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ACFW Journal Extra: Happily Ever After Disasters

By Jeannie Campbell, LMFT
ACFW Journal Contributing Writer

When a characterization trend becomes so dominant it leads to copycat plots, there’s a problem.

What trend? That would be the one of the female savior-as referenced in my ACFW Journal article, “Happily Ever After or Ever After Happiness?,” in the Spring 2013 edition. Typically, these characters are the pure, virginal type, who miraculously “save” the jaded playboy from a life of debauchery. These stories then lead to one of the most improbable happily-ever-afters in fiction.

One look on the Amazon bestseller list will show these books in abundance, most generating from the YA and New Adult genres. If you haven’t read them, don’t worry. A quick summary will suffice, as many follow this general plot:

Act One

Virgin is exposed to raunchy side of Playboy. There is instant dislike and distrust on her part and intrigue on his part because she didn’t fall into his lap like all of the others. Playboy gives Virgin a nickname, typically that of a perceived weaker animal, such as Pidge (pigeon) or Kitten. Virgin hates this name. Playboy pursues her, but more often than not, they enter the “friend zone.”

Act Two

Playboy doesn’t know what it is about Virgin that is so different, but he must conquer her. He pulls out all the stops-even changing his entire personality. No more other women, no more crass talk. He’s now a one-woman man.

Virgin begins to melt under the onslaught. She still has issues with trust, but he’s changed/changing so much for her that she’s willing to let him scale the internal walls around her heart. They have their first real date, which is superb and sublime. The chemistry is to-die for.

Act Three

There is a declaration of love and/or commitment and Virgin is cautiously optimistic. She took a chance—and it paid off. Then Playboy blows it. Big time. Usually with another female somehow. Whether he actually makes a transgression or not, Virgin perceives he did, which is the harbinger of the dark moment. Will they withstand it or not? Not a huge surprise, they do survive, and the world tilts upright on its axis again.

So, what’s the problem with the plot—other than that it is overdone? It is blatantly unrealistic.

I have to tread carefully here, because as a professional therapist and Christian, I can attest that people can and do change. But a far more likely outcome-especially in someone not actively trying to change-is that he would revert back to his default behavior.

In real life, a playboy who seeks to conquer a girl who ignores him or dislikes him only does so for the thrill of the chase. To stroke his ego. Unfortunately, when the chase is over-when she has succumbed to his wiles-so also is the playboy’s interest in the female.

Books proclaiming other endings are potentially dangerous for females. They proclaim a lie as a truth-that the virgin/female can save the playboy by being spectacular enough to turn his head. The end result is that the self-esteem of women (and especially teens) drops when they can’t recreate the same outcomes in their lives and end up being discarded by the cad.

Let’s talk: What do you think about these female savior books? Have you noticed this trend? How can CBA fiction expose the real truth-that only God can save a person from destruction-and do so within a romance between a Virgin and a Playboy?

JeannieCampbellJeannie Campbell is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California, and runs The Character Therapist) website, where she diagnoses make-believe people. She is also a freelance writer, author, editor, and book reviewer and has been featured in several ezines, newspapers, and blogs. Two of her manuscripts have finaled in the ACFW Genesis contest.

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13 Responses to ACFW Journal Extra: Happily Ever After Disasters

  1. Lucy says:

    Personally, I wish people would quit trying to write these stories, as I don’t think there’s any point in salvaging a broken genre. I’d rather see women admiring decent men, and let bad boys take the consequences for their decisions–as in, has no one in novel-land ever heard of a venereal disease?

    It’s not just YA or NA at fault, either–a huge percentage of adult women’s romance novels feature the same limping plot: Regency Romance is a particularly obnoxious offender in this respect. And it sells, and sells, which is why it keeps on being published.

    Now, I’m definitely female, but I can’t for the life of me understand the appeal of a man without convictions, decency or self-control. Obviously, though, many women find it (him?) hugely appealing. From a therapeutic standpoint, I’d find it interesting if you’d comment on the possible reasons for that. Whatever they are, I missed that boat.

  2. VERY interesting book trend, Jeannie. I suppose this is the Beauty and the Beast type story?

    While I do think it’s awesome for virginity to be portrayed as a good thing, “bad boy” romances can go very bad, very fast. And bad boy marriages can be the type you wind up fleeing to a women’s shelter to survive. I just remember my Grandma cautioning me against guys who hover and don’t let you go anywhere/do anything w/out them.

