A Romantic Getaway: Shakespeare’s Green World Narrative and Modern Writers

DCP_0710When we think of Shakespeare’s impact on modern literature, we’re tempted to think of only the loftiest works: innovative volumes of sonnets, daring new applications of metered verse, and  adaptations of the Bard’s plays that strike the perfect balance between modern relevance and historical accuracy. We are less likely to think of Weekend at Bernie’sCaddyshackWedding Crashers, or Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. We are even less likely to think of our own romantic works – partly for fear of flattering ourselves too much, to be sure, but also partly because some of Shakespeare’s contributions, like the green world narrative, have become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to ignore them.

The green world narrative is the common thread that binds Shakespeare’s plays to the bawdy romantic comedies of today’s silver screen. This narrative, which begins by setting up conflict in an urban setting, has our characters fleeing to a natural setting to escape whatever nastiness has corrupted their home in the city. However, the green world is almost always more than it seems, and it is the realm of faeries whose top priority is their own amusement (often at the expense of the heroes). Nonetheless, the strange and unlikely events that happen in the green world allow the characters to resolve the city-born conflict and come home to a happy ending.

In Shakespeare’s works, the green world narrative is most clearly on display in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Tempest. It is also the foundation for a number of modern romantic comedies – although Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle has been a particular favorite of mine ever since I realized that Neil Patrick Harris is thoroughly enjoying his role as a present-day Puck.

However, it is when I find myself sitting down to write a romance that I appreciate the green world narrative the most. It’s an incredibly flexible structure, asking only that I distinguish between an urban setting and a green world setting – and maybe put part of the plot-driving responsibility in the hands of a strange, eccentric, or even supernatural character. A green world narrative can be set in Boston or ancient Greece; faeries can be played by a range of characters from a shamanic healer to an eccentric neighbor. Letting the green world narrative guide your romantic or erotic work can help you stop worrying about what your plot will be and start developing vivid, memorable characters who your audience will cherish and cheer for long after they’ve put the book down.

I couldn’t give a fig


A bowl of figs

A bowl of figs

The expression makes these wonderful fruits sound worthless.

Whereas in fact it comes from a Spanish pun between the 2 almost identical words for fig and the female genitals.

It was the name for a rude gesture in which the thumb is placed between the first and second fingers.

In Shakespeare’s time it was known as The Fig of Spain.

Knowing all this doesn’t lessen my pleasure in eating them!

How to write a good villain

625063A villain is important to the plot of many stories. This might be a supernatural entity, or a seemingly average Joe with sociopathic tendencies. Which is right for your story? What will give your readers chills? Is your villain charismatic and charming alongside their evilness, or just downright detestable? And most importantly: how can you write these characters effectively?

Here are 4 tips to keep in mind when creating your villain.

What kind of villain are you portraying?

Is your villain ‘serial killer evil,’ or evil in the sense that they quietly manipulate and slowly destroy everyone around them? Remember, sometimes the most frightening people in our lives are right under our nose. Shakespeare’s Iago, Lionel Shriver’s Kevin Katchadourian, Julia Davies’ Jill Tyrrel; these villains appear charming, kind and relatively typical to the majority of people around them. Is it obvious to your readers that this character is actually a villain or will it be a secret until the very end when their crimes are revealed? Or will only your characters be in the dark, and your reader in the know all along?

Other types of villain make no secret to anybody of their terrible intentions. Think of The Joker. What about him is so successful? Is it the believability of his character or his audacity? Do you want, for lack of a better term, a more ‘in-yer-face’ villain?

Then we have our supernatural villains, such as Anne Rice’s Lestat. Although he is a vampire, he still has many features of the classic villain; charming, manipulative, self-serving, cold, etc. Don’t neglect your villain’s character just because they are not human, or let the ‘supernatural’ label do all the work. They still have to be gripping and effective.

Think about your favourite villains. What can you learn from them?

Who are your favourite villains and why do you love (or indeed, love to hate them) so much? A powerful villain has an effect on the reader like no other type of character. They are memorable, gripping, unpredictable, and have a tendency to haunt you long after you close the book. But why? Think about what it was about your favourite villains that had you so hooked. Was it their smooth, sociopathic charm? Were they so realistic that they made you think twice about some of the people around you? Or did they simply keep you guessing until the very end?

Born this way?

Like with all characters, think about your villain’s motivations. This is not the same as sympathising with them or justifying their actions. Is it an incurable mental illness that makes them behave the way they do? Did they have a troubled or abusive childhood? Did a traumatic event change them and make them evil? Or were they simply born that way? You might want to watch some crime documentaries for help here, particularly ones with a lot of psychology and behavioural analysis. This can help you on your way to building someone very believable and chilling.

And lastly… don’t be shy.

‘I can’t write this, it’s too horrible. People will think I’m sick! Nobody will want to read this!’

Forget about that. People have a natural morbid fascination, and like to be shocked. Why do you think controversial books sell so well? As long as your villain’s abhorrent actions fit with the character and your plot, you’re good to go. Think about it differently:

‘This is really horrible. If it shocks people, it means my work has made an impact, which is what I set out to do.’

Feel better now?

Have fun writing your villain, but don’t forget to take him or her seriously. Ask yourself questions about how realistic he or she is as you go along; make sure you are remaining true to the character you have created. And don’t let them get too far inside your head…