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Ditching Romance and Sexual Tension

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Mindfire, Apr 17, 2012.

  1. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    In my writing, I make a point of avoiding romance and sexual tension, mostly for pragmatic reasons. Namely: I can't write either of them very well. But if I'm being totally honest, I'm also being a bit of a troll. I despise love triangles, token romances, and the like.

    My first question is, simply put, do readers "expect" romance and sexual tension? Is it something that a writer is "obligated" to include, is only for believability's sake, or can it be swept under the rug? If it can be ignored, should it? I know a lot of this will "depend on the audience", but I'm looking for a fairly general answer. (But not "it's up to you" kind of answers. General ≠ vague.) I'm interested to know who cares (or doesn't care) about these things.

    My second question is a bit more specific to my work. In my WIP there is a female character who becomes a friend to the protagonist. In most books she would probably be the love interest, but I decided to eschew that in favor of a platonic friendship devoid of sexual tension. Over time (years) their friendship does deepen into love and they get married... but it happens between books. By book two they're married and relatively settled. (Well as settled as a tribal warrior family can be.) Will the reader (especially a female reader) feel "cheated" that I skipped over their romantic development? I know I personally wouldn't mind (the Star Wars prequels would have been greatly improved if the Padme/Anakin thing happened between movies instead of on the screen), but my perspective is limited.
     
  2. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    I don't mind love interests. I do mind that every book that uses romance makes it so that it mirrors our present day lifestyle. Most of our fantasy writing is based off of historical civilizations. Well, historically, romance didn't develop between a woman who threw all the signals and the idiot man who didn't know what was going on until she hit him in the head with a frying pan.

    I would like to see romance develop in the way that they did back then; it blossomed after the marriage. This allows the author to focus more on the emotional development and not the sexual tension between the two.

    As to your second question, if I take what I just wrote into consideration, no. I think the female readers will want to see the emotional development and not how he finally figured out who he should bed and how it should be done. You can still do this with your story.
     
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    The short answer is yes, you should include romance. It's a part of life.

    The long answer is no, you can skip romance, but only if you substitute other realistic forms of personal conflict - and it might be fairly hard to find a life-moment to write about where Romance wouldn't play a factor in the life of any character whatsoever. Even on a battlefield or in prison somebody's writing to a girl at home.


    You can do anything, but I think that would be tough to pull off. At the very least you have to strongly foreshadow the relationship and clearly justify why the time-frame jump was absolutely necessary.
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2012
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  4. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    The difficulty with that is that historically, single young women were quite busy with their own family matters (raising younger siblings, working in the business, or helping run a household, or if they were common, working in a field). They weren't out there leading their own free lives, flirting with young men who happened by. That alone sets fantasy settings apart from our history. So one cannot have it both ways. If your women are independent enough to read, wield a sword, or go on a quest, she's not going to be a meek sheltered thing. If she sees something she likes, isn't she just as capable as a man of saying so?

    Now that doesn't mean you need your characters to lose their minds and be forced to write steamy scenes (especially if you don't feel comfortable doing so). I have several books where the attraction between characters goes no further than a couple little flirty scenes. In my opinion, the age of the characters might play a factor in this decision. If your characters are older than 20, I'd consider how unlikely it is that they are attracted to each other and not acting upon that in some way. And let's be serious, adults do notice the members of the opposite sex they are in contact with frequently, friendship might be the only thing that stops them from acting.

    :) See I have the exact opposite problem, I am a softy for love, and write it into almost everything.
     
  5. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I don't mind love interests either, but I don't think every fantasy book requires one. Heck, the whole point of one of my novels is that the female lead HATES the guy who wants to marry her (by force, I might add) and spends the whole book trying to escape him -- and not to return to her actual True Love, either. She's single and quite happy to be so. A romance does seem likely to pop up between two supporting characters in the sequel, but the jury's still out on whether that would benefit or harm the overall story. It would probably be a Token Romance anyway.

    In another novel, I'd started out with every intention of keeping the male lead (a vampire) single, and hooking up his (human) sister and (vampire) best friend. That completely backfired. Not only did the friend and the sister barely interact, but the friend seemed to harbor some affection for the male lead, and only admitted it at the climax. I'm trying to rework it in the second draft. I want it to ultimately end up as something platonic, or perhaps a father/son thing, given the very large age gap between them.
     
  6. ScipioSmith

    ScipioSmith Sage

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    I think readers expect romance in fantasy in much the same way as they expect battles: they might initially be surprised not to see any, but if you give them something cool to distract them they'll soon forget.

    I also think that if you can't write romance you probably shouldn't, as there's nothing worse than a badly done romantic subplot. By the end of the Farseer Trilogy I absolutely hated Molly, an incubus on the story who added nothing and had no relevance to anything except as a love interest for Fitz.

