Monday, November 23, 2015

The Uncomfortable Family Dinner – A Romance Novel Staple

Thanksgiving is right around the corner so today I want to talk about that pivotal scene in so many romance novels – the hilarious family dinner (or lunch). We all know how to it goes, the hero and heroine meet cute, they go through a couple of mishaps, start falling for each other, and then, bam, somehow the heroine ends up stuck at the hero’s family meal.

Sometimes it’s a formal even, as in E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, and sometimes is a casual free for all, as in Bella Andre’s TheLook of Love or Kristen Ashley’s Mystery Man, but it’s always funny and sweet and a little bit uncomfortable.  The discomfort lever can reach thermonuclear levels if the event is not an everyday meal but a wedding, a charity gala event, or even the annual Thanksgiving dinner.

The family dinner gives the hero a chance to cuddle his nieces or nephews while parrying teasing barbs from mischievous siblings. Meanwhile the heroine gets to bond with the hero’s sisters and have uncomfortable conversations with his mom. And elderly relative may make innapropriate comments and sometimes there will be a shaggy dog (or sarcastic gargoyle, if you’re reading a paranormal) to round out the scene.

The family dinner will inevitably highlight the conflict between the protagonists. The hero may feel that his brokenness renders him unable to participate in the domestic scene (like Christian in Fifty Shades of Gray or Hawk Delgado in Mystery Man). The heroine may feel that her own personal situation is a jarring contrast to the family togetherness she is witnessing (Chloe in The Look of Love). In a multicultural romance the family dinner may expose a deep cultural or class conflict that presents a daunting obstacle to the relationship. In any case, both characters will leave the dinner with unwanted leftovers and a nagging feeling that what they need is near, but tantalizingly out of reach.

I love the family dinner scene and I wrote an epic one in the second Banshee Creek book, Ghost of a Chance.  There’s meddling siblings, matchmaking parents, and lots of cilantro mashed potatoes (yes, they’re pretty gross).  There’s even an adorable dog (a basset hound named Sato) ready to steal my heroine’s heart. Will my feisty protagonist, Elizabeth Hunt, be able to handle it? You can find out by reading the book.