Standing at the Brink of Risk

I Love You
Celine Dion (singer) & Nova (writer)
YouTube     Lyrics

The fear of rejection is an incredibly powerful demotivating force, especially when paired with infatuation. Looking upon my teenage years, I can laugh at how complicated I made it for myself. How hard can it be to ask someone to a movie? A dance? These actions seem small and simple, however, at the time they were awkward and agonizing. As an author, I love awkward and agonizing. If executed skillfully, this internal struggle can be a very poignant character conflict, especially for the YA market.

Though using the fear of rejection as a primary plot is possible, given the right audience and format, it has two major risks. First, if the conflict stretches on for too long, the tactic will seem contrived and people lose interest. Second, maintaining or transitioning tension after some sort of resolution has been achieved is difficult. Because of this, I have found that this sort of romantic conflict is especially good for complicating a protagonist’s life, rather than acting as a primary plot. That way, you can still get the benefit of the added tension but mitigate the risks.

Avoiding melodrama is essential when executing this kind of plot. The fear of rejection is a personal conflict with relatively minor consequences when viewed in the long-term. In the short-term, it sucks and seems like a big deal. However, embarrassment, disappointment and heartbreak will eventually be forgotten or overcome. If you make the consequences too large then you’ll lose a lot of your hard-won suspension of disbelief and audience buy-in.

The major advantage of a fear of rejection plot is that it is incredibly relatable. We’ve all felt awkward and uncertain approaching a crush, and therefore it garners sympathy for characters. When executed skillfully, it can be powerful. In I Love You, Celine Dion and Nova spend the first three verses of the song telling the story of a woman who is in love and regretting that she didn’t act upon her feelings when she first met the man of her dreams. After the first repetition of the chorus (“I love you… till the end of time.”) the point of view character approaches the love interest but hesitates again to express her feelings. Wonderful! I love the tension of the internal conflict.

As she hesitates at the brink of risk, the man hands the narrator a note sharing his feelings which mirror her own. Though this could have come off as cheating, it felt right because of how the repetition of the chorus allowed the man’s action to act as a foil to the woman’s hesitation.  Also a part of the success was that the story was told in a very short medium. The total run time of the song was about five minutes and therefore required fast pacing and a decisive resolution, and in so doing, avoided many of the risks I mentioned.


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