Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Love is in the air...

I feel like I should be saving this post for Valentine’s Day. However, since it falls on the weekend this year and I’m not nearly as cool as the seven day samurai Jon, I’ll opine and muse on this topic a bit early.

My sister is under the impression that I’m vehemently against romance elements and subplots in books. “This one has a little romance, but not really,” she said about one of her book recommendations. “Oh, this one is more mushy than her [the author’s] other books, so hope that’s okay,” she apologized another time. I thought it was funny that she always felt compelled to add a romance disclaimer.

To her credit, my sister does know me very well; I’m not big on romance as the dominant theme of books and movies. I can handle (nay, even enjoy) romantic comedies, as long as the comedy part is good. But serious romantic stories? No, thank you. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t find Titanic to be the superb experience that countless others did.

Does that mean that I must suppress the urge to puke when I read a romantic passage? Or avert my eyes when we see two characters share an angst-riddled kiss? Absolutely not. I’m actually a proponent of romance--on two conditions:

1.) It is supplementary to the main theme and story.

2.) It adds meaningful layers of complexity and depth to character motivations and relationships (e.g., it doesn’t detract from the main plot; see #1).

For my genre of choice (fantasy), I think those qualifications are key. Fantasy books are about epic struggles against tyranny, society, or nature. They are tales about fulfilling or defying prophecy. They take us on journeys of growth in stature, power, and maturity. Romance can enrich these stories, but I don’t think they should dominate them.

The books that inspired my sister’s disclaimers (Cinda Williams Chima’s Heir and Seven Realms novels) are actually “good” examples of weaving romance into a fantasy tale. Princess Raisa in The Demon King pines after two fellows, a wizard and a soldier. The author keeps the thoughts and actions rather chaste, and the positions held by Raisa’s love interests add a definite level of suspense and complication to the story. (Both of these boys are strictly forbidden as suitors, and Raisa’s mother seeks to marry sixteen-year-old Raisa rather quickly for political reasons. Oops, I should save this stuff for my review post.)

One example that got romance wrong for me? The film version of Harry Potter 4. Harry’s mostly unrequited feelings for Cho and the awkward, sometimes heated exchange between Hermione and Ron were too over-the-top for my taste. They imposed too much on the main story of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, making the movie feel like it was trying to be a part-romance as well as part-action/adventure. (And part-drama. And part-comedy. That movie tried to do and be too many things, IMO. Like the director couldn’t make up his mind on what the main flavor should be.)

Okay, enough of my soapbox. TL;DR. Basically, I’m okay with romance when it adds good flavor to the story without dominating it. The kicker? There’s some love interest in my WIP. Pretty tame, but it’s there. No heaving bosoms or anything like that, mind you. I'll leave that to Danielle Steele. :)

I’m interested to hear how you guys and gals feel about romance in your novels. In particular, YA books, since that is a preferred section for the current reader list. How okay are you with romance? How deep can authors go before it feels forced or unnecessary? Who did it right/wrong?


  1. Hm...this is a hard one for me. I am okay with certain kids of romance.

    Okay, I am an extremely judgmental person. Some YA books explore youth lust more than the idea of a love story aiding the main plot and that annoys me. Here are some books with heavy romantic qualities that did not annoy me:
    The Vast Fields of Ordinary
    Geography Club

    But, seriously, I am so not a romantic. PDA irritates the hell out of me. Lust driven romantic comedies turn me way off. I am a prude. Team Katniss.

  2. Haha, interesting that you mentioned Twilight. I refuse to read those books. I don't dig the voice. And the movies? The romance/love/angst stuff is sooooooo over the top. Since I haven't read the books, I can't say if it's a fair interpretation (I'm sure it's not; what movie is?), but still, if it comes even close, sorry, I ain't buyin' what Stephanie Meyers is sellin.

    Sorry, stumbled on top of my soapbox again. My sister has Shiver and Graceling on her bookshelf. I may have to try reading that next time I stay with her for work again, see if the romance is too much for me or not. :)

  3. Not that this will surprise you but hands down, my favorite post yet. :) You know I eat up everything YA books sell but I do recognize there are some instances where it is over the top and just out of control. But there are also plenty of books/authors with stories/writing that totally worked for me, too many to talk about here but you know a lot of them anyway. LOVE this post and I am curious what you'll think of some of the above mentioned books if you read them... :)

  4. Advice re: SHIVER:

    Once you make it past the first 200 pages, it become brilliant. That's not to say the first 200 are bad. I found myself questioning their relevance. Overall, SHIVER 5/5. GRACELING 4/5.

    Re: TWILIGHT. Hm, I am not in the business of trying to talk people into something they so vehemently disdain...but, I liked the series, ahem, saga a lot. I haven't seen the second movie, I don't do movies from books, and THE HOST is absolutely worth checking out, it is 100X better than Twilight. You can quote me on that.

    Also, thanks for always giving me shout-outs in your introductory paragraphs. They are always apologetic or complimentary, but take whatever you want from me. It's the internet, everything is fair game. Cite the source or not, we don't mind.

  5. @Trina: Haha, I figured you would. Shanks Pig. :)

    @Jon: Thanks for the heads up on those books. As for Twilight... eh, glad we can still be friends despite differing opinions. To cut the legs off my high horse a bit, I'll admit that I LOVED all three X-Men movies, even though I know their only real accomplishment was to help mainstream the comic book movie industry. But then again, I've been a closet comic fanboi for a long time now. :)

  6. X-Men...what's that. Just kidding, but I am sure sure which two of the three I've seen, probably never will.