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Why Have Romance in Fantasy?

Black Dragon

It is very common for fantasy novels to have romantic subplots. However, some of the great fantasy classics have no romantic relationships in the stories. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, for example, have no romance in them (not counting the appendixes).

Do you think that adding romance dilutes the fantasy genre? Or does it enhance it? Do you like it when a romantic subplot features into a fantasy story, or do you find it distracting?
If the fantasy is a romance fantasy, it's essential. :sneaky:

Sometime the romance subplot is actually more of a character building device, and this can work well. There are "dynamic duos" that are the best sort; for instance, Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series features Alec and Seregil, and their romantic relationship is the bedrock for the stories. For those unfamiliar with the series, these two, who are a romantic couple, basically operate as spies or agents for the kingdom or whoever else will hire them. The Nightrunner stories are not what I'd call romance stories—the romance is not the plot.

Sometimes the romance is annoying, even if it is intended as a character building device. I was annoyed by the romantic elements in the first Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb. The romance was used as a device to amp up Fitz's emotions but felt largely tagged on. (This romance plays a much larger role in the final Farseer trilogy, however, or at least wasn't as annoying.)

I think romance is such a weighty thing, it can too easily take up too much of the spotlight or be used as an annoying cudgel (device) when it appears as a subplot.

There's also the potential distinction between romance and romantic entanglement. Less problematic are the cases where various side characters are obviously in romantic relationship even though the story doesn't focus much on the romance of those relationships. Is romance a verb? Heh.


toujours gai, archie
Romance should be there if it's part of the story. Then again, "romance" is also a genre with its own conventions and expectations. Are you asking if that sort of romance belongs? As an example, in one story I have an actual romantic relationship between two secondary characters. It's not a primary arc, but it's there, mainly because it felt right. In another story, I tried having a relationship but it just didn't feel right, so I took it out. In yet another, there's a tiny crush a gnome has on an elf, but that's played only for a minor amusement.

IOW, "romance" covers an awful lot of ground.
It is very common for fantasy novels to have romantic subplots. However, some of the great fantasy classics have no romantic relationships in the stories. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, for example, have no romance in them (not counting the appendixes).

Do you think that adding romance dilutes the fantasy genre? Or does it enhance it? Do you like it when a romantic subplot features into a fantasy story, or do you find it distracting?

It comes down to, probably for many, the story itself. Certainly for me and I've seen more then a few that have stalled out in the subplot or feel extremely forced and strangled by red strings (which I suppose is slightly better then strangled by yellow tape). For me, it's like a lot of Fantasy and Sci-Fi, it's been done so long that it's become another tradition of sorts. Throw in love triangles, just for some added drama too.

For me, I figure if it's a good one and feels like it occurs naturally, I don't mind it. But more often then not it's just added to make more drama to me and can take away from the story. Flip side, as mentioned by Fifth View, if it's a Fantasy Romance, that's the point. It really comes down to how well the story is written and if the romance is worth anything or bogs down the story.

And as Skip said, Romance is it's own particular bunch of beasties.
The Lord of the Rings did - Arwen and thingy. Sorry don't know lotrs that well. From what I remember there was a love triangle. I don't understand why on a Fantasy forum no one else has pointed this out. Maybe the romance was only in the films?

Do you read other Genres? There's tons of to romance in ALL genres. Especially in YA

I think it depends on how well it's done. I am not someone who is into romance, you get some people who will read a book or watch a TV series just for the romance subplot - I'm not one of those. I find romance a bit boring and I think it's often presented as quite bland. "Oh he's sexy." and that's as far as it goes a lot of the time. I dislike when a romance subplot suddenly becomes the main plot that annoys me.
But otherwise if it's done well and has a point more than "I added a romance because I naively thought it was improve my publishing changes" then I don't mind one. It's the same in a Hollywood Movie. How many movies can you think of that don't have a romance? Now how many that do? I understand some people find romance fun but too me other relationships are more interesting and deeper. The relationship between a parent and child for example.
I don't think love can get more pure than that.


In our genre, urban fantasy, romantic plots are very common. We certainly have them in our series, but our series is intended to follow one family through several generations as they live, love, and make an impact on their city and the larger world around them. I don't feel that the romantic plots bog down the rest of the fantasy action. I think they make the characters and their story more compelling.

I think that romantic subplots can be a problem when they are superfluous and don't add anything complex to the narrative. I think that any subplot needs to be able to show the reader something to deepen the characters or further the plot or runs the risk of simply being fluff that bloats the story and stalls the action.

