We’re happy to have wonktastical author Bonnie Dee back this week with another guest post, this time on “The Outsider, a mythic romantic figure.” Take it away, Bonnie!
A fish out of water tale is just about my favorite subject to read in romance or any other genre. I love a story containing a clash of cultures or anything in which someone considered an outsider is forced to deal with a foreign-to-him group. This trope can take a number of different forms, and there’s something to enjoy about each one.
Time Traveling. Can’t get much more out of water than that. As long as the older time period is depicted more-or-less historically accurately, I’m satisfied, but the grittier and more realistic the better. This way you get a historical and a contemporary rolled into one. Sort of like Certs. I could go the obvious route and point to books like the Outlander series or The Time Traveler’s Wife, but I’m going to suggest some less familiar reads.
The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser entranced me in the 70s, and Time and Again by Jack Finney was a big favorite in the 80s. I want to also recommend some writer friends’ books: Summer Devon’s Futurelove about a sexually repressed visitor from the future, and Totally Tubular by Gwen Hayes, in which a girl is transported to her mother’s high school experience. Good times!
The Social Outcast. Cinderella is a prime example. She didn’t really belong at that ball, though it could be argued that her lineage due to her father was purer than that of her stepsisters and their questionable social-climbing mother. People love seeing the rise to power of someone who’s been cast down, the revenge of someone kicked to the curb, or the triumph of any social reject. Variations of Cinderella’s story are always popular. My OC (tv series) obsession was in large part because of the theme of the outcast (Ryan Atwood) trying to make a place for himself in a society he’s not familiar with (Orange County social scene).
My own writing niche includes many social outcasts, such as Jim in A Hearing Heart, Tom in Bone Deep, Jason in New Life and Mason in Beloved Healer. Hah, I just realized I gave them rhyming names, and their girlfriends are, respectively Anna and Ava. Real original there.
Cross Cultural. I’m immediately hooked by almost any book that has East meeting West or some other combination of cross-cultural connection. Check out the charming Indian Maidens Bust Loose by Vidya Samson… Ah, I see why I couldn’t find the link at Amazon, the author retitled it Prince Charming Wanted. Probably a good idea, but I liked the original title. When a traditional Indian woman’s cousins from Canada come to visit, cultures clash big time.
I don’t know exactly how cross cultural this next one is, but I really enjoyed The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington for its depiction of a former monk who moves into the apartment below a single mother. Romance ensues. My own romance Captive Bride features lovers coming to each other from very different cultures, China and the U.S.
Bad Boys. This is a variation on the social outcast, but in addition there’s an element of redemption for former bad deeds factored in. I love my bad boys of fiction to have been seriously BAD, no mere lip service. I want to see them have to really dig their way out of a very dark place to come to the light.
I know a lot of romance readers need that “he’s nice to puppies” moment early in the story to convince them this is someone worth saving. I’ve even written that moment when I really didn’t wish to for readers’ sake. But for myself, I actually don’t need to see that touch of grace in an anti-hero—at least not until later in the book when it illustrates growth. A prime example of a baddie who was a stone-cold killer is Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He had no redeeming qualities, except maybe extreme loyalty (read “obsession”) to whatever woman he was in love with, and yet many viewers adored this character. And at the end he achieved complete redemption, sacrificing self to save the world. *sigh*
I won’t even begin a list of Bad Boy books. This seems to be the most popular outsider type of all, and such bad boy heroes are too numerous to list.
So, there you have a number of seemingly different tropes all tied together under the umbrella of the outsider seeking their place in the world. I think the theme speaks to that square-peg-round-hole feeling we’ve all experienced. A little outsider lurks in everyone, whispering we’re not good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, nobody likes us.