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Better Than Fiction
by Emily Clawson
Isabella raised a hand to her forehead and sighed. How could he say such things to her? Wasn't it enough that her uncle was forcing her into this marriage against her will? Against her heart. She had suffered enough. Frederick's words only confused her more.
"Say you will be mine. My dear Isabella, I can't live without you." He held his hands out in a silent plea. Isabella could only stare at him - so strong, so handsome in his black, silk tails and creamy satin cravat. For just a moment she wanted to reach for his hands, to let him take her away from her Uncle's cruel control. But she was too afraid he would hurt her.
"I can't Frederick. I must be true to my heart." She blinked, a single tear falling from her lavender eyes.
"So must I”, he replied, pulling her roughly into his arms. "And you, my darling, are my heart. You are my soul and my very reason for living."
Isabella sighed again, this time in defeat. How could she resist any longer? With a groan of delight, Frederick bent his head to steal a kiss.
My iPod reached the end of the playlist and the music disappeared, pulling me away from the words on the computer screen. Wasn't that playlist three hours long? A quick glance at the clock sent me scurrying to get dressed for work.
Whisker Face brushed against my leg, nearly tripping me as I tried to pull off my pajamas.
"Not now, sweetie. I spent too much time writing and I'm late." He slunk away to curl up on my chair, enjoying the warmth I'd left behind.
How I envied him. Staying home and spending my day with Isabella and Frederick was much more inviting than the Java Stop. Eight hours of dispensing and mixing lattes for the same crowd, always rushing in and rushing out. I was pretty sure I was the only Mormon girl who constantly smelled like coffee.
I want to be sensitive as I critique the excerpt from the heroine’s novel in progress, because I’m not entirely certain my reaction was the intended one. The thing is, it amused me. It’s a hotbed of romance clichés, from the hand to the forehead to the theatrical sighing, from the emotionally overwrought dialogue to the forced marriage setup, from Frederick’s rough handling of Isabella to his groan of delight, from Isabelle’s lavender eyes to Frederick’s stolen kiss. It was good, campy fun, and if it was written to be just that, the author of this week’s first page fired on all cylinders. Working that many romance writing tics into half a page indicates a really sophisticated understanding of what does and doesn’t work in a story.
After I read the protagonist’s narrative in the second half, I went back and re-read the Isabella/Frederick scene through new goggles. It reads a lot like wish fulfillment fiction (i.e., the author writes herself, thinly disguised as the heroine, into a fantasy scenario to live out her unfulfilled desires). Is this the case here? If so, the work in progress acts as an unconventional vehicle for characterization. We learn more about the narrator through that scrap of writing than we might from a few lines of straight biography. Perhaps our narrator is feeling unfulfilled in her love life. Perhaps she has been treated cruelly by someone in her past, much like Isabella has been mistreated by her uncle. Perhaps her own life is so unexciting that she escapes to fictional realms to spice things up.
Ultimately, I choose to believe that the author wrote Isabella’s part of the story with the intention to violate as many tenets of good romance writing as possible, that this story reflects a certain romantic immaturity on the protagonist’s part that will develop as the story progresses. If I’m right, I think we have a pretty good first page here!