A Korean Romance Show Made Me Feel Things About Writing (and Other Reflections)

The show is called Business Proposal and it is a delight.

Since I’ve stopped obsessing over the business of writing (AKA publishing) and put more focus into where writing fits into my life and when it’s fun for me, my brain started working again! It no longer sounds like a fork in a garbage disposal whenever I try to do the least bit of introspection. (Yes, I’m basically Chidi from The Good Place.) Consequently, I realized some stuff recently that I thought might be interesting to share, both for my own enjoyment in attempting to make the points cogent and for intrigued parties.

It’s not just because I want to talk about the rabbit hole that is Korean romance shows. IT ISN’T.

Business Proposal is an adorable show full of so many conceits that summarizing them here would do the plot a disservice. Mostly, it’s a lighthearted romance full of misunderstandings and mistakes between two airbrushed people just trying to make out. Having consumed a lot of bad romance over the years, I always found myself frustrated by the nature of the misunderstandings and mistakes that glued those romances together. But I was focusing on the negatives instead of, say, considering why Pride and Prejudice is such a banger. And when I set out to write romances of my own, they were naturally a bit … different, because of what they were responding to.

Take Legacy of Flame, for example. (SPOILER) Elia and Syllian recognized each other as equals, liked each other almost immediately upon meeting, and continued to deepen their understanding of each other without much tension. Syllian is so respectful that during his first encounter with Elia, he wouldn’t even non-consensually use the magic it would take to keep someone from overhearing them, which Elia recognizes at once. (END SPOILER) It was a situation rife for misunderstanding, and there were plenty more to come, but I didn’t want them to misunderstand each other.

Blood of Ice is similar, albeit to a lesser degree. (SPOILER) Aria and Casimir have some back and forth, and they get into one proper fight over a misunderstanding, but overall, the tension between them doesn’t rest on mistakes. Casimir’s position as a mage and the stigma attached to it is a huge opportunity for misunderstandings and awkwardness that I leave mostly unutilized. In fact, the whole implication that Aria being into a mage is a big deal is overwhelmingly tell-y: I never really show anyone being suspicious of how much time Aria and Casimir are spending together, or show any moments that make it clear what Casimir’s true position in society is. (END SPOILER)

Romance, though, is all about the situations I left unutilized. It’s about two people making a bunch of mistakes together and separately, but ultimately getting past those mistakes, and coming toward each other all the while. The hiccups in Business Proposal are silly and many of them are eventually solved by communication, but it’s the getting to the point of being able to communicate that truly makes the love story. I was so intent on not doing the things I didn’t like to see in romance, I didn’t consider how I could change the nature of the mistakes and misunderstandings and still get the right effect. I should have realized this a long time ago, really, but like I mentioned, my brain. Completely frozen up, and I don’t know how long that’s been going on for. Live and learn, I guess.

To be clear, I like the stories I wrote. They’re more focused on plot than other elements, which is fine. And anyway, I can’t go back and change them now, regardless of perceived shortcomings. That’s both the best and worst thing about writing (and, by extension, publishing): with every story, you get better, but you can also see exactly where you used to fall short, and regret that you weren’t as good in the past. The positive spin is that becoming aware of said shortcomings is a great sign for future writing—I just have the sort of temperament that demands perfection, even from the past.

It’s hella annoying.

But it brings me to the project I found myself buried in this weekend: compiling dozens upon dozens of documents I’ve generated over the years full of random creative writing, alternate universe stories, and even some old stuff from a now-defunct fiction blog where I took my first crack at serializing stories and failed miserably. I spent most of a day collating these documents into several volumes of an overall “creative writing journal” that I’ll add to in the future. And I sure wanted to beat myself up for how amateur and silly some of my old writing was, but in the end, it was all practice. So whatever.

The interesting realization came as a result of a comment I read a few weeks ago on Reddit from a writer who talked about the difference between plot and story. Plot is all the situations and events that happen to the characters; story is the thing that keeps you writing. It’s the emotional stakes for the characters, the journey they go on to become who they are at the end. Looking back on all the trajectories and serials I started and never finished, it became painstakingly clear that I was starting projects with only the plot in mind, and halfway through I would get bored with the story, because I hadn’t decided ahead of time what kind of people I wanted to write about.

The few stories that did reach some sort of conclusion were still weak (by my current estimation, anyway), but there was a clearer sense that I was interested in exploring the emotions. Even with my current published works, I know I finished them because I cared about the emotional arcs for the characters. It’s just nuts to me that I’ve been writing since I was sixteen, and I’m only now making some of these connections. Bear witness to my shame.

Well, not really. It’s another thing to regret not knowing, certainly, because it would have perfected the past—but what use is there, thinking like that? I can’t change the past, no matter how much I might want to.

There’s only the future. The next step. The next piece of writing.

2 thoughts on “A Korean Romance Show Made Me Feel Things About Writing (and Other Reflections)

  1. This is like watching a tree grow. In SUCH a hurry to reach the clerestory in the first years then realizing your roots have to grow around a rock or two to make you strong enough to start grabbing for the sun. Drinking and eating from differing offerings along the way, gleaning all the nutrients and storing them away, even when you are not certain in which branch to stash them. But you do continue day after day, growing stronger and leaner to then be surprised when flowers start to form in the Spring. A beautiful story, this tree. I am glad to be allowed to be in its presence.


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