The Noble Cause

There are many obstacles you can throw in the way of a romantic couple in your writing.  The Love Triangle.  The Unspoken Truth.  The Noble Cause.

The Noble Cause is a legitimate or perceived reason that the couple shouldn’t be together.  While it is different from the misunderstandings that cause an unspoken truth, it is often accompanied by silence as well.  Like both of the obstacles we talked about before, this can take different forms.

One of the most common often appears as a sacrifice that must be made by one person for the benefit of the other.  This usually comes as a choice that one of the couple has to make, typically between a goal and the relationship, and the other makes it for them by ending the relationship.  He breaks it off so she’ll go to college.  She can’t have kids, so she ends the romance because she wants him to have the family he always dreamed of.  Typically these make us feel even more strongly that the couple should be together, because one person is choosing the other’s happiness over their own.

Another variation is when a relationship is avoided, however difficultly, to preserve an existing relationship between the couple.  This can be a mutual decision, discussed (sometimes more than once) by the couple.  They don’t want to ruin their friendship, or their working relationship, or whatever existing tie they have.  It can also be a decision made by one of the couple, especially if that person is in a position of authority.  I use this as an obstacle for the couple in Dragon; he’s her tutor, so he doesn’t want to start a romantic relationship that would interfere with her training.  In order for the reader to continue liking both parties, this needs to at least appear to be a decision made for the good of the other person, rather than a selfish one.

The third way the Noble Cause can be used is when the couple ends or avoids starting a relationship because of something greater outside of their romance.  These are often temporary obstacles, which even the couple knows will end, but they don’t have to be.   Good temporary examples are both characters going to different colleges, the couple waiting to be together until after a war/protest/major world event, one or both not wanting to flaunt happiness in the face of a sad situation like a sick family member, or even a character delaying the romance to give someone else the spotlight (like during a sibling’s wedding).  A major world event can also be an obstacle with no clear end, as can a family separation like death or divorce.  This second example works best if the couple are together because of their families, particularly if their siblings are married to each other, because then the split of their families forces them to split for family solidarity.

Much like our previous obstacles, the Noble Cause can be tied in with other obstacles. While You Were Sleeping,one of my favorite movies as a teen, uses all three in harmony.  There is a perceived love triangle, an unspoken truth, and a noble cause, all wrapped up in one brother in a coma.

This obstacle may be less frustrating to readers, although if they are invested in the characters’ romance, they still won’t like it.  When one or both of the couple are making a sacrifice for the greater good (the other person or someone or something outside of the relationship), it makes us like them better.  The Noble Cause makes readers impatient, but they are less likely to shout at the book and may even shed a tear if the cause is good enough.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bird
    Apr 03, 2012 @ 19:42:36

    Very interesting…I liked it.


  2. Ben
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 15:59:47

    I just wanted to let you know I picked you for the Lucky 7 award. Congrats!


  3. Trackback: Life « Butterflies and Dragons

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