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Thursday, August 13, 2009

T3 - Jealousy

How many of us have read novels where jealousy played a huge role in what happened between the MCs? Or maybe jealousy was what spurred the spurned villain on to do evil acts of...well, evilness. It's prominent in books, movies, and real life! A nationwide survey of therapist back in the 90s revealed that 1/3 of couples coming in for therapy had jealousy issues.

Let's do a quick survey of some movies that incorporate jealousy as a major theme.

My Best Friend's Wedding


Single White Female

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle

Fatal Attraction

Indecent Proposal

There are several more (Envy and Jealousy to name a few), but what struck me is how jealousy is overly done in these movies. I mean, most all of the characters in the movies above could have had some serious inpatient work with a psychiatrist, therapist, or both. Glenn Close, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Jason Lee and Rebecca De Mornay's characters were all completely insane. Seriously.

But jealousy doesn't have to be overblown like in these examples. It can be subtle. For the most part, jealousy is fueled by a combination of two emotions: fear and anger. Fear that you are losing something or someone and anger that something or someone is moving in on something you feel belongs solely to you.

Now, you can be jealous and err on the angry side (Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction) or you can be jealous and err on the fear side (Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding). I guess another way of putting it is that villains are more likely to lean to the anger side and heroes/heroines are more likely to lean to the fear side. A good test is to figure out which emotion is effecting you (or your characters!) is to pinpoint where in your body you feel different. If your "stomach drops," it's probably fear. If your shoulder or jaw tenses, it's probably anger.

But not all jealous reactions are pathological. Some are very normal reactions to a perceived threat to the relationship. Jealousy can slip into pathological when there really is no perceived threat. For example, if you see a girl moving in on your guy--I mean, she's touching his shoulder, angling her body towards him and giggling like a school girl on laughing gas--then your jealousy comes from the perceived threat you have on your relationship.

However, let's say you don't even have a relationship with a guy anymore. You broke up months ago. He's seeing someone else...and you hate her guts. Well, there's really no perceived threat to your relationship with this guy because there is no relationship. This borders on pathological. Mary Connealy did a great job of this type of pathologically jealous villain in her latest release, Montana Rose.

So most of us are going to write from our experiences...and I'm sincerely hoping most of us don't have pathological jealous experiences in our closets! We'll write a heroine getting suspicious about her love interest being involved with someone else because her past boyfriend cheated on her. We'll write a hero who might tag his love interest to the gym because he wants to make eyes at any guy who might ogle know...stake his claim.

But if you include jealousy as a character flaw, it's important to identify what the jealousy is really about. What does the jealousy indicate as important to the character? How is the character's development furthered by his or her jealousy? What does it say about them? Interview your character with the following questions:
  • Why am I jealous over this?
  • What, exactly, is making me jealous?
  • What am I trying to keep/afraid to lose?
  • Why do I feel threatened/insecure?
  • Is the threat real, perceived, or not there at all?
These questions will get you started in understanding your character's motivation.

One last tiny thought. Jealousy is NOT love. Jsut because you feel jealous about someone doesn't not mean you love them. Jealousy is actually the fear and anger of losing love.

Chew on that one a while.

Q4U: What other movies or books out there incorporate jealousy as a theme?

Wordle: signature


Tana said...

That's a great problem to throw in a novel! It could run so many courses. BTW, I am jealous that child's very green eyes. ;)

PatriciaW said...

Seems like the jealousy that gets out of control is when the anger portion far outweighs the fear. The imbalance results in strange and sometimes violent behavior.

Just saw Maid in Manhattan with Jennifer Lopez. There was a jealousy theme there. Jennifer's character jealous of her client who was engaged to the doctor she secretly was attracted to. The doctor(Matthew McConaughey) jealous of the guy who Jennifer became engaged to and nearly married, because he secretly was attracted to Jennifer's character. Fear causes people to protect themselves which is why--in addition to professional obligation--Jennifer's character tries to push the doctor away.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

great example patricia...although i think you were meaning to say The Wedding Planner. :) i loved Maid in of my favorites.

Stephanie Faris said...

I remember when I was single reading about "emotional triggers" and how sometimes our jealous reaction (as well as other reactions) isn't sparked by the moment at hand but something has triggered a fear based in a past event in our lives. It was attempting to train the reader to know when something's a trigger and not react inappropriately to the current situation.

Joyce Wolfley said...

I enjoyed this post. There is a point where my MC gets jealous and it kinda weirds her out because she's never felt it before. It's also a great moment for her to stop and wonder why she's feeling jealous.

Katie Ganshert said...

In the last book I wrote, I had two scenes that revolved around jealousy. They were super fun to write!! Both were pathalogical. I like the questions you provided to ask our characters. Great stuff!

Tabitha Bird said...

I have found that jealousy is a difficult feeling to isolate. Sometimes it comes packaged as anger or even disgust, but if I am really honest I can usually tell when green eyes are looking outwards. Great post as always :)

Clementine said...

You hit on a great point, and the reason I think we're drawn to these villians in one way or another, is the fact that we relate with their flaws. I also think competitiveness is a root of jealousy and that always makes for an interesting character.

Angela Ackerman said...

I JUST found this blog. How could I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS PLACE?

I'm very excited. Sa-weet. Can't wait to do some serious reading here.

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.