    As to your second question, off screen character development often feels like a cheat unless it follows very logically from where said character ended the last book (so if a character ends one book declaring his intent to train as a swordsman, then the next book starts two years later with his skills correspondingly improved, that's fine); for something like this, if I read that two characters had gone from platonic friends to married in between volumes I would balk at it, unless you've done some seriously heavy foreshadowing beforehand.
     
  7. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

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    Agreed. There is no rule that any book has to have romance. In fact, sometimes it takes away from the story instead of adding to it. Not every part of life needs to be reflected in one novel. There are novels where no one dies, no one is born, no one one has a birthday, etc, during the course of the narrative. That doesn't mean the character doesn't experience those events, but they might not be relevant for that particular story.

    As for the second part, I agree with ScipioSmith and Devor. If the characters went through a life change between books, I'd lose trust in the author. What else happened between books that the author will spring on me? It's one thing if they remain platonic friends throughout, but the shift in their relationship requires some explanation. I'd expect you to pick up the threads and show how their relationship is different and how it's the same. So either way, you still have to explore their relationship, otherwise it feels like a subplot you picked up but quickly dropped or it feels forced.

    I'm not saying you have to give them mushy, gushy feelings and they have to recite sonnets to each other, but I'd want to know what changed and if they're happy or not, if they're comfortable with each other or it's awkward.

    Do they need to get married or is it something to meet any expectations of romance? If it's the second, I recommend skipping it altogether instead of bringing marriage into the second in after you've made it clear in the first that they were just friends.
     
  8. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Like others said earlier, I don't think romance is absolutely mandatory for any genre. That said, I would like to have some love or at least sex in my stories, as I'm a horny guy.

    That said, as a fan of action-packed stories, I tend to write my female protagonists as warriors, yet that raises the question of whether such women would involve themselves in romance in the first place. I would think pregnancy and nursing would get in the way of fighting.
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2012
  9. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    Judging by the name Molly, I believe you mean succubus instead of incubus (unless of course the author stuffed that up too haha, stranger things have happened).


    When it comes to romance subplots and sexual tension I emplore everyone to play it with logic. If a character, given the right setting and the right situation to fall in lust or more, doesn't ... well I'd be very highly suspicious. There are certain things you can sweep under the rug, but when it comes to something so ingrained in the human condition it would be all kinds of wrong to ignore "sexuality" completely, especially if you have human characters.

    Amongst other things it depends on age, teenagers and young adults are hardly going to be able to ignore it regardless of what was expected of them by society (mating instinct, you know). Adult less so, they'd be able to exercise a bit more control I'd say. Now of course I'm speaking in generalisation (before any one picks me up on that), but your mileage may vary.

    So. If you want to ditch a romance plot... well, 1) not everyone falls in love. Some people are asexual, some people aren't in the right frame of mind given there current and past situation, some people just don't "click". 2) give those character something to distract them. A war could do the trick, they might have more important things to do after all like, I don't know, saving the world.

    Even if it's nothing more than a footnote, I think it should be thought about.

    @ Mindfire: I would expect most people would need to see some kind of evidence of a love interest before the two are suddenly married in the next book. I'm not a "sucker for romance", nor am I so insecure in my masculinity that I need to act as though romance is the devil, but even I would feel cheated. As Scipio said: Foreshadowing would be needed.

    Just because something is hard for one to write doesn't mean we shouldn't write it. Logical conclusions win in my mind.
     
  10. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    No, I'm not doing it to "meet expectations." My reasons are as follows:
    -I see it as a natural evolution of their relationship. I think its quite natural for friends to become romantically involved after they've known each other for an extended period of time because that person knows you better than anyone else.

    -Pragmatism. My protagonist is a king. No marriage means no heir, which is problematic.

    -Law of conservation of detail. Inventing a new character for this purpose would be a waste of space, time, and energy. A character created as a love interest would be very one-note and obviously so. It's better to "fold" this role into a character already available.

    -Pragmatism again. While my protagonist is off doing whatever, who's in charge in his home territory? I need a queen to run things while Reuben is away.

    -To be a troll. I know, it's bad, but I have to be honest. The idea of someone expecting a romantic subplot but instead getting a throwaway line makes me laugh.
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2012
  11. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    Just be aware that no matter what your personal reasons for writing something are you are still in all likelihood writing to tell a tale, aka writing for other people. At the end of the day it's your readers who matter and if they feel cheated then ...

    What I'm saying is do what feels right for you, write what you would like to read, and so on, but be careful, in my opinion trolling to prove a point isn't worth losing an audience for.

