Writing: 5 Things I Want More of In Fantasy Romance Subplots


Writing Wednesday: Five Things I Want More of In Romance Subplots

I’d like to make a note: this is NOT one of those ‘twenty tropes I as a self-published and inexperienced writer totes mcgoats think we could do without lolz’ types of posts.

I’m tired of those. I wrote a whole post about them a while ago: here it is. For now, suffice it to say that I think our bad-mouthing of common genre archetypes, especially poor Campbell and his Hero’s Journey, is the HEIGHT of self-published self-indulgence. Picasso might’ve preferred cubism, but you can bet he could draw pretty well realistically when given the chance: on the same note, if you want to say you don’t ‘believe’ in the Hero’s Journey, you might want to try dealing with it a little first. You know, just to see what all the fuss is about. ‘ZOMG I so hate Joseph Campbell’ isn’t an argument. It’s a statement.

And, frankly, when we think those sort of statements count as guidelines and arguments–‘I’m tired of this, I don’t like this, I’m offended by that’–that’s when we lose our ability to write, and argue, effectively. Because I can tell you a million things I don’t like. Eggplant, for one–I really don’t like eggplant.

But you might LOVE eggplant. You might think eggplants are tiny purple angels on tiny purple wings. You’re not wrong. I’m not right. And vice versa. We just have differing opinions. (Actually, you ARE wrong. Eggplant is the aubergine spawn of Satan.)

Anyway, that out of the way:

Here are five things, specifically related to the fantasy genre and romance therein, that I’d like to see MORE. Because I read a lot of fantasy, and here lately, I haven’t seen them much. And I miss them. And–for the trillionth time–that’s just my opinion.

1) Happily married couples.
None of these great fantasy heroes have wives or husbands. At least: not living. A husband or wife may’ve had to die tragically to MAKE a hero, but c’mon. I’d like to see more stories about hero husband and hero wife working as a team. More or less happily. I mean, I get that it’s kind of tough to be Tall Dark and Handsome when you’re married, but, well. Maybe we could do with a little less Tall Dark and Handsome.

This is the point where I plug: my novel features this. Or, well, sort of. It’s, erm. Definitely nontraditional. But if you want to read it, here it is. Pluggity plug plug plug.


2) Falling Out of Love.
Y’ever notice all these people seem to find The One and then stay with him or her? To which I say: huh? I’ve been through a few boyfriends. I’ve seen no evidence it’s that easy. I’d like to see a story where the heroine finds her One and Only, has a great relationship for a few months or years, and then–gasp!–just like the rest of us, it just stops being the same, and she’s off looking for a new One and Only.

I don’t think, for most of us, there were any SIGNS at the beginning of our last failed relationship that this might not wind up being Twoo Wuv. We probably believed in it pretty hard for a while. And then, that moment came–he yelled at a bus driver, or got really pissing drunk and threw up on your cat, or you saw him propped up in bed in his underwear laughing at his own farts one too many times, or whatever it was. He wasn’t an asshole, he just wasn’t right. Your illusions were shattered. And it just wasn’t Twoo Wuv any longer. So you broke up.

Got it? No fires, no masked assassins, no cheating, no beating. It just–didn’t work. Why, in fantasy, does this happen so rarely?

3) Nontraditional Relationships.
Always found it interesting that, in all these well imagined fantasy worlds with different pantheons of gods and codes of behavior and whatnot, a relationship is still predominantly one man and one woman having sex and usually getting hitched. Where are all my gay societies? My polygamous societies? My man-harems, my surrogate mothers, my wife-or-fives? This can be tough to do well, I think–as a person in the Western world, I know I take cishet relationships for granted as the baseline standard.

But in a fantasy world, they don’t have to be. Remember: the baseline in your own imaginary paradise is whatever you want it to be. Just stick to it throughout the story.

4) The Impure Maid/Man
This has gotten a little less common in the past ten years, and that’s great, but it’s still there, and I have to tell you. Unless your character is eleven, this latest girl he’s seen at the water fountain probably isn’t the first girl he’s ever felt this way about. Your thirty year old main character had probably felt this way about a COUPLE of people, depending upon availability and circumstances. Even a seventeen year old kid, while she’ll maybe not have a dating history, will have had crushes, feelings, THOUGHTS on the matter of love. She will notice when a man is attractive. It may or may not mean they’ll date later, because I sure as hell haven’t dated everyone I’ve ever found attractive, and a lot of them for damned sensible reasons.

Again: this isn’t about actual VIRGINITY, per se. Depending on how you’ve written your world, it may or may not be weird for a thirty year old person to still be a physical virgin. But as far as feelings go? No. That IS weird. Because we’re not made of stone, and we don’t come alive only for one person.

