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Can a Series Survive When Sexual Tension Turns to Marriage?

I'm pondering the future of a series here, and would like your thoughts. In a character driven mystery, the sexual tension between two characters offers opportunities to develop the characters, to delve into what makes them tick. It also give the writer the opportunity to move the plot or drive wedges between protagonists. My question is can you still use that feeling if your characters decide to get married? As most writers know, we have very little control over the characters in our books. Oh, we can throw roadblocks in their way, provide action, kidnapping, murder and mayhem, but their personal actions and reactions very quickly become their own. Characters you create so you can kill them off, decide they want to stay and take part in the story. Some of them don't like the area and move away. Some demand a larger part in the story and sometimes they fall in love. Oh you can take control, demand that they stick around, force them into the place you want them to go, but at least in my writing, when I do that, they become sulky and uncooperative. 

The reason I bring this up is I have a couple of characters that have decided they'd like to marry and I'm not sure that is a good idea. Far be it for me to ruin their lives or anything, but the byplay between these two has driven four stories so far, and I'm afraid in this case, wedded bliss might mean the death of the series. I mean, if they're blissfully happy, and living together full time, where's the tension, where's the humor. Should I allow them their till death do us part moment and wrap the series? Or should I devise a means of keeping them apart and take the chance that they'll rebel and wander off into the sunset leaving me with nothing. Or will their serious commitment make them more exciting, willing to risk life and limb for each other in a way they didn't before. 

Do you like married crime fighters? Is it possible to keep the sexual tension in a married couple without making them creepy? My own marriage was woefully short, and the only tension I can really remember had more to do with the fact that we annoyed each other beyond belief, so personal experience isn't going to serve me very well on this one. Tell me what you think.


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Marriage can work, but I think it's a lot harder to keep the reader's interest going. Did you see the movie Mr & Mrs Jones? Not believable, but the kept the tension up.


Married couples have done very well in the past. The Thin Man series, both books and movies, is a classic series. In more recent TV (but still ancient to younger people), Macmillan and Wife and Hart to Hart come to mind. The keys to success there were humor and charm. Solving crimes was all in a day's work. These days everything seems grungier and grimier but if humor and charm fit your characters, let them get hitched. It opens up a whole new set of challenges.

Pat Browning

I can't think of any contemporary series where the protagonists are married--and stay that way. Harry Bosch married Eleanor Wish in Michael Connelly's series, but the marriage only lasted for a book or two, and tenuously at that. Robert Crais had Elvis Cole and Lucy Chenier part sadly but amicably in his series before they got to the altar.

As a few writers with female protagonists have pointed out, it changes things when you've got to make sure the dishes and shopping are done and the kids have a sitter before you go out trailing the bad guy.

I'm rethinking an unpublished series so that the couple, who originally met and generated heat quickly, moved in together within months. Now, I'm rewriting the series so they won't move in together for several books, which still need to get published. I don't see them every getting married.

I would love to read more about married couples. Sure, the sexual tension is always fun to read and write but the real work (for the couple) starts afterward. I don't know about the sexual tension but there can be lots of tension between a fresh married couple. They might not fully trust each other yet, each has a different understanding of wedding vows or married life in general, they could get separated or more dramatic one partner is believed to be dead, a third person stirs the pot. So, maybe it's more about the growing love and less about the sexual tension?

I loved Hart to Hart and MacMillan and Wife. Can't believe those two examples never came to me.

That's true about the dishes and the kids, but my protag is already a single mom, so she's dealing with those things already, so maybe the hard part's done and all I have to do is figure out how to fit in the hubby. It'll be fun to see what develops. You know these characters tend to do what they want.

I don't care whether the sleuth is in a relationship or not. If the series used to depend on sexual tension as the token or symbol of what was wrong with the sleuth or the direction his/her growth needed to take, then you'll need to chart a new course for them -- and there can be lots of sexual tension between the sleuth and other people, or you can chart the ebb and flow of desire between married people, whatever you want the book to be about. As long as a key element is replaced with something just as satisfying to the audience, you're golden.

Spenser's relationship with Susan was perfectly satisfying, for example, in all its many permutations.

I think if you base characters' relationship on sexual tension then it's bound to fizzle--just like in real life, married or not. Over simplifying (oh, just a bit!) you need 3 things to keep a relationship going. 1) attraction, 2) the desire to care for/protect the object of one's attraction, and 3) the desire to BE cared for and protected by that person. That goes for both the male and female. If one of those things hits a snag...say the woman, in a desire to show how strong she is refuses to accept her partner's desire to protect and care for her, then you've got conflict AND viola! attraction is still there! They're both frustrated, but for different reasons. You've got conflict, which is what you need to keep a reader's interest. All of this can be subtle or not, depending on the needs of the story.

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