what hart of dixie taught me about romance writing

Alternately titled: “Some semblance of productivity I took away from [binge watching] Hart of Dixie” or “What I’ve been doing instead of blogging”

At conference, when I talked about what I write and what I love in fiction, a few people asked me if I liked the CW show Hart of Dixie. But I’d never seen it. So over the past few weeks after finishing my rewrites for Take Heart, I tried the pilot episode and wanted more, watching it while I worked and during naptime. Though it’s different than what I write, medical drama + quirky humor + small-town dynamics = pretty much a winning combination in my book.

I don’t watch very many shows anymore since the fall premieres coincided with conference and I’ve been busy writing and editing in my free time. But now that I’m learning more about the craft of writing fiction, I can’t help but pick apart the shows I watch, the books I read, and the movies I see for character motivations, plot points, foils, and all of that fun stuff. Sure, it makes it a little more predictable sometimes, but to me, it’s fascinating.

While it would be really stretching it to say I’m “on the clock” while watching TV, there’s still a lot to be learned from fiction that sells well. Here’s what I took away from Hart of Dixie:

If you have multiple love interests in your story, you have to play it just right.

According to the logic I’ve applied in real life, if you can’t decide between two people, then neither of them are right for you. I’m never, ever for stringing along two characters until the main character make his or her decision. But like reality, love is complicated in fiction. Characters can’t help who they’re attracted to, when they’re going to have a *moment* with someone, and how much their backstory will intertwine with their present–especially with mad-scientist authors pulling their strings. And they certainly can’t help it if two people are fighting for their affection. (Ohhhh the tension that love triangles create!)

So, as the author, you’d better pick the right one for your character and set it up accordingly! If you choose the wrong one or even write in a scene with too much power between two characters and end up picking the other suitor, you risk losing your readers’ emotional investment and sympathy if it doesn’t work out their way.

Moral of the story: Don’t overcommit your character to one love interest too soon. And commit him or her to the right one. The one that will make readers swoon and close the book with a smile and immediately email you asking for a sequel. Not that I’ve ever done that before or anything…

Sex might sell, but it doesn’t sell me.

Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it. There’s a lot of sex on TV and in the media in general. Unless you cut cable, never watch movies, carefully select what books you read, and never pay attention to advertisements of any kind, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you do shield yourself from it, then I have so much respect for you. I should be more like you, but I’m not. I thought I’d been desensitized from it all, not paying attention when the ritualistic clothes-shedding dance begins on the screen. But I’m not.

Writing inspirational novels has shown me that romance in fiction can be executed so much more powerfully without the element of sex. Authors have to dig deep to create energy and attraction between the characters, drawing on techniques to paint a believable picture and earn readers’ investment in the story. And when the characters finally give in to the tension and share that first kiss, it’s so much more electrifying (assuming it’s done right) since it has a foundation.

Moral of the story: TV romance doesn’t do it as much for me as inspirational fiction does. I don’t buy in to the friendship + attraction = “in the moment” flings + confusion —-> a lasting relationship equation, not because it can’t happen that way in real life, but because I think it’s better when love comes first. And fiction definitely, definitely doesn’t need sex to make a story sizzling 🙂

Call me a hopeless romantic or a close-minded conservative, but why settle for a hero/heroine relationship built on rice and beans when you can have a steak and lobster dinner?

Call it romantic comedy or contemporary romance or dramedy or whatever…

but Hart of Dixie shows that fresh, quirky, funny romance is definitely in demand.

I hope the inspirational market continues to dish up its own pure and powerful brand.

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  • Love it! I actually watched a few episodes of that show before I got distracted and forgot about it 🙂 But I COMPLETELY agree with you about the sex thing. Jordan and I love watching New Girl, but we both agree that the episodes that aren’t all about sex are waaaay funnier than the ones that are! I think we’re in the minority on this, but I wish there wasn’t so much of it everywhere. The sexual tension leading up to a kiss or the wedding night, etc., can be so dramatic and keep me turning the pages/watching! Case in point: In the movie 27 Dresses, I was so disappointed that the two slept together that night it was raining and they got drunk. It ruined the rest of the movie for me. Anyway, all that to say, I agree with you. Great post!

    • How did you know that the “stringing two girls along” was in reference to Schmidt!? I love New Girl, though. We definitely just have to take all of the sex in Hollywood with a grain of salt unfortunately 🙁