How do you recognize a One True Pairing?

In conventional romance novels, you can always tell who the female main character is supposed to (and going to) end up with--the male romantic lead shows up within the first couple pages, and gets special emphasis/attention in his description. And generally has certain kinds of characteristics--for example, the protagonist may be immediately physically attracted to him but is put off by his apparent arrogance. (There are plenty of other characteristics that romance heroes can have; that's just an example.) And in romantic comedy movies and such, it's usually pretty clear in various ways (not least of which is the fact that the leads are generally played by the biggest-name actors in the movie).

In non-romance contexts, though, such as TV shows and non-romance fiction, it's generally not quite so obvious.

And yet, a lot of readers/viewers/listeners have a strong gut reaction that two characters are meant to be together. In the fanfic world, belief in and fandom for a particular romantic pairing between characters is known as shipping ("ship" being short for "relationship," more or less), and in a given work, the pairing that any given fan is most into is their One True Pairing, or OTP. Of course, different people have different OTPs, which are often different from what the creators of the work intended.

As y'all know, I've been watching a lot of Gilmore Girls lately. With various works, I often quickly develop an idea about who I want to end up together--Lee/Kara, Harry/Hermione, etc--but most of the time it's more a mild-to-medium interest and hope than something I care a lot about. But in Gilmore Girls, I had two immediate strong OTP reactions: There's one character who is obviously and absolutely The Right Person for Lorelai, and another who's (less strongly/clearly) The Right Person for Rory.

One of those cases has turned into a long-running tantalizing possibility; the other had positive things happen and then negative things happen (trying to avoid spoilers, just in case I manage to convince some of y'all who haven't seen it to watch this show). And I'm finding that I have somewhat stronger feelings about this than I usually do.

In particular, one of the two is currently (at the point where I am in the series) heading toward being involved with a character who I Do Not Like, and I kind of resent it. She's walking away from her OTP in order to be with someone who imo is obviously (imo) wrong for her, but who the writers have been blatantly pushing her toward.

Btw, I don't yet want to know who either Lorelai or Rory end up with long-term, so don't tell me. I'll just sit here in my fantasy land where they end up with the right people.

Anyway, my point in writing this entry doesn't really have anything to do with this particular show. What I want to ask is: how do we get these OTP ideas?

For me, I think it's generally that there's a protagonist who I like, and my OTP for them is the one who I find most likeable from among their romantic options. But is that all of it? I think there must be more. It's not always the character I find most physically attractive; it's not always the character who's the nicest or friendliest or most considerate of the options. (Cf Starbuck.) I think maybe part of it is that I'm a sucker for love denied (in fiction)--when two characters are clearly interested in each other but are stymied by circumstances, or won't or can't admit it to each other. But then again, when that happens between a protagonist and a character I don't like, I find it irritating rather than romantic.

I guess I'm also a sucker for certain character types. Honorable characters, scruffy/grumpy characters with a heart of gold (I may've picked that up from watching Mick Belker on Hill Street Blues back in the day), tough women, gentle men. Physically attractive characters, characters who obviously care about each other. Smart and/or funny characters, though that doesn't seem to be enough to get me to put someone in a OTP. And maybe characters who are more or less equals in some way?

I dunno; still trying to figure this out. So thought I'd ask y'all:

Do you do the OTP thing with fictional characters?

If so, do you know what some of the factors are that determine who you think is the OTP? Is it just an immediate gut feeling for you? Does it develop over time? How do you feel about it if the writer(s) thwart you? What if they don't even acknowledge the possibility of your OTP? Or do you only pair characters who have some sort of canonical interest in each other?

I imagine the answers to some of those questions may be somewhat different for those of you who write fanfic than for those of you who don't, so feel free to talk about all this wrt fanfic you write or read, or not, at your option.

3 Responses to “How do you recognize a One True Pairing?”

  1. textjunkie

    Do you do the OTP thing with fictional characters?

    Can’t say I do. I watched a lot of Gilmore Girls in reruns a few years ago and I remember the sensation of “Awww…that’s the wrong person” but I didn’t really get het up about it. If I’m remembering the situation, I thought it was pretty clear that that was what the viewer was *expected* to feel from the previous episodes, not some pairing I came up with.

    And I’ve never been someone who tries to pair people up where the writers aren’t already doing it–the idea of romances on “House” or pulled out of The Lord of the Rings for example always strikes me as out of place and only detracting from the rest of the story. I don’t have strong opinions about the various couplings that come and go on “Lost”, either, but there are people who get into fistfights over it.

    Possibly I’m just not a romantic? 😉

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I thought it was clear throughout who Lorelei’s OTP was supposed to be, and I became very invested in it.

    But I never thought a OTP was clear for Rory, and I definitely was never invested in anyone she dated. Vaguely fond of them all (less so of Dean than the others), but that’s it.

  3. Catherine O

    ooooooh, yes, I OTP, though I have occasional lapses, usually oriented around the character I’ve imprinted on–so, for example, though I was a Mulder/Krycek OTPer, I would read Mulder/Skinner occasionally. But I wouldn’t read Krycek/other or Skinner/other unless the circumstances were really exceptional (if one of my favorite authors wrote, maybe.)

    The exception to this was popslash, which was a very polyamorous kind of fandom–five guys, infinite combinations! I had my favorite two or three pairings, but I read almost everything.

    At the moment I’ve fallen HARD for Due South, which I suspect you would like as well — when you finish Gilmore Girls you should Netflix it.

    How do I tell? Like you, I imprint on one character, and then I cast around for the best option 🙂 It doesn’t have to be the most attractive option or even the one the show is pushing (generally it isn’t the one the show is pushing, actually, since I’m such a hardcore slasher–although you could argue that buddy-cop shows and the like *are* pushing the slash pairing). I do, however, have to have some minimal attraction to the second partner. So I don’t read Legolas/Gimli, even though it’s a more logical pairing than Legolas/Aragorn in all sorts of ways. (Actually there’s virtually no decent Tolkien fic, but you take my meaning.) What’s another good example? Oh, in SGA, I’ve read a little John/Ronon, mostly because HTH is so fabulous a writer, but again, I’m making an exception; I don’t really find Ronon attractive (too musclebound) so I’ll only read it if someone’s a great writer.

    I look for sparks (love, deep friendship, hatred); I tend to look for the smart characters and shack them up, too. Tortured pasts for the win. And not surprisingly I also like gentle men and tough women 🙂


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