of petticoats beneath her ballgown to cushion her fall. The only thing more annoying than the clichéd collision was the so-called hero who stood there for the better part of the page, gazing down at her and admiring how cute she looked with her skirts in disarray. I had to yell, “Help her up, you jerk, before I throw this book against the wall!”--and even the heroine had to ask, before he finally did so. He never apologized, and I never warmed up to him after that.

But at least she wasn’t carrying a big stack of papers, a bag of groceries, or a purse that she forgot to zip or snap shut.

If you’re a romance writer, I beg of you: Please don’t let your protagonists meet this way. Or if you absolutely must have them crash into each other, consider the speed of movement and force required to send her flying onto her butt. Think of what football players do, and why they wear all that protective gear.

You don’t need a degree in physics to understand this.

Every time I watch the movie
Notting Hill, I can’t help cringing at the triteness of Hugh Grant smacking into Julia Roberts and dumping his café latte down her shirt. But while I think the writers could have given Hugh a more original excuse to get Julia into his flat, at least they didn’t have him knock her to the ground.

Landing flat on your butt hurts like hell. I know. When I was four years old, I went out the back door one winter morning to find the back porch all silvery white and glittering in the sunshine. It looked like an enchanting little fairyland to me, so I thought I would dance on it like Cinderella, my favorite storybook heroine. Whoosh! I landed right on my little tush, and have not set foot on an icy surface since. At age twelve I put on roller skates, and in seconds I was sitting on the hardwood floor, howling in pain. My tailbone hurt for days afterward—and I haven’t put on a pair of skates since.

My pride, on the other hand, is very tough and seems to withstand just about everything. That, or I have none at all.


Phyllis said...

I find that annoying too, Karen. You should invite all those hero-knocks-heroine-off-her-feet authors over to your house for a demonstration by Baby Bear. Just call it research. :)

Meanwhile, I've got some Tae Kwon Do padding my daughter doesn't use anymore that I could let you have for a good price . . .

Karen Lingefelt said...

Thanks, Phyllis! Sometimes I think what's really needed around this house are padded walls.

The big question is--would the padded walls be for the Bear . . . or for me?