Wish Fulfillment Forbidden (in Romance)!
Before I get started, I need to apologize. It’s been a while since I made any updates, but as it turns out, I’ve had some emergency dental issues that’s caused for some seriously rough times these past few weeks. Long story short, as I’m writing this, I have an appointment set up to have a tooth extracted, and I’d been so distracted before this that I hadn’t even been able to format Hunter’s Moon’s manuscript–it’s been that crazy. =\
But now that I have a moment, I wanted to get my butt over here and post about something I’ve been considering for several weeks now, and it’s honestly been driving me nuts. I’d mentioned something related to it in a comment on a previous post, and at the time, I hadn’t given it enough thought to really figure out what the hell was bothering me so much. I had general ideas, yeah, but it didn’t feel as if I’d gotten to the root of the issue.
Now that I’ve had a chance to really think about it, however, I’ve come up with a number of conclusions that actually boggle my mind, and it feels as if the best way to get started on them is by saying “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it!”
What a fitting animation. The show I Dream of Jeannie actually suits a lot of the points I’m about to make. But before that, I have a story to tell that takes place not long after the internet started gaining momentum in the average person’s household.
During this time period, the majority of my writing was dedicated to fan fiction. The moment I realized there was something of an underground market for such stories, I was hooked. So I started writing, allowing my imagination to go where it would with characters from series of (mostly) video games I loved, and adored playing. After all, what better way is there to see your favorite characters dealing with a situation they never do in canon storylines than by reading it in a fiction that will likely never happen on screen.
So, much like Jeannie above, I’d slap my arms across each other, wink my eyes, and there you have a nice, pretty story with your favorite characters in interesting situations. I also made up characters from scratch to add to the fun! It seemed like a great idea at the time. I could make my stories go whatever way I wanted, and people could get a kick out of it if they so desired.
But that great idea came with a ton of fine print attached concerning the do’s and don’t’s of plotting and planning–and much of that centered around wish fulfillment.
Strangely enough, I was never really called out on writing a story for wish fulfillment. Had I actually written one for that reason? Of course. All fan fictions serve to fulfill some wish or another. Many original fictions do the same thing. Why? Simple. The very purpose of fiction is to tell a story, one that the author has dreamed up, and in a number of cases, you’ll find that these stories will, to some extent, involve a fantasy of the author’s. Whether it’s about success, romance, revenge, or just taking a dream vacation, there’s typically some level of fantasy involved.
And what is wish fulfillment if not just another word for fantasy?
When I first started hearing these so-called rules of “no wish fulfillment”, I never really questioned it. I just took it for what it was; if you write wish fulfillment, the only person who will be entertained is you, and readers may end up feeling like foreigners in a strange land where they’re not welcome.
This is a good reason to make sure your fictions are grounded. You want your audience to be able to connect with the story, and for their hopes and dreams to coincide with those of the character’s. But despite this good advice, there always seemed to be something wrong with the idea of writing wish fulfillment, as if a writer should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, and that’s when I really started to wonder … .
But I just couldn’t figure it out. What reason would a writer have to ever feel so ashamed of their story? Sure, we crack jokes about how we mistreat our characters and should be ashamed of how evil we are, but that’s not quite the level of guilt I’m talking about.
To better articulate my point, while writing one of my fan fictions several years ago, I was so ashamed of the idea of hooking up a canon character with someone I’d made up for the story that I decided I wasn’t going to offer any indication in the fiction that they had any romantic interest in one another whatsoever. Thankfully, it didn’t cost me the story, or make it any less interesting to write, but the fact that I didn’t feel as if it would be acceptable to establish a relationship between these two characters speaks volumes of the kind of shame I’m talking about.
And the answers continually eluded me until finally, I realized it was due to the fact that I wasn’t asking the right questions. At first, I wanted to know how I could write a story with the elements mentioned above without a ton of backlash. I’d try to fine tune my writing, and hone my craft, which in itself is a good place to start. But through it all, the thought that I was so ashamed about writing a romantic angle into a book always bothered me.
So what question did I need to ask? It was actually pretty obvious, and I was surprised I didn’t think about it before; Why the hell is wish fulfillment so terrible from the start?
I’d mentioned above that you don’t want to write a story for yourself alone. There needs to be elements that readers can connect with and enjoy. But the fact that I, and several other writers I know, have actually been afraid to put a particular story out there says a lot about the restrictive attitudes taken toward certain story angles (most especially with romance), and I finally realized it’s the same thing as saying, “You don’t deserve.”
Getting away from the main topic for just a moment, at it’s core, the three words, “You don’t deserve,” serve to justify the majority of oppression in the world–and this justification has been used for some extremely horrible things. But in keeping this article “mild” (since I’m not writing about human rights here, though I’d love to explore this topic further sometime) a few examples of “You don’t deserve” just off the top of my head that people say frequently is “LGBTA+ don’t deserve to get married because they’re not straight,” or “Women don’t deserve equal pay because they’re not men.”
This list of what people don’t deserve because of what they are and cannot help goes on and on and on, and sometimes, it dribbles down into other areas, such as writing a story–particularly if that story involves romance.
For some reason, it seems as if several people have this mentality that romance only serves to satisfy a personal fantasy of the author’s, and that the only reason any author, especially a female author, would write it is because they have some unsatisfied longing for whatever they might be writing. Being a kickass woman? Check. A beautiful woman? Check. Men fawning over them? Check. Treating them with the utmost respect? Check. Giving them gifts, including orgasms? Double check!
But this is all just a wild, unrealistic fantasy. After all, women don’t deserve to enjoy sex because they’re not men, and if they do, they’re sluts.
So let’s touch on the show I Dream of Jeannie. At it’s core, this was a story that was literally about nothing but wish fulfillment. You have the beautiful genie who immediately falls in love with her rescuer, and can give him whatever his heart desires. Even though he’s not actually interested in taking advantage of that power, she’s extremely dedicated to him and what he wants anyway.
But despite the angles of wish fulfillment inherent in the writing, this show was largely successful. You might be able to argue that this is due to the wish fulfillment being written from a male perspective (what man doesn’t desire a gorgeous woman who has devoted her life to him with few, if any, demands of her own, and can give him whatever his heart desires?) and that, had the roles been reversed and it was a male genie with a female master, it wouldn’t have been nearly as popular, saying it was even syndicated at all. But that’s not why I brought this up.
The point is that it was entertaining, and though some of us may look on the series now as otherwise cheesy, the story had depth. Major Nelson didn’t take advantage of Jeannie. The show wasn’t about a man trying to use the genie’s powers in several (potentially foiled) attempts to get whatever he wanted. Instead, he was more interested in letting her live her life without allowing her to interfere with his own goals, and in fact, her attempts to use her abilities were a central cause of friction, not a means of gaining ground.
So we’ve got some substance here, which is what any good story needs if it’s going to be, well, a good story.
The conclusion? Write your story. Don’t worry if someone thinks you’re writing for wish fulfillment. Maybe you are, and maybe you aren’t. Just add substance to your tale, flesh your characters out, and give the plot some depth. Or write it for wish fulfillment as a point. After all, if the worst thing someone can say about your story is “this is just a bunch of wish fulfillment,” it’s really just the same thing as saying these two things;
1. You’re on your way, you just didn’t write a story I liked this time around.
2. I don’t think you deserve to have/write about your own fantasies.
Ultimately, these are nonconstructive comments that won’t offer any help in becoming a better writer except to say “try harder,” which is what every devoted writer does anyway.