This week’s topic is your top ten likes and/or dislikes about romance in stories. I’m going to list a couple of the things I like and don’t like when it comes to romantic plots or subplots in stories.
1. Authentic romances: Boy meet girl and there’s a connection, but that doesn’t mean both instantly fall head over heels in love and start pining for each other. The romance plots (or sub plots) that I like are the ones that actually feel authentic or earned, where the author gives us a reason to root for a certain couple and to understand why they may or may not get together.
2. Romances that Don’t Go The Way We Expect: Between boy meets girl and happily ever after, there can be a lot of wiggle room and some avenues for interesting exploration of the romance between these two characters. And while we may want our two romantic interests to end up together, getting them to the point of being together doesn’t always have to be a straight-forward journey. As long as that journey is an authentic one (yes, I know this ties into point number one a bit).
3. The colorful euphemisms: This probably comes more out of the bodice-ripping romance genre but you’ve got to give the writers props for coming up with colorful ways to describe the “naughty” bits during the romantic scenes. There seem to be two extremes to this — the ones who describe everything in great detail using words like “love muffin” and then those on the other other end of the spectrum where less can definitely be more.
4. Opposites Attract (Done Right): Call it the Sam and Diane effect, but opposites who attract can be a lot of fun when done right. Go back and watch the first two seasons of Cheers seeing just how well it can work and just how to find a way to break these two up in a way that feels earned and that it’s the decision these two characters would make at the time. And any romance that points out how totally incompatible these two people should be but somehow they overcome it (or maybe they don’t) earns extra points for me.
1. Instalove: Boy meets girl and they fall instantly, head over heels in love because…ummm, well, there’s not really any reason for the attraction at all. It’s because the story needs them to pine over each other for the next 200 or so pages. Love at first sight isn’t necessarily a bad thing and there is such a thing as instant attraction. But when you have the romantic duo fall instantly, deeply and hopelessly in love with each other and that’s the only basis for the relationship, it feels like lazy writing and a lack of character development.
2. Manufactured Obstacles: Throwing a monkey-wrench into a romance can work…or it can feel like we’re just treading water between giving the audience what they want and having these two characters work as a romantic couple. Part of my dislike of this probably comes from television series where we have to come up with reasons to keep our two romantic leads apart just a bit longer and draw out the tension. I’m thinking Ross and Rachel with Paolo, Emily or name any other romantic partner that kept those two wacky kids apart. Or on Lois and Clark when Clark/Superman unilaterally decides that his being Superman places Lois in too much danger and breaks up with her. I understand that the road to romance isn’t always smooth, but we don’t need invented reasons to keep our leads apart.
3. Sex Scenes in Science-Fiction: There are a few genre writers who can do romantic scenes well and then there is the vast majority where having a sex scene in a novel brings out the awkward in a big hurry. One big culprit that springs to mind is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, which is a fine book but has some of the most awkward and clinical sex scenes you’re likely to read anywhere. Sometimes the straight-forwarded telling of a hard sf story just doesn’t translate well into a romantic subplot or when the characters are engaging in consenting adult activities.
4. Sex Scenes Just For the Sake of Sex Scenes or Those That Overstay Their Welcome: Sometimes less is more. I don’t need a play by play of every intimate act between these two characters or to know how their love is greatest physical passion two mortals have ever experienced and so mind-blowing they can’t imagine it ever being better…that is until five pages later when they’re doing it all over again. There are times when it feels like there are scenes added to pad out the word count and when maybe things should be left to the imagination.
So, what do you think?