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?