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Why Have Romance in Fantasy?


I was kind of hoping this would be a light, yeah I like romance thread, but I see so many have given thoughtful answers, I am like...uh, I cant do that today.

In short, I always say give the story what it needs and if it needs a romance, then go for it. But...Ill just add that romance makes the world worth living in. I think it is an element that brings more of the stuff that has me wanting to keep reading with it. Given a choice, I would choose to include it if I could. I thought LOTR was dull, and one of the reasons I would point too is no romance.


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.

Forgive me if I'm reading you wrong, but I'm picking up an assumption here that the best subplot romances are minimalist and shouldn't have a lot of page time, and I'm not sure I agree with that. As a reader, I WANT the character's interactions to be explored in depth. If they aren't, then what's the point of even having a romance?

I think whether or not a romance arc dilutes the main plot has less to do with how much page space and focus it gets and more to do with how closely they're connected. If a romance plot between the two main characters runs alongside the main plot and they never really affect each other, it's going to feel extraneous no matter how minimal it is, while on the other hand, you can get away with a LOT if the twists and turns of the relationship are woven in with the main plot's web of cause and effect.

If the female protagonist doesn't tell her love interest a crucial piece of information about her father, the antagonist, because she's afraid he'll hate her if he finds out, then that's going to have a completely different effect on the main story than if they take a break from the mystery for a few chapters to go to prom.


Romance in fantasy is fine, if it's an integral part of the story. But fantasy can stand on its own sans romance. The Earthsea series is a good example. There is a bit of romance implied in the second one, but it's just a small part of the story, and not the story.
While writing is an art, publishing is a business. So do fantasy tales need romance in order to sell, or even to hook an agent and a publisher?
Anything new in the genre that has no romance, even as a subplot?


So do fantasy tales need romance in order to sell, or even to hook an agent and a publisher?

I don't know what agents/publishers are looking for, but I know in YA, at least, (Which is pretty much all I read...) we definitely need more stories with minimal or no romance. The balance is way off right now, (to the point where it feels weird to read one and have There NOT be a romance) and there's a big chunk of the audience that really wants those books. I know people who have mostly stopped reading YA because they can't find enough of them.


toujours gai, archie
My current novel has a female lead, though she's along with four males (two humans, one dwarf, one ogre). One of the two humans is about her age, and adventurer type, so a romance might seem natural. But it never felt natural. When I added in a few scenes, they just felt contrived, mainly because romance was not on either person's agenda. So I didn't write it in.

I can't say it's because the characters didn't want it (I've never believed in that sort of thing; characters are my invention) or because the story didn't want it (stories are inanimate and don't "want" anything). I could have constructed an entirely different story, one in which the male and female fall in love and deal with that through extraordinary external pressures. It wasn't the story I wanted to tell.

Reflecting on this, I would say that a romance is there because the author wants it there, because they think it's interesting. And I can see that. A romance in a fantasy setting as all sorts of allure. I do struggle with finding a place for a good romantic involvement (which is not the same as a romance in the genre sense of the word) in the stories I tell. The love interest would have to be part of the central story, and it always feels like the story can go forward without "all the kissing."
Forgive me if I'm reading you wrong, but I'm picking up an assumption here that the best subplot romances are minimalist and shouldn't have a lot of page time, and I'm not sure I agree with that. As a reader, I WANT the character's interactions to be explored in depth. If they aren't, then what's the point of even having a romance?

Maybe it's just a matter of taste and not some absolute.

I don't need characters' interactions to be "explored in depth," nor actually for those characters themselves to be explored in depth. But what is "explored in depth?" This actually touches upon another recent thread for me. Plot-driven or character-driven? I can enjoy characters and their interactions without needing to delve into those for long stretches. Simple gestures, comments here and there, their actions while going about other business—all these can point at much without also needing time-consuming and page-consuming exploration. All these can suggest mysteries, developments, changes in the relationships. I have enjoyed plot-driven stories that had engaging, multifaceted characters, for instance; the notion that plot-driven necessarily means cardboard, simplistic characters isn't something I understand.

If there are elements of attraction, love, and so forth, I can enjoy knowing these things are happening without needing long interludes that focus primarily on these things. That said, I can enjoy occasional interludes and a little more exploration, depending on the story. (I'm also a fan of one subgenre of romance; I can enjoy books where the plot is the romance.)