Saturday, March 19, 2011

Men, Women, Conflict and No Sex Allowed: The Classics

by Jamie Freveletti

I was pleased to see that the new movie Jane Eyre got great reviews. It's a favorite book of mine and I hope it will do well at the box office. At the same time that I write this I'm struggling with creating a male/ female relationship in a short story with conflict, sexual undertones but one that does not result in sex. Why no sex, you ask? Because I want to take the tougher road as a writer. My writing schedule is packed these days and I'm juggling a couple of different novels, but every weekend I do my best to turn to a short story. I need to write to stay sane, so weekends off aren't always the best for me, but I feel as though I need to switch it up and give my brain time to ferment on the novel-length manuscripts. The change of pace keeps the other writing fresh.

I posted a few months ago on the use of imagery in classic movies to convey tension between characters without graphic results and without having the characters simply say what they wanted out loud. It's a study in conflict, unresolved tension and innuendo. It's wonderful to see unfold and, I'm learning, tough to create. In this modern era writers can simply have their characters hop in bed, resolve some of that tension and then lie around smoking cigarettes and discussing the other plot points in the novel. Kind of a "whew we got that out of the way now let's discuss if Harry killed Sally and where he hid the body."

The classics did this in so many different ways that I feel it's instructive to read them to get a feel for how they accomplished it. Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Bronte's Jane Eyre, Conan Doyle's A Scandal in Bohemia, where the tension is there and the parties, through their actions convey it. Too often modern writers take these stories and graft on a motivation that subverts the original reason for the tension into something that is feels equal but is not. For example, I got the definite impression that the latest Sherlock Holmes film and latest BBC television show made Sherlock appear to be in love with Watson in a way far greater than simply as friends. I don't think the stories support this view (and if you do feel free to point out the instances, perhaps I'm not seeing the sub-context due to its subtlety). To me, Holmes is an automaton and equally as dismissive of any emotion, either that of love of women or men. His moment in the Scandal In Bohemia seems to be one of the few times that he notices women in any other way then a cerebral one, and even then one gets the distinct impression he's just angry that she bested him.

My short story is clipping along, and I hope to finish it soon, commission a cover, and pop it onto the web. When I do I'll give everyone the heads up and you can tell me if I got anywhere even close to the subtlety of the writers above.