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.
13 thoughts on “Guest Post: Developing a Passion for Romance in Other Genres”
Not every SF I read has to have a romance sub-plot, but I certainly enjoy it when they do. I agree that it deepens the emotional resonance.
Diane, what are some good scifi titles you reccomend without romance? Would romance have been a good add in or not? Am looking for some new reads outside my usual.
I hadn’t heard Michael S make that comment. Do you think there is a difference between romance and love interests or love story subplots? Does one type work better?
I think it’s all a matter a degree. I personally prefer a story with a full blown romance storyline, but even when present in a smaller way, it makes the story more satisfying.
I think romance, or a love factor is important, done the right way. Romance/love is a key foundation in a story — like a base structure. I’m not talking about graphic romance (sometimes simply put in to spice up the story) but a strong and grounded romance or love element. Even epics like Dune by Frank Herbert had romance and love in it. In fact, it was the groundwork and motivating factors that moved the initial story along: The love between Paul Atreides and Chani, even the Lady Jessica and the Duke were key elements in the story. Without them and that interaction, everything the did would have been without a purpose.
There is almost always some subplot of romance in straight sci fi/fantasy – no matter how small. It’s just that most sci fi readers don’t notice. Think Dune, Stranger In A Strange Land, The Last Unicorn…frankly too many to mention. Oh, now I see that TK Toppin has mentioned the same thing! Wow!
I think purists do not want any erotica of any type in their sci fi. Frankly, if it’s story and character generated, I’m all for it.
I think love of all kinds is a central part of being human, so any character driven story should have relationships and love of some sort. That is not always the same as romance. For me, romance novels are fundamentally uplifting and resolved in some positive way. This is what I miss when I go outside the genre or its subgenres and I think it is the ‘promise’ of a happy ending that makes people complain about the predictability or formulaic nature of romance. In reality it is not any more formulaic that a mystery where you expect the mystery to be solved. It is more about the journey – how is the mystery solved or how will a couple resolve their conflicts and find a happy future. That surety of a positive outcome may also put romance at direct odds with genre’s like SciFi and horror where keeping the positive or negative nature of the story unknown is part of what readers in that genre expect and value.
Thanks, everyone for sharing your thoughts!
I do so agree with your sentiment. Sure, we have ‘romance’ in SF books like Elizabeth Moon’s or Anne McCaffrey’s novels. But the physical nature of such relationships are skated over and I think it’s because the editors (or somebody) thought you can’t have sex in SF without it becoming corny or erotica. Well, I think you can. And as you say, it deepens the intensity for the MCs.
Hear hear! Romantic subplots get people invested in the story. Interesting to see it broken down by the numbers like that.
Damn straight. Lynn! Well said.
Thanks, everyone, for sharing your thoughts. It was nice meeting you all.
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