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Tips on incorporating a romantic subplot in epic fantasy?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Sword Rain Alpha, Feb 7, 2021.

  1. Sword Rain Alpha

    Sword Rain Alpha Acolyte

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    I've been writing and brainstorming around one of my epic fantasy stories for a while now. And I'd say I have the main plot outlined pretty well, but I'm still feeling iffy about the romantic subplot I want to include.

    To give come context, I have a young adult (basically early/mid-twenties) male MC who serves as my primary "perspective" character (i.e. I use third-person limited and explore the various perspectives across the different chapters, but primarily focus on my MC's) along with a consistent "party" of about five other characters, all of whom are working towards a shared goal. The party's journey is admittedly bit stereotypical, with them travelling the world with the end goal to save it. But as I said, that's not really the part that I'm worried about.

    My MC and his love interest (a girl also in her early twenties) kind of already know each other at the beginning of the story, as they were both colleagues before being thrust into the whole "world-saving adventure" thing. As far as backstory goes, I'll say that they've already known each other for about a year beforehand, having built up a nice slow-burning friendship & rappor in that time. It isn't until after the adventure begins, at which point they get temporarily separated from each other before reuniting after some time, that their friendship starts to boil into romance. Now of course, the way I imagine it, their friendship was eventually going to turn into a romance either way, it just happened to get somewhat interrupted by them being thrust into an unexpected situation.

    I've been Googling around here and there for tips on how to write romance, seeing as how I've never done it before. And I've been beaten over the head with the same generic tips. Mostly stuff like:
    #1: Avoid overly-done tropes like love-triangles, insta-love, romanticized abusive relationships. All stuff that is apparently egregiously done in many YA novels (I haven't read many myself, so I have no idea how badly/how often it's done).
    #2: Don't drag it out too long. They have to get together eventually.
    #3: Make sure both characters get development. Don't just let the female character turn into a stereotype, like a damsel in distress.
    #4: Don't force everything to be romance. Male and female characters can be "just friends".
    #5: Don't overly sexualize your characters. i.e. If using a male character for perspective, don't just have him always talk about how "hot" or "sexy" she is all the time.

    Okay. No problem. Avoiding these issues and tropes doesn't seem all that difficult. My two characters in question already avoid plenty of them simply due to their natures. There's no love-triangle, they don't instantly fall in love but they also don't take forever to get to the point, they both develop well as characters in my plot, they both become good platonic friends with the rest of the party (which consists of an equal amount of both genders. 3 guys, 3 girls essentially). And while my male MC would probably have a decently healthy/normal amount of sexual thoughts for a guy in his mid-twenties, he would also not be one to incoporate such thoughts when describing another character to the audience (or perhaps it's simply that I as the writer wouldn't do that). Either way, no issue with overly-sexualized female characters there.

    So what's the issue?

    For starters, I'm still not exactly sure how to incorporate it. It's only a subplot and not the main plot, so obviously I don't want it to be too much in my readers' faces. But at the same time, I want to make it clear that they have chemistry so that when they do end up together, it doesn't feel forced or sudden. One would think that building chemistry between two characters wouldn't be all that hard. Unfortunately, like my characters, I also happen to be a mid-twenties guy with only a small amount of relationship experience (it's better than none, but I wouldn't say its enough experience for me to actually draw upon when writing). And admittedly, I'm a little afraid that the relationship I've imagined up between these two characters isn't realistic enough or believable. Primarily because, in my mind at least, they would probably get along a bit TOO well. They both have considerably selfless, heroic, good-hearted personalities, and share a lot of the same morals. As such, its a bit difficult for me to imagine what kind of conflicts or arguments they would have, if any. And a relationship with near-zero conflict might be...boring to readers. Or at the very least, unrealistic and hard to believe.

