A happy marriage is a long conversation that always seems too short. André Maurois
They were married on April 18, 1942. The United States had been at war since December and he would soon be called to serve as a Naval Officer aboard the U.S.S. Lexington. During his time in the Pacific he exchanged long letters with his family and with her, the love of his life. After the war and his return home they settled into suburban life and raised their growing family — two boys, three girls. He was a Chemical Engineer who loved history and she was a meticulous homemaker and volunteer. Both remained devoted to church, to family, and to each other. It was a good marriage, a happy marriage, one with conversations that always seemed too short.
As writers, even as romance writers, we seldom write of marriages such as theirs. Exciting, passion-filled stories are all about conflict that show a struggle between two souls — man against man, man against nature, or even man against himself. Perhaps because life is filled with struggle, we long to read about it. It is the struggle, the conflict that keeps us turning the pages. What happens next? How will they possibly resolve this insurmountable problem?
So we fill our stories with conflict. If she’s a liberal reporter, he’s a conservative landowner. If she’s a born and bred Texas rancher, he’s a NYC lawyer come South to stir up trouble. If she’s the daughter of a Saxon King, then he’s a Norman knight granted her father’s castle, and perhaps her, by right of conquest.
Conflict isn’t only created by who the characters are. It can also develop naturally through the setting. Several years ago I heard film critic Roger Ebert discuss the amazing popularity of “fish out of water” stories. At that time, I was reading a lot of time travel stories in which a modern heroine traveled back to an earlier time. I started analyzing these and other popular stories. Plop a person down in a strange new world and there is instant conflict as she struggles against the unknown. The story is not in heroine’s undying love for the hero, but in the conflict she must work through to attain that love.
Once the story’s conflict is resolved, the story is over. The genre doesn’t matter. Literary fiction ends with a resolution of problems, happy or sad. Thrillers and mysteries end with the bad guy’s capture. Romance ends with the concept of And they lived happily ever after.
What of my history-loving naval hero and his happy bride? Their story endures in the memories and lives of their descendants. Tomorrow would be their day.
Happy Anniversary, Tom & Betty! ∞