    I could rant about Team Edward here, but I won’t do that…grin. Really, you want someone who’s a friend. Edward, when you break it down, is almost like a guardian angel–powerful, always there, always watching…and guys like that are usually always dangerous to marry.

  3. Great blog- very thought provoking and right on target!
    Carol

  4. I’ve seen this scenario in real life too many times!

    I read very little Chrisitan fiction – partly for this kind of unrealism. As authors, I think we have to find ways to communicate truth at every level.

  5. Heidi Glick says:

    Great post!

  6. Tim Akers says:

    I think the the CBA is problem. If they would allow authors to take off the rose colored glasses, there could be a real spike in the quality of stories offered. Who knows, the literary world might start taking Inspirational fiction more seriously.

    In CBA circles, anyone that attempts Jeanine’s approach is often “smacked down”, but only in the nicest of ways-usually it involves some form of shunning. Thankfully, heretics aren’t burned at the stake anymore.

  7. LUCY – Your post made me laugh. I’ve often thought the same thing, especially about the venereal disease, or the absence of children out of wedlock. In reality, a “bad boy” and these types of things are inseparable.

    And your dead-on right about Regency romances doing this over and over. How I wish I thought of that to add it to my story in the ACFW Journal.

    As for why women are drawn to “a man without convictions, decency or self-control,” a simple answer would be basic evolutionary ideals. A man who is highly charismic, athletic, attractive…this is a man who makes a better mate/producer of offspring. However, I know it’s more than that. There is something in a woman–which I’ve called the female savior complex in my article–that wants to change him. I’d encourage you to use Google to search that concept.

    Thanks for your insights!

  8. HEATHER – Yes, there is a very real danger in this over-idealized “protective” sort. Many of the characteristics of them are in line with general traits of abusers. Scary stuff.

    The thing about it usually being a virgin is so unrealistic that it makes me laugh every time I read a book like what I’ve described. And even when books go beyond the CBA world of what’s allowed…it’s just unrealistic. A virgin, who knows little of the ways of the world, is unlikely to be so incredible romantically as to change the bad boy. He usually has miles and miles of experience to draw from, which puts her at an immediate disadvantage, but this is never discussed in any book I’ve ever read with this motif. Just foor for thought.

  9. Thanks CAROL and HEIDI!

    JOYCE – There are some Christian fiction books that absolutely portray it dead on…usually, though, they are too edgy to go through the major publishers. We all have our stopping point, and I get that. I’m not trying to call for publishers to lower their standards at all. I’m just trying to draw some attention to this trend that troubles me on a professional level. Thanks for popping over.

  10. Janice Boekhoff says:

    Like Joyce, I’ve seen this scenario too much in real life. And it almost always ends badly for the girl. The boy, however, just goes on his merry way.

    I’m so glad you are calling attention to the message sent with this type of plot. My thoughts are this plot feeds off a woman/girl’s desire to feel uniquely special to someone. As you said in your article, the girl feels like she’s the only one who can turn him around and so she feels special (and somehat powerful), but it’s an illusion. God is the only one who can do the saving.

    Great post/article, Jeannie!!

  11. Karla Akins says:

    We do young women a disservice when we write these types of plots. As a young girl, the book Christy had such a huge impact on me that it fashioned a calling in my heart to full-time Christian service. (Although, admittedly, of the two men pulling at Christy’s heart strings, the doctor she marries in the book was more of a bad boy than the minister, but at least he wasn’t of the sort that slept around.)

    I don’t think CBA trusts readers to be savvy enough to enjoy a more complicated relationship in a story. As writers we’re always told to trust the reader. Publishers would do well to do the same. I, for one, don’t bother with simplistic romances such as these. They just don’t “feed” my need for escape when there are no consequences for bad actions and they are unbelievably benign. I think there would be more sales if there were more meaty books in the romance genre.

  12. TIM –

    As I mentioned to Joyce…there are Christian books out there that are realistic. The CBA has a standard to uphold and they are unashamed of that.

    I remember reading a book by Deeanne Gist, Courting Trouble, that had a Christian heroine willfully do something…um…decidely un-Christian. I applauded!!

  13. Thanks, JANICE!

    KARLA – I agree…”unbelievably benign” consequences sums these novels up perfectly.