    Another issue I've run into is that most romance writing advice I've seen online makes alot of assumptions. Like, assuming that the characters won't OFFICIALLY get together until later in the story. Or that their relationship is going to be intense and passionate, with lots of lust and blatant sexual tension. I don't particularly care for any of this. I would much prefer for the characters to officially become a couple somewhat early on in the story, with their relationship being more subtle and down-to-earth as opposed to being exaggeratedly passionate and intense. If you've ever heard the phrase "your significant other should double as your best friend", that's essentially the kind of relationship I'd like to go for with these two. Essentially, they'd just be a normal, relatively happy couple that gets together early on, slowly gets to know each other better as they travel, and emotionally supports one another as they face hardships in their journey to save the world and all that jazz. A wholesome relationship between two morally-good, heroic characters. Not to say that there wouldn't be any slightly-less-wholesome moments here and there. I personally wouldn't write any sex scenes, but I'd probably imply that it happens every now and then (I mean, they're both in their twenties and have healthy sex drives. It's bound to happen at some point. I just wouldn't want to dwell on it too much because it's not that important to me, personally).

    My point is: Is all of this too...boring? Don't most audiences want a bit more "spice" in their romances? More conflict? More tension, sexual or otherwise? I'm still not entirely sure what kind of audience I'm writing for, but regardless, I'm afraid of boring my readers with a relationship that's too wholesome or normal/down-to-earth. Or what if they feel cheated because some of the friendship/relationship development already happened before the story begins?

    I think at this point I'm just rambling, so I'll stop the post here. Idk, I guess I'm just wondering if any other fantasy and/or romance writers have advice to give. I've tried to provide plenty of context, but I can always provide more if needed.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2021
  2. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    My general advice for romance: do both characters want to be in a relationship?
    If yes, then you’re set. If no, it’s a tragedy.

    Writing a relationship is ultimately little different than writing a single character: you got a goal, a motivation, strengths (things that will progress towards the goal) and faults (things that would hinder the goal). Then there’s usually an arc with an inciting incident, some build up, a low point, a climax and so forth.
    If the major fault is that the characters are too busy with their adventure to get a stable relationship going than you could frame their relationship as their reward for accomplishing their adventure. And if that’s the case, there isn’t much need for conflict or sensuality or whatever you want to call it.
     
  3. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    Personally I'd just write whatever seems right for your story. Sure, there's lots of advice out there on how a romance should be developed. I read a lot of that and then thought back on my own life. And then I just wrote what I thought was right. The key, I think, is character development. Whatever happens has to develop both characters and it has to fit in with what else is happening, because you can't suspend belief too much. But the rest is up to you.
     
  4. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

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    It is very, very hard to "plot"/outline characterization. It mostly springs up naturally as the writing happens. The characters need to have those moments interacting with each other so any sort of relationship happening is natural, and not them falling in love because the script told them to.

    Example: in my current WIP, the PLAN was to have MC + LI be sort of "will they/wont they" by the end of the book and have it actually happen a few years later in the second book because...well I thought it would be more dramatic for the relationship to start (and then abruptly end) at that point. There is a love triangle but all of that is pretty in the background because the MC is more concerned with not dying. So once I started writing the end of the book, the big bad is defeated, there's been tons of good interactions between MC + LI...and then I realize if they DIDN'T get together it wouldn't make sense. But their ability to do anything with it is very hampered because they're busy doing Hero Stuff, but they wouldn't want to stop doing that yet since the world is still kinda Bad and they know they can make it better for any future kids. This divergence from the original plan has introduced a lot of new conflict and problems for them to work through, which never would have happened if I stuck to the outline.

    So let your characters have changes as they go along the story. Maybe write some scenes just for yourself from the other person's point of view; how are they seeing and interpreting the conversation? What do they think about the situation? What are their feelings like? Knowing that stuff can help you make things happen.
     
  5. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    Some of this comes down to personal taste and I feel like romance is constantly written into things just for the sake of it. Does this story need a romance? Does it enhance the plot? Does it lend a hand to the themes you're exploring? Not every journey in life we go on ends with us getting with someone and it's the same for novels. I prefer to read a damn good friendship or sibling relationship because I feel we don't see them as frequently. So, for me the main question to ask yourself is: Does it need to be there? If, not really then leave it out and focus on making a solid friendship...that friendship could always change if you want to write further books.
     
