Please welcome Lynn Mixon, author of Will of the Gods, back to the blog today. Lynn has always been an eloquent advocate for romance outside the romance community and I’m pleased to be able to share Lynn’s post on this topic. Please share this post far and wide and let’s get some discussion going!
Have you ever noticed how rare it is to see a romance storyline in some genres? One that leaps to my mind is science fiction. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love science fiction, but it’s true. Sure, everyone can name stories in that genre that involve some kind of romance, but they are not the norm. And it isn’t the only genre that avoids the L-word, to what I believe is its detriment.
Some authors have a visceral reaction to the idea of romance in science fiction (and those other genres) when someone brings it up. I’ve talked with a number of brave authors who easily write about galactic wars and apocalyptic tragedies that cringe at the mere mention of a romantic storyline. My advice to them: take a deep breath and calm down. It’s not as daunting as it may sound.
I’m not suggesting that your galactic epic has to have a steamy love scene with clothes scattered all over the bridge of your battlecruiser, though it might be fun of it did. After all, Captain Kirk got lucky regularly (cue McCoy: “What IS it with you, anyway?”).
A romantic subplot doesn’t have to include explicit sex or have the characters be physically intimate at all. Take Star Wars: A New Hope (Episode Four) as an example. Luke and Leah definitely had an attraction going on, although nothing more than just a kiss passed between them. Luckily, for them, since they turned out to be siblings, and that’s an entirely different level of racy that you probably want to avoid. Still, there was complexity and emotional tension with that subplot, and it made the story more engaging and relatable to even the casual viewer.
Why do I say that? Because romance evokes a very basic emotional reaction, much like horror. The primitive parts of our brains react to that kind of stimulus, even if we don’t consciously realize it. The reader’s deep emotional investment increases their attachment to your characters and their interest in your story, which is something every author should work to achieve.
You may argue there are no bodices or corsets in the future. That’s perfectly understandable. You want to write science fiction, or whatever you’re genre of choice is. I’m not suggesting you submit to Harlequin. Unless you really want to, of course.
Michael Stackpole writes a lot of great science fiction and fantasy, and he told me (and a bunch of other people) at a workshop last year that he recommends that every story have two major subplots, and that one of those should be of a romantic nature.
He advised one subplot be present in 20% of the chapters, and the second in 10%. One subplot should involve a romantic entanglement or attraction. The other should be some kind of complication, separate from the primary plot, which the hero must overcome. The lesser of the two subplots should work at odds with the other in a positive/negative balance. For example, if the romance is going really well, have the vengeful ex drop in for a visit. Or, have the minions of the Dark Overlord attack with no warning. Of course, those could actually be the same thing, now that I think about it.
If the romance is getting a little rocky, have the protagonist make some progress on the other plotline by enjoying some victory over the Dark Ex. The juxtaposition of positive and negative in your subplots can fill lulls in your major plots to give your readers a chance to catch their breath from the action. Keep in mind that you don’t have to focus those chapters exclusively on the subplots. There should be other things going on. Luke Skywalker certainly didn’t have time to lollygag and make cow eyes at Leah while stopping the Empire.
I know some will question why they should include romantic elements when most others in their genre don’t. My answer is that if you integrate it well, your readers will engage with the story more completely. It will stand out from similar stories in their minds and you’ll ultimately sell more books. I don’t have any handy figures to cite, but anecdotal evidence from authors I’ve spoken with tells me that their stories that include a romantic subplot are more popular than the ones with no romantic entanglements.
I believe an author should use every tool in their kit to bind the reader to the story. Would you intentionally give someone a ten-second lead in a race you wanted to win? Then why cut your characters off from one of the most primal emotions? Give your audience one more reason to root for your hero/heroine. Give them one more reason to be on the edge of their seats when something has gone horribly wrong with the budding relationship. And give the Dark Ex one more hammer to beat against the hero’s skull.
Readers want a satisfying emotional conclusion to go with the intellectual pleasure of having the hero defeat the Evil Empire. Give them what they want and you won’t be sorry.