    Of course ... if they get it, all power to you! haha

    He's a king. If he wants a wife he'll get it whether its in the books or between the books, and whether she is in love or not. Your pragmatism points are good ones.
     
  12. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    I take your point. And although I admit the trolling bit does amuse me, I agree that it's not a good sole motivator.

    I should probably say that the reason they don't fall for each other in the first book is because they have more important things to do: Taking a throne, making peace with direwolves, eradicating a cult of kidnappers who practice human sacrifice, etc. Between all that they don't really have time to fall in love. I'd imagine as things settle down, that would change. I'm relying on the reader's imagination to fill in the gap. The protagonist starts out as a lone wolf type. The fact that he grows close to her at all is remarkable and could be considered a "hint". Would that be enough foreshadowing?
     
  13. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Being a guy who rather likes the mushy stuff, I don't think it's required. For one book, it's relatively simple to avoid, but the more stories you tell with a set of characters or in a universe, the more I think it'd be expected to pop up in one form or another, not even necessarily involving your main characters directly.

    If you're avoiding it because you don't think you can write it, I don't think that's good way to go about improving your writing skills. I'm not saying shoehorn it in even if it's bad, but I would suggest practising it. My general feeling is it's pretty darn hard to avoid forever.
     
  14. Rikilamaro

    Rikilamaro Inkling

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    I don't expect romance, but I enjoy it. Life without love is a waste of time. I think most stories are the same way. So don't sweep it under the rug.

    YES I would feel cheated, and confused if two characters completely platonic in the first book were married by the second one. If you want me to care about your characters then I will think of them as friends. If my friends showed up married one day without warning I would be very put out.
     
  15. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    This.

    I had to learn the hard way, there's a right thing, but there's also a right way to do the wrong thing. If the right way to do it is to include the romantic section, there's still a way to skip the section that'll be the least jarring for your readers. You need to figure out which you're looking for and commit to it.
     
  16. Ivan

    Ivan Minstrel

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    You could drop a few winks and glances to hint that they like each other (or that one likes the other at least) in the earlier book, without getting into any kind of detail, and have them married in the later book. Still, they'd have to be married for a while before they could plausibly stop doing romantic things.

    All the same I am strongly of the opinion that if you aren't good at writing something, don't write it.
     
  17. Ivan

    Ivan Minstrel

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    You could drop a few winks and glances to hint that they like each other (or that one likes the other at least) in the earlier book, without getting into any kind of detail, and have them married in the later book. Still, they'd have to be married for a while before they could plausibly stop doing romantic things. EDIT: You could have one betray the love of the other explaining a convenient coldness toward each other early on in their wedlock.

    All the same I am strongly of the opinion that if you aren't good at writing something, don't write it.
     
  18. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

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    I don't mind the pragmatic angle, but I'd still expect to know the difference before and after. They were friends, and then what? Polite partners who respect and admire each other but aren't passionate? Still friends but with playful sexual undertones? Deeply in love with each other?

    There are different kinds of friendships and different kinds of love and the gap may be too big to bridge. At the very least, foreshadowing in the first book and a rundown of their decision in the second book would help. It doesn't need to go on and on for chapters, but readers ought to be filled in. Trolling people takes away from the satisfaction some of them might have had with your characters.

    It depends on how their relationship plays out. If they are like buddies or travel companions, then it's not enough of a hint. If they're very close friends who trust each other implicitly...maybe.

    If you see it as a natural evolution of their relationship, why skip the progression?

    I'm curious about something. How important is this woman's role in the first book vs. the second? Is it at roughly the same level or is it more important in one than the other?
     
  19. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    I'm thinking of skipping the progression because, again, I have no clue how to write that kind of thing. I want to avoid being awkward (like Attack of the Clones awkward) at all costs. Also because there's really no space for it. More important events need to be focused on. As for her role, I'm still figuring that out. If you had asked me a few months ago, I'd have said that her role in the first book is more important and that in the sequel she's more of a background character. But now I'm inclined to say her roles in the two books are equal because I'm planning on giving her a subplot to herself in the sequel about her dealing with new threats on the homefront while the protag is away.
     
  20. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    You're my hero.

    One thing I think is being largely overlooked in this thread is WHY people marry. I mean, there's a difference between being friends with absolutely no romantic feelings, and being married. Trust me, this is a subject I know all about.

    Wouldn't your king simply take a foreign princess for his wife? Then he could stay great friends with your other MC. Don't get me wrong, I married a prince who becomes king to a common woman in one of my stories, I'm just saying that if you don't feel comfortable writing their attraction to each other, the simple way to avoid it all would be to marry him to someone else so he can have his heirs, and allow the MCs to remain friends.
     
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