I think that romance subplots have a time-honored place in fantasy novels and can be some of the most memorable parts of a series. They can help readers connect with characters on a more emotional level. I feel that, when written well, they are not distracting and enhance rather than diminish fantasy stories. Having said that, as with all of writing, a romance subplot shoe-horned in or written poorly will absolutely pull me out of a story and sending me looking for something better to read.

Ned Marcus

I enjoy some romance in a fantasy, but not when it takes over the adventure, and not when it's the main focus of complete chapters. I thought LoR was a little dry because Tolkien basically avoided romance—only including a tiny bit.


Romance in fantasy can be useful to shore up and round out a lagging/slow story moment and characters. It forces stoic and unemotional characters to show emotion and a softer, more humanized side. Romance, or a close friendship that functionally serves the same purpose, can be used to accentuate an action climax. The icing on the cake. It should be intense without romance but romance done right can take it over the top potentially.

I'm not one for including romance just because it's realistic. It has to serve the greater narrative. As such each romance has to hit a different note and say something different and unique from another romance in the story. If two romances are hitting the same elements with similar vibes, it pointless to have both really. May as well just have one and do that well.


toujours gai, archie
I will put in this marker. It's an opinion more than an observation, but perhaps others share it.

A fair number of fantasy stories, especially ones that involve a group of teen to young adults, will have one or more females in the group. Sometimes, it seems to me, this is done mainly to have females in the group, or not to be seen having only males in the group. Once a female is in the group, the tendency (especially for male writers? not sure) is to gravitate toward pairing female with male and having a romance. Men and women, as per the wisdom of Harry and Sally, can't just be friends. If asked directly, I'm sure most writers would say nonsense and of course they can, yet I can pretty much guarantee if there's a female in an adventuring group, there's going to be a romance.

If I get a sense that that's what's going on, the author has lost me. I don't like it. I would love to see what would happen if there was only one male in the group. I would love to see what happens if there's a gender mix and *no* romance.

To put it another way, I think there's a tendency to fall back on having a romance as a way to add a secondary arc, that it's often done almost subconsciously, and that it's lazy writing. Or lazy editing, anyway. It should be held up to a critical eye to see if maybe it doesn't add to the story after all.


There's often romance in many genres, but fantasy can have an element of wish fulfillment - and since love is one of the things people wish for the most, it makes sense that it's included. I also think that Skip has an excellent point - it was used as a way to include a female character, and that was all some authors knew how to do it. One other thing is that fantasy has had a lot of inspiration from medieval works, which emphasized courtly love. So those are some why's. As to whether or not you need it - I definitely think you don't. Like others said, it can be done badly. But at the same time, it might enhance your story. People fall in love all the time!
anything that's a part of the experience of being human, I think, has a place in fantasy. Romance is a genre, sure, but it's also something that the majority of people experience in their real lives. People fall in love in real life, we'd expect them to sometimes do so in books. *shrug*


I love a good romance subplots--I'm one of those people who will totally read a book just for the that if I'm invested. Character relationships and emotional drama are like gasoline in the fire for a story's tension, in my view, and I find straight mystery/action/plot stuff to be rather dry without it most of the time. It doesn't have to be romantic, but there pretty much needs to be some deep complicated friendship or something somewhere in a story in order for me to enjoy it. (Romances are my favorite, though. I feel like they require characters to be more vulnerable than other relationships often do.) Romantic subplots are also really good for filling out pacing and complicating the plot.

My biggest issue is really just writers who don't know how to write a compelling romance. Sometimes writers will make characters love interests, but the relationship falls flat because there isn't enough tension or they don't have strong enough reasons to like each other. If a romantic subplot is resolved to easily, it isn't interesting, and it probably isn't pulling its weight, and if a writer isn't really willing to devote the thought or the pages to doing that, I'd rather have the characters be just friends than see them written into a contrived romance.


Article Team
Fantasy doesn't need/require romance in order to be good. Ultimately though romance is about relationships. Romance is the reason why any and all of us were born. It's an important part of being human. Authors who want to give their characters depth will often use romantic subplots in order to achieve this. As someone who writes in the romance genre, I will say it's not an easy plot to navigate. I don't like reading romance in fantasy if it's done poorly. I have read and enjoyed many fantasy stories that don't include romance.


I think that any good story has elements of romance, humor, action, intrigue etc. We are humans and as such, most of us enjoy a complete package. One example of this is The Wheel of Time, which I have enjoyed immensely over the years.