  6. ladyander

    ladyander Dreamer

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    Generally I tend to avoid advice online romance writing advice. I've learned they assume that when you are writing a romance novel or smut. All of it written with the assumption that the romance is going to provide the reader with their fantasy romance. Often times, romance is full of overused conventions that really only just appeal to a certain percentage to the population. I've yet to read a single romance not that comes close to what I would consider a fantasy of mine. Could be because I read one romance novel a year, and usually it's the exact same thing that I read before in terms of plugging points in the same tired formula.

    Thankfully, you aren't writing a romance novel. You don't have to write anything spicy. Some of us readers out there would appreciate if you didn't.

    I would love more a down to earth relationship that the often lets rush characters to declaring their love for each other for no reason other than that's what romance does. And the next story will be how their romance is tested.

    My favorite relationship of all time is Aralorn and Wolf from Patricia Briggs's Masques and Wolfsbane. Nothing about their relationship is spices. In fact, I would say their relationship is unique to who they are as characters. In fact, compared to a lot of the things out there, theirs feels unique. They don't start out, I guess very romantic, they are friends. They've known each other for a few years and as the first novel progresses, they ebb closer and closer to each other. None of it leading to sex because well, no time for that sort of thing. They've an evil wizard to kill. I guess you could call it down-to-Earth I suppose. But either way, I would love to read more relationships like it.

    Usually when I write a relationship, I'm not going for steamy or spice. Character relationships are their own. They are based on how the two personalities and how they work together and how they compliment each other and what they may clash on. And how to incorporate a romantic subplot would be to make sure it still ties into the story and not some separate thing that exists outside of it. That's really the only advice I can give on that front.
     
  7. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Sage

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    Don't force it. If it seems natural, then incorporate it. The simplest actions by the characters can lead to readers assuming there is romantic interest, whether your develop in your story or not. I incorporate some romance, but I don't get explicit (because that's not what I look for in fantasy) and I keep romantic interests in the background. After all, I'm writing fantasy not romance.

    But if you really want to develop romantic subplots, then beta readers will help later. Just make sure they love fantasy. If they're primarily romance readers then you may get advice that won't work for fantasy. If you ever get to the stage where you want an editor, you may want to choose one who has edited fantasy (of course) but who also has some interest in romance.
     
  8. eartshala

    eartshala Dreamer

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    It sounds like you already have it worked out, mostly. The thing you are doing wrong now is overthinking it. Don't overthink it. If you know your characters well, which you should, then just let it be.
     
  9. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Sage

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    I think you can put that in without making it heavy handed. And you can draw on your own relationship experience, limited as it may be. You didn't say you've never had any at all, so presumably, you at least know what it's like to develop those feelings for someone. How does your MC feel about this girl? It can just be an occasional mention of how nice he feels it is to be near her, or he looks at her and realizes what pretty eyes she has, something like that. That slight touch that suggests that, in addition to everything he likes about her as a friend, there's a little something more.

    If you're writing any of this from her point of view, she can have similar feelings about him. Don't worry about not having a female perspective yourself, basic romantic/sexual feelings are essentially the same across genders.

    And they might be the kind of couple who always agree, more or less. Couples like that exist. One person's boring is another person's security. Perhaps they're both the kind who prefer a secure, harmonious relationship, even if they like spice in other areas of their lives.

    Realistically, even those harmonious couples will have the occasional argument when they're living together long term and dealing with the realities of life, but you're not writing them at that stage.

    It would be downright refreshing to read something like this in a novel. A break from all the romance tropes that have been done to death.
     
  10. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

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    My number one rule is this: if you're going to put the characters together - the reader has to want them to be together.

    Depending also (of course) on the level of sex content you want in your book, you might be interested in a blog post I wrote years ago which spells it all out. I've posted this before, but it's always popular...

    How to Write an Excellent Bonking Scene
     
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