And number 5. I hate that I’m even having to write number five down, but here we go:

5) Women Having Consensual Sex.
See why I hated having to write that down, now?

I’ll put it plainly for you: I think rape gets overwritten. I think it gets sensationalized, trussed up in lurid colors, even, though no one in their right minds will admit it, romanticized.

Here’s the thing. It’s not romantic. It’s the opposite. And it certainly isn’t a plot device. And the fact that it’s common enough in spec fic for me to think of it as a trope is SCARY.

I read a book recently that could have worked, I think, with about a FIFTH of the rape that was in it. Jesus. I understand that it’s a very tragic happening, and it’s ruined many a life, but that doesn’t mean you should resort to it every time you need to come up with something negative to happen to a female character. This is ugly. It’s ugly, and sick, and just a little demeaning. There are times when your story will involve it. There are times when you HAVE to have that happen. And that’s all well and good. But overdoing it is tasteless in the extreme.

Girls can get robbed too. Girls can get murdered, too. Just because your character is a woman doesn’t mean rape is automatically the worst thing that could happen to her so it SHOULD happen. Christ.

And, on a similar note: fascinating how men and boys are almost never represented in this particular statistic. I’ve seen it a little more here lately, again, but before ten years ago or so, you’d think women were the only people with non-willing orifices in fantasy. This is not the case. Men can get raped too, and it’s just as tragic.

So there you go. Again: my opinion. Romance is usually a subplot in fantasy–very much not the main attraction–but that doesn’t mean it needs to get reduced to a few easily-taken-for-granted bobbly bits. Your fantasy relationships should be just as rich and varied as relationships can be in real life.

If you need help with this, just think about yourself. Did you remain alone and aloof until you saw that one boy at the Summer Dance, who started off as a good friend but you-both-knew-how-it-was-going-to-go-by-chapter-ten? Did you fight through Many Hardships just so you could Be Together, eventually getting married and living Happily Ever After (At Least Until The Sequel?) No. Fuck no. Before THAT guy there was Travis, Ted, Devin, Ryan, Zorvak the Enrapturer (boy, was THAT a mistake). You saw cute guys in bars, maybe even divorced a cute guy you saw in a bar.

Or maybe you have a girlfriend AND a boyfriend. Or you’re a girl with a girlfriend. Or you’ve got the sister-wives joining together to make a turkey dinner at home. Whatever. You get my point.

There’s nothing wrong with the story of A Boy and A Girl, Together Forever. It’s a good story.

But other things happen too. Don’t forget them.


6 thoughts on “Writing: 5 Things I Want More of In Fantasy Romance Subplots

  1. #5 – I personally HATE rape scenes, I often put a book down when it gets there. I feel like that sort of thing is better as back-story. After all these sorts of things DO happen to people and can be a huge motivator in their lives. I did try to set up a a male character having been abused in this manner. My wife hated it, and after a bit of consideration, I concluded there was some merit in that position, and I ultimately removed it.
    In general though, I put a lot of thought into the romance of my current project, but still landed on something of a traditional boy meets girl, chase ensues, variety. The reason I went this way is that I like the character dynamics in a developing relationship, where things don’t necessarily start well. It goes from wary, to playful, and then heads toward romance. Of course, the already married aspect has some appeal, and there are a couple of other project waiting in the wings that might benefit from that dynamic.

    1. I’ve seen it done effectively a few times–where it really mattered, and was vital to the continuation of the plot and a character’s motivation. They’re always uncomfortable to read (and they should be!) but what really bothers me is when the rape takes place (almost always, again, to a female character) solely to provide motivation (usually in the form of revenge) for another character, usually male.There are other ways, other outrages that can be perpetrated on a person. C’mon, people, get creative!

      I’ve got nothing against the traditional Boy Meets Girl, but I feel like there’re a whole lot of other stages and types of romance that just don’t get represented very often. Old love–married love, or pick-your-long-term-connection–fascinates me in particular, and rarely gets the time it deserves in fantasy writing. And I mean, let’s all admit it, there’s a lot more to romance than those first few exciting months where the other person can do no wrong. There’re arguments, breakups, love after ten years, love after kids, etc., etc., as well. I know we as writers like developing relationships because they’re exciting, but there are other aspects of romance that can be exciting, too.

      That’s all I’m sayin’. 😛

      1. Wait, wait! I’ve got a great idea.

        See, marriage, you know, it’s… conflict!!!! You fight over money. You fight over sex. You fight over fighting. Without counseling and good vision, an old married couple can be the source of infinite conflict! Witness Miracle Max and his wife (“I’m not sure I want to be that, either!”). Conflict! Lucy and Ricky. Fred and Ethel. Couples are rife with conflict. Tonight, my beautiful bride and I argued over storage time for mustard. Do you see the potential???

        Just sayin’.

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