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What happens after the ship sails? - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
What happens after the ship sails?
Okay, I was browsing around on TV Tropes and got to one that was about shipping. I don't remember which. (These are things that just get me thinking.) The comment was, "Sure, the shipper thinks she wants the couple to get together and not have problems, just cuddle on the couch, but then what is there to do? You need conflict!"

And I kind of scratched my head because, well... we're not talking about stories where the ship is the point.

If you're talking about a rom-com, then yes, the plot question is will they or won't they overcome their relationship difficulties to become a couple? (Spoiler for every rom-com ever: Yes. Yes, they will.) That's why rom-coms rarely have sequels. No one wants to mess with cute couple, and there's no other plot.

(And take nothing I say to be an aspersion on rom-coms. They are a guilty pleasure. And since you didn't ask, my favorites are When Harry Met Sally... and The Proposal).

But in other kinds of stories... well, that's not the point. Sometimes, there is a sense of "you get the ship as part of your happily-ever-after reward," but it's not in a way that you've overcome relationship plot snares, and it's not necessary. You could even go the whole plot of a thing without any romantic ships without it negatively affecting the story. Or you could make a ship central, but not conflicted as a ship. I mean, sometimes it's enough conflict to have aliens attacking the earth without Betty Jo worrying that Tommy is flirting with Whitney Lee.

So, in the interest of answering a challenge that wasn't actually issued to me (and probably only exists in my head), here are things we can do with couples that aren't about conflict in the couple. My couple is Mason and Dakota. Assign them whatever attributes you like.

Plot 1: The foundation ship
Mason is an adventurer par excellence, and Dakota is a scientist without peer. Both of them have teams of people working for them, and they are sort of the parent figures of the whole crew. The earth is under threat! They have to drill into the Earth's mantle and set something right. Dakota and the science crew do the calculations and invent stuff. Mason and the adventure crew have to actually accomplish the physical mission! You could work in a ship angle (The Abyss does), but it's most likely going to be "The relationship used to be in trouble, but working as a team has reminded them that they're good together." Nothing complicated.

Plot 2: The it's-there-ship
This is Molly and Arthur Weasley, in a nutshell. The plot goes on around a pre-existing ship, and it's never threatened, and when there's conflict, it's because they're worried about each other. In this version, Mason and Dakota are happily married, and Dakota is worried when Mason volunteers to lead the team, but knows it's going to happen. Mason wants to stop the earth from being destroyed largely because it would kill Dakota. There is no conflict about the ship, but, dude, the earth's going to be destroyed. That's pretty conflict-y.

Plot 3: The battle couple, or the partner-ship
This is, to me, the obvious after-romance set up, the sequel. So, your bickering/separated/whatever couple finally got together. Now... they're together! So maybe when Mason first came to the lab, Dakota was not a favorite person, but due to the events of the story, they realized that they're perfect for each other. They save the world, and have a big damn kiss. Next story? There's an alien invasion coming! Mason and Dakota have to invent and build a ship, recruit a crew, and go kick some alien butt. They fight back to back, depend on each other's strengths, and win the day. Or, if it's a TV show, they build a world-saving company and have to kick something's butt every week, or solve a mystery, or... you know, do whatever the plot is.

But... Moonlighting! After Maddie and David got together, there was nothing left! True. Largely because it was a rom-com (see above) and the weekly mystery plots were nothing but fodder for the will-they-won't-they. They could have switched genres -- zany married couple in wild situations (worked for I Love Lucy), but they didn't. That doesn't mean it can't work.
8 comments or Leave a comment
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: April 17th, 2018 02:32 am (UTC) (Link)
My rebuttal to anyone who thinks a secure, stable relationship spells boredom?
May I introduce Nick and Nora Charles, of The Thin Man
matril From: matril Date: April 17th, 2018 01:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes! The whole "established, happy couples are boring" assumption drives me crazy. There are plenty of ways to make it work. I hate the implication that stable relationships are dull. Breaking up a couple is all too often the laziest way to create drama when there could be so many other more interesting choices.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 17th, 2018 08:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I’m a dyed in the wool anti-shipper (why ya gotta mess with great friendships? Why does everyone have to be partnered up? What’s with all this mushy stuff?). But I must say the best part of ships happening is that we can stop all the willl-they-won’t-they drama! -K
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 21st, 2018 02:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Exactly! That's why it just frustrates me when they take a perfectly good couple and randomly start messing with it. I have Carrie Fisher's reaction from When Harry Met Sally, turning to her stable significant other and saying, "Promise me that I'll never be out there again."
shiiki From: shiiki Date: April 18th, 2018 03:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hm, that's an interesting question. I never really thought about it, but I think there is an argument for people wanting to see a couple in an established relationship (I mean, the proliferation of fluff fanfic that's purely just cuddling etc ...)

Most of my favourite stories involving couples doesn't really focus on the relationship as the be-all-end-all of the story, though, so that may be why while I'm anxious for the couples to get together, I'd carry on reading even after they do.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 21st, 2018 02:24 am (UTC) (Link)
In fanfic, there's definitely a place for just fluff. (And fluff often improves canon stories, because it raises the stakes considerably -- if Person A is in a relationship where he or she is happy and brings happiness to Person B, then threats to Person A's health and well-being from the plot mean more to the reader.) But my impression was that this was about the actual canon materials, which... there really are conflicts outside of the ship! There are things for healthy couples to do. (I appreciated that about The Mummy Returns, actually.)
princesselwen From: princesselwen Date: April 21st, 2018 03:53 am (UTC) (Link)
The inside vs. outside conflict also applies to friendships. I remember there was a Rosemary Sutcliff historical novel I really liked, called The Silver Branch. The story centers around the friendship between the protagonist, Justin, and his best friend, Flavius (the story is set in Roman-era Britain). Throughout the story, I kept expecting the two of them to have That Big Fight that's so common in friendship stories. But they never do. The story's main focus remains on the external conflict of Defeating the Evil Emperor.
I also don't care for (seemingly) endless will-they-or-won't-they romantic plotlines. After a while, I just want the characters to stop dithering and decide one way or the other.
gabrielladusult From: gabrielladusult Date: May 1st, 2018 03:33 am (UTC) (Link)
This reminds me of my husband's complaint (one of them anyway) about National Treasure 2. I realize that the franchise isn't exactly great cinema to begin with. But we found the first movie pretty entertaining. The ship was not necessary to the story, but I enjoyed it. Then the second movie starts and: Oh no! There's been some sort of misunderstanding and they've split up even though they still love each other and need each other. Not enough for them to just be together this time when they solve the new treasure hunt - there must also be romantic tension. And, to make sure, his father and mother (whom they suggested was dead in the first movie) are also on the outs but still secretly in love - so there's plenty of romantic tension in the adventure/treasure hunt movie. It was all a bit too much, even for somebody who like romance, like me.
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