Since Valentines Day is this week, I decided to do a (totally original) post about what makes or breaks romance in a story. I’m sure everyone else will be doing something different and you’re not all bored sick of candy hearts and cheesy red cards and lists of angst-ridden OTPs.
Personally, I’m not a fan of romance. Occasionally I find a ship I will happily sail, but most of the time I feel authors only include romance because it feels necessary to attract readers when, in fact, it usually distracts from the heart of the story.
Yes. I used *that* pun.
No, it won’t be the last time.
Now before I get any further, I would like to clarify that I have no problem with people who do like romance books. I’m actually not talking about romance books here at all, although many of the same things still apply. I’m talking about genre books where romance isn’t the main plot but still features in the story.
The things I do like to see in a romance, no matter the genre or age range, basically amount to a healthy, well built relationship with mutual love and respect.
What do I mean, you might ask?
I’m glad you asked.
I need solid characterization. If I don’t know both characters, why do I care about them and their love life?
I need time for the romance to develop. Being attracted to someone upon seeing them for the first time is normal. Lots of relationships start by someone telling someone else they look nice. But when the protagonist sees someone new and decides the sun shines only for them, that’s taking it too far.
You probably recognize this as the first symptom of instalove, a terrible disease which ravages protagonists everywhere.
I don’t believe people can fall in ‘true’ love with someone without knowing them. So when an author takes the time to show the changing relationship between characters, it gives me the chance to see how the characters are better, happier people together than alone.
That’s a relationship I’ll always support.
The best part about taking time to build a fictional relationship, however, is that it forces the author to put the characters through something else. Like, just an idea here, the main plot.
Bonus: if readers see the potential of a good strong relationship from a slow build up, they’ll be desperate for the characters to finally get together, and they’ll support it even more once the characters do. If it develops too quickly, readers will feel cheated because they missed out on the heart of the relationship.
(I told you I would use that pun again.)
Some examples: Percy and Annabeth from Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Ron and Hermione from Harry Potter, and Ronan and Adam from the Raven Cycle. (This last example is me cheating because I haven’t read the last book so they’re not actually together yet and I CAN’T WAIT.)
I need compatible characters.
I need to believe these characters can have a relationship together and be happy, not that they’re shoved together by some mysterious force (AKA the author).
Let them help each other! Support each other! Help each other support themselves! Most importantly, let them help each other become better people.
Also let them disagree. Even fight. Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Even fantasy has troll holes. We’ve seen why they belong together, and now we need to see why they don’t.
That way we can get behind them one hundred percent as they learn to work together, to compromise and negotiate. Maybe the very reasons people think they won’t work out are the very things keeping them together. Or maybe being in a relationship will change them, because they’re sharing their life with someone and they need to figure out how to make room.
Now we need the cute moments! Show readers what can be WITHOUT going overboard into physical stuff. There’s plenty of that in the world and I don’t find it romantic until I know these characters will play a game of checkers together as happily as they’ll make out.
I need to know these characters actually make each other happy.
Things I DON’T need are romanticized unhealthy relationships, romances overtaking the rest of the plot, and sheer stupidity from the characters in the relationship.
Jealousy is normal, but it’s NOT sweet and authors should not be encouraging it. Getting nervous when you see your significant other with their ex is fine, but forbidding them to speak with said ex is not right. Talk about it! The whole point of being in a relationship is trusting the other person. I hate it when characters refuse to trust their partner with personal problems.
Cheating seems to be popular in some books and I cannot for the life of me understand why???
It is just so wrong to show this in any kind of positive light. The harm characters are doing to others, whether those other people know it or not, is so awful and personal. If characters do this, they should have to realize why it’s so wrong. They shouldn’t get rewarded by finally ending up with their ‘true’ partner! I find it impossible to trust characters who cheated on someone to stay faithful to someone else.
I’ve already touched on instalove, but I’m going to say it again.
DOWN WITH INSTALOVE!
It takes away the chance to see the characters develop, which is THE WHOLE REASON I read a book. Or at least 87%.
My point is, character development is really important, and skipping it is a big no.
I would now like to take the time to talk about STUPID ROMANCE.
You know the kind; the sweet, pure heroine is running for her life/in the midst of a battle when the brooding hero pulls her to safety and they’re in *gasp* close proximity to one another. There may be a dragon about to roast them, but the heroine stops to wonder if the hero is going to kiss her.
If you think I’m making this up, I’m not. I literally read it last month except the heroine was also HOLDING A BABY. You can read my review of the book here.
All right, I want to end this with a list of my favorite/worst tropes but I’m not really going to explain them like I did above. So here goeth the list!
- Hate to love
- Best friends to love
- Fake dating
- Unrequited (when I want angst)
- Best friend’s sibling
- Love triangles
- Good girls fix the bad boys
- ‘I Didn’t realize I was beautiful until he told me’
- The heroine is ‘pure’, ‘innocent’, and ‘perfect’
9 thoughts on “Discussion: What Makes or Breaks a Romance in Fiction”
hehe nice pun 😉 And I agree about solid characterisation. It’s a *must* for me.In fact without that I won’t be invested in the book full stop. And YES to characters that actually make each other happy- not trusting each other and being overly jealous is not sexy. and why so much cheating?!!? And instalove sucks. I so agree about the best and worst tropes. Awesome post!
