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Romantic Subplots

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Devouring Wolf, Nov 9, 2015.

  1. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Sage

    Would it bother you if you read a story with two romantic subplots, neither of which has a happy ending?

    My story features two very light romances, neither of which end well. One is between an immortal and a young girl and even though they love each other, the immortal realizes that it would be wrong for him to take advantage of someone so young and naive and that she deserves to fall in love with someone who can mature and grow with her.

    The second is the story of two nobles who are essentially best friends only one is hopelessly infatuated with the other (it's not so much love as obsession) and she simply isn't interested in men. The girl eventually ends up seeing it as her duty as a friend to keep her friend happy by pretending to return his feelings, but he knows she isn't genuine and the resulting relationship is very painful for both of them and eventually falls apart and his controlling nature in their relationship damages their friendship.

    I'm just wondered if you, as a reader, would be irritated or disheartened by the fact that none of my main characters "get the girl/guy". I worry that it won't provide a satisfying end to the story considering that the resolution to the main story arc is also somewhat depressing.
  2. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I'm intrigued. Either character could be painted with various degrees of sympathy for the mistakes, flaws, and/or bad circumstances that land them in this position, and there aren't a lot of bad choices for how to approach them (apart from making the controlling one totally sympathetic and the duty-bound one totally unsympathetic, which it doesn't sound like you'll do.) My only recommendation is that if you make the duty-bound one highly sympathetic, she should eventually recognize that this isn't working and get some opportunity to break, subvert, or sabotage the relationship of her own volition. It would suck for a likable character to spend the whole story in a passive position.

    This is a more conventional plot, but it's less depressing, so it'll be a bit easier to work with. Two people recognizing their different maturity levels and realizing they can't make a relationship work isn't tragic, it's natural. It doesn't have to be the end of the story for either of them, just a bittersweet learning experience.
  3. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

    If it's relevant to the themes of the story and there is some parallel between the two relationships, not at all. If, however, they don't add anything to the overall story, then I'd go against it.

    I generally don't write romance in my stories. I'm not against the genre but I despise writing and reading it. But if I had a story that needed romance, then it would need romance. But my advice is if you need romance only to make the reader root for the characters, then not only would I say that you shouldn't make them both end in heartbreak, but that you shouldn't have it at all. That's just my personal opinion on it though.
  4. Russ

    Russ Istar

    The lack of a happy ending for your romantic subplots would not turn me off at all. I am completely at peace with bad outcomes in a good book as long as the ending is thought provoking and satisfying (I am a Moorcock fan...:)).

    The only note of caution I might sound would be to make sure the subplots someone feed into and advance the main plot. Even if they are interesting I think subplots need to be an important part of the main plot to be worthy of inclusion. The resolution of the subplots should impact the outcome of the main plot to my mind.
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Just based on my experience trying to please readers, I would advise against this.
    Heliotrope likes this.
  6. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    I do agree with Foster to an extent. I love a tragic ending, and have no problem with romances that don't work out… however, three tragic plots in one book might be a bit of a disappointment. I know that it might alienate a lot of readers who do crave at least one good outcome to balance the scales.

    Another thing to consider is that a tragic ending can be very powerful. However, if you have three tragic endings it may diminish the emotional response of the reader, who is already sort of 'desensitized' from the other two tragedies. However, if you have one happy ending, then it will make the other tragic ending all that much more significant… Does that make sense?
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2015
    Russ likes this.
  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    So much depends on how much these subplots intersect the main plot, what percentage of the book will focus on those subplots, and their role in the overall story.

    Seems to me that both romances fall into that category "learning experiences" for the individuals involved. As such, they need not be greatly different than any other sort of subplot within a story when its role is to show character growth through failure. This isn't to say that all four characters need to have "learned a lesson" and improved thanks to the failure of the romances, however. So if this is the role those subplots will play in your book, have at it.

    If however you are using these failed romances to add insult to injury, or salt to wounds, to hype up the tragedy meter, they might be too much—in the way that melodrama can sometimes be amped up too high.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2015
  8. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Hey, there. I write fantasy romance. Let me tell you that there's a difference between love and romance stories.

    Romance= happily ever after, or happy ending for now (if you want to leave this open for whatever reason). The ideas you've described are more love stories, meaning they don't require a happy ending. Let's say that you want to market these books to a publisher or even sell them through Amazon. If you're labeling them romance, then the couples better end up together, as that is a requirement in the romance genre. Otherwise, I wouldn't label them romance, since those readers expect happy endings, especially if your main plot is already depressing. Write the stories and end them in the way that's appropriate to your characters, plot, and theme. Don't worry if it's not satisfying...just don't label it something it isn't.

    I hope this helps steer you in the right direction. Good luck.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 9, 2015
    MineOwnKing likes this.
  9. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Sage

    This is what I mostly worry about, that my story won't have a gratifying end. The ending is supposed to be more bittersweet than happy, but I don't want too make it completely depressing. I tried to make the resolutions to my various character arcs balance and kind of bittersweet. My immortal character doesn't does the responsible thing and walks away from a relationship he knows could never really work even though it hurts him to do it, but on the other hand he's free to return to where he truly belongs (his love for the girl was keeping him trapped in a sense) and the girl gets to pursue her dream of becoming a healer which wouldn't have been possible if they'd stayed together. Of the two friends that are in love, one of them dies but he's able to somewhat redeem himself before the end and the other finds herself ostracized but for the first time in her life she is also independent. I still worry though that the endings aren't uplifting enough and that while it's not all starkly depressing there aren't enough truly happy endings to counteract the negative consequences of their actions. No one gets a truly happy ending but no one gets a truly sad one either.

    I'm considering focusing the story about the immortal and the girl more on how it's a learning and growing experience for both of them that their maturity levels are just too different for their relationship to work which is more uplifting than the original angle I took where even though this factors into his decision to leave her, the real reason he does so isn't because of his strength to do the right thing even though it hurts but rather out of cowardice because he's afraid to invest in a relationship he knows will fail and he's sparing himself that pain by never actually trying to make it work. One of those is definitely more uplifting than the other.
  10. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Sage

    As to those of you who are wondering about the role of these subplots in the story, a lot of their purpose is just character development. The story I originally set out to write didn't have any romantic subplots, but they slowly developed over time, however they do weave back into the overall narrative, just not in a huge dramatic way.

    The immortal is a notorious coward and the only reason he ever learns about his inner strength is protecting the girl he loves, she's also the reason he gets dragged into the main plot and his main goal is always to protect her.

    With the two friends it's less involved in the main plot, the only thing it actually impacts is that their complicated relationship develops their characters and explains why one of them is willing to stick her neck out for the other.

    So I think both the romantic subplots add something to the depth of the story and serve as motivations for my character's actions, but you'll never have one of my characters doing anything dramatic to win the love of the other or something like that.
  11. Helen

    Helen Sage

    Not at all.

    I wouldn't necessarily expect happy endings.

    I would be interested in what your story is trying to say.

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