Romance isn’t at the forefront most of the time, but it’s there. Lan/Nynaeve, Rand/Min/Avienda/Egwene... Perrin and his Falcon.

It makes the characters more relatable and realistic that they have those relationships.


toujours gai, archie
Elements of romance, sure. But romance is also a genre, with specific expectations. And it has definitely found a niche in fantasy, especially urban fantasy.
I think the distinction we are looking at here is between a) the emotional or sexual attachment or attraction and b) the way this intersects with the plot—usually, to the degree that the main character pursues that line of questioning or exploration.

It's a matter of degree, heh, so probably a continuum.

The problem cases for me are those in which the romantic subplot causes great problems or distractions for the main protagonist when the main plot should be the focus. If Frodo had spent a lot of time focusing on some hobbit girl, trying to understand her, win her admiration, get over perceived slights or utter disdain, that would have stolen from the main focus. Plus, I can't quite like a character who considers the imminent doom to the world (or to himself, or to his friends) to be an easily forgotten side note to the pursuit of a romantic interest. The world's about to end, and all you care about is whether X might like you or hate you?

Compare the previous example to Samwise, who has Rosie Cotton back in the Shire but continues mentally focused on the quest. That romantic possibility gives him more reason for the quest—he's trying to save her along with everything else, and he wants to survive the quest so he can return to her and pursue that romance. It's character building and also stakes-building. We don't need multiple scenes and chapters in which Samwise seems to forget what's really at stake. Similarly, if we consider the relationship between Frodo and Samwise to be a kind of bromance, this is another case of Samwise not needing to question that relationship, not needing to work it all out; it's a given for him.

Then there's the case of The Fifth Element, heh. Turns out, love and a relationship are key to the plot, but Korben Dallas spends no time obsessing over his feelings for Leeloo and her feelings for him. He and she focus on the task at hand. The romantic attachment occurs naturally. This example is why I asked in my previous post if romance is a verb. There is a novelization of the movie that I have not read. I suspect any novel which uses a similar natural romantic development would probably have multiple interactions between the two characters which hint strongly at or point directly at a budding romance—novels are different from movies—and I wonder if this approach might be the best guide for avoiding the negative cases of romantic subplots interfering too much with the main plot and story. If the novel isn't a thriller requiring break-neck pacing, there would be many opportunities allowing this kind of interaction to build during the plotting.*

Romance stories have this budding romance as the plot—not merely a Fifth Element style of plot resolution—and in these, it's necessary that the characters explore their own interactions in depth.

*Edit: In other words, there are lulls during the plot, moments of respite from danger or periods in which the characters are waiting before they can continue the main pursuit, and these are periods in which more exploration of the romantic feelings can happen without interfering with the main plot. The Harry Potter books do this—although Voldemort et al are rarely out of Harry's mind for long. Many side characters might be exploring romance off-camera.
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Fiery Keeper of the Hat
I haven't had a chance to read through the replies. I will later today, but I wanted to go ahead and answer.

Fantasy has the ability to excel at romance. Think about all of the Disney movies - Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, or hey, even Peter Pan. Each of these uses magic to mess with the relationship arc. The boy doesn't grow up, the girl got just one magical night, the girl could only wake up with true love's kiss. These kinds of stories need the fantasy to work. These kinds of romance plots take a bit of setting up but are completely worth it in the right story. If a successful story needs to be good all around and do one thing really, really well, the romantic elements can easily be that one thing.

But if the romance plot is your typical boy-meets-girl, you've probably got more discretion as to whether it needs to be there and whether it brings anything to your work. The OP mentions diluting the fantasy. I'd rather say that I would encourage the use of romance to try and appeal to more readers while understanding that if it becomes a plot tumor it must be cut on the spot.
I kind of wanted to add onto the idea of romance diluting vs. strengthening the story?

My last book had a romantic subplot form a pretty heavy part of the plot. Instead of detracting from the main plot, though, it ended up making it a lot stronger. It fit thematically and raised the stakes enormously as well as just making the emotions hit all that much harder.

for example, the antagonist uses the person MC loves as leverage against him, and that forms a significant part of the climax. But even more important than that, toward the end MC is given the choice to forever end his suffering and lay aside his fight to live, and his partner’s love is what keeps him from essentially permanently scrubbing himself from existence.

To be fair, this is far from being a tolkienesque high fantasy or whatever, and a lot of the conflict is internal.


Article Team
For anyone wanting to see how fantasy and romance pair together to make a great story, look no further than the Tairen Soul series by C.L. Wilson. It's amazing.