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Thank you! I’ve been wanting to write a discussion post and figured this topic was perfect for the holiday. I’m glad you like it!
I really don’t understand why jealousy is supposed to be sexy??? It’s sooo annoying and disrespectful once it gets strong enough to control characters’ actions. I understand it’s a real issue in a lot of relationships but there’s a difference between being realistic and romanticizing something.
Cheating is also so bad. If I hear a book has cheating I usually won’t read it at all. That’s why I refuse to read Anna and the French Kiss, aside from contemporary not being one of my regular genres. I guess a lot of people love it but the main character supposedly cheats on her boyfriend??? I just don’t understand.
But there are plenty of good, happy relationships in fiction, too. I just wish there were less bad ones, or at least that they were recognized as bad.
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You’re welcome! Yeah definitely perfect choice 😊
Yeah I really really don’t get it either!!
And yes- I’m the same!! I read Anna and I had problems with that tbh- it’s just so wrong.
And yes I agree!
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Okay, okay. Love this post! I totally get what you mean, and I agree with a lot of these points, although I don’t think that every single romance in a book should be a healthy one. Sometimes a character needs an unhealthy relationship to steer them in the right way, or to help them break apart before they can be built back up. Although I’m almost ALWAYS happier while reading the book if the relationship is a healthy one, so actually, authors should probably go with those. One of my FAVORITE character relationships was in this book called All These Things I’ve Done. Most of the time, people talk about having crushes on characters in books, and I’m just sitting there thinking about how there are VERY few characters who come up to my standards (and they’re fictional!). However, I think I kind of do have a crush on the one in this book. The guy was always super sweet, there wasn’t ever anything unnecessarily physical (they might have kissed once or twice in the whole book), and when the main girl’s brother had a seizure, he was the FIRST ONE THERE. She was calling out for help, looking for her brother, only to find her boyfriend sitting there, already trying to tackle the situation. It was fantastic. Ugh!
I also like one of the relationships in the Lunar Chronicles. There are three main ones, and I only like one of them. One of the best characters, who I would have much rather seen in a relationship, didn’t end up with anybody at all, while the main girl ended up with somebody who I feel like she barely knew. WHAT IS THIS? aivpoaishihihighijr Now you got me all rallied up. Ugh! 🙂
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I’m not saying there shouldn’t be unhealthy relationships in fiction! I definitely agree that there should be. HOWEVER, they should be *shown* as unhealthy and not romanticized.
I haven’t read either of those yet, although the Lunar Chronicles is on my TBR. Who’s the other one by? Is it contemporary?
Okay, that makes sense 🙂
The other one is called All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin? I believe… I read it about a year ago. I don’t know if it’s contemporary (I’ve never really understood clearly what that meant). The genre in the bookstores and such says it’s dystopian, but in my opinion, I feel like they talk more about the lives of the characters than the dystopian aspect, so I would consider it a mix of that and realistic fiction?? I don’t know. If you read it though, I hope you like it. 🙂
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Oh I forgot to add this:
Love triangles stink (especially when it’s two guys and one girl. I feel like it’s two guys a lot…)
However, the love SQUARE in Shakespeare’s a Midsummer’s Night Dream was pretty interesting. Maybe it’s because it got slightly confusing when they got all switched around with the potion thingamajigs, or maybe the shape matters a bit? Four people versus three? It could make a difference. 🙂
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I LOVE Shakespeare. I feel like Midsummer’s gets away with it because the characters already knew each other.
However, as much as I love Midsummer’s, I was really uncomfortable with how Demetrius ended up with Helena through magical means. I get he’ll live happily with her now but that was clearly against his will. Also how abusive Oberon and Titania were, although I know they get away with it because they’re not human. So I don’t *support* any of the romances in there but I do enjoy the humor from the mixup a lot.
Gonna be honest here, I mostly love Puck. 😉
Yeah, I totally agree with you. The fact that Demetrius and Helena would end up together (probably forever, because it’s magic) is kind of messed up. It’s just strange. I know they’re forced to be together, but I wonder if Demetrius could still think like normal? Like maybe he still really didn’t want to be with her, and was falling in love with someone else, but he couldn’t do or say anything to escape the relationship with Helena?
As for the Oberon and Titania thing, I feel like that kind of story happens a lot (two people supposedly above humans – fairies, greek gods, mermaids, whatever – make a bet or some sort of challenge or have a rivalry and they screw up everyone else’s lives because of it. Why they can’t just argue directly with each other rather than interrupting humans’ lives? I don’t know. It’s because they’re magical, so they should get these privileges they think. ???
And true, I suppose Midsummer isn’t as bad because they were all friends when it started. It isn’t as creepy when they go around in the middle of the forest running after each other. Otherwise I would have been like “You barely know them!” but they do, so I can’t say that. 🙂