The Ego Struggle: The Core of the Romance Storyline
That’s how the book ends. But to earn that ending, the characters have to endure a struggle. Specifically, an ego struggle. A journey that takes them from being two independent individuals to an integrated couple.
Let’s use Fifty Shades of Grey as an example, since so many people have read it. In fact, one of the reasons for its popularity may be the strong, stark ego conflict between the hero and heroine. Christian wants a submissive partner who will relinquish all decision-making authority, allowing him to control even what she eats and when she exercises. Ana, on the other hand, is like “Dude, the sex is hot and all, and some of the sensation play is fun, but you are totally not the boss of me!” (Okay, that sounds nothing like Ana, but you get my point.)
These two people, who are incredibly attracted to one another and seem to share a spiritual connection, want completely different things. And so the negotiations begin. Each of them has to decide what they’re willing to give up for the sake of the relationship, versus what they need to keep because it’s essential to their happiness.
Sometimes these negotiations are overt, as they often are in Fifty Shades, and sometimes they’re more subtle, as in a book like Pride and Prejudice. The decisions are made incrementally and often unconsciously, as the romantic couple grows closer—until the end of the novel, when they finally shed their illusions and choose each other over things they thought mattered more.
Through this struggle, their sense of identity changes. Their ego is dismantled and rebuilt. It’s a painful process, and one the characters inevitably resist. But it’s only through the experience of the lovers stripping away the non-essential parts of themselves, and coming together as a couple with shared goals and values, that the reader can trust in their union. They’ve been tested, and they’ve proven themselves worthy.
In that sense, romance fiction isn’t so different from any other quest story. What makes romance unique is that the ultimate goal of the lovers is (usually) to form a family—whether that family includes just them, eventual children, or an extended family clan. That’s a noble goal—one with important social significance.
In the book you’re currently reading, what ego struggles do the main characters undergo? What important things do they have to give up in order to succeed in their quest?
HANDLING CYNTHIA, the latest novella under my pen name Andrea Dalling, includes a strong ego conflict between heroine Cynthia and her old high school crush, Trent. When she pursues him at their five-year-reunion, she finds him willing—but on his terms. How far is she willing to go for love?
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