In a previous post, I announced the completion of a research project in which I surveyed dozens of book review bloggers to determine trends in speculative fiction. I shared some genre specific results, but I also mentioned themes that crossed genres completely. Here I’ll delve into further detail of one of them:
Now, we’re talking about dating or candlelight dinners. We’re talking about LOVE, that truly awesome force which drives us (and characters) to euphoria or despair (sometimes both). Personally, I really enjoy romance in a book. When it’s absent, I usually notice it. Why? Because human beings that are set in extraordinary circumstances, a must for any good plot, inevitably bond with one another. Throw in attraction and some banter, and sparks are bound to fly.
Even the bleakest of story lines include this important element. The Walking Dead has it, Lord of the Rings had it, even Game of Thrones (“You know nothing, Jon Snow.” *sniff*) As I said, I’m alright with this. It adds depth to characters. It makes me worry and hope and root for them. But love, like any deep emotion depicted by a writer, must be treated carefully or it has the reverse effect on a story.
This, I suspect, is the reason why “Romance” was mentioned by a significant number of bloggers in my research (Significant meaning: called out by at least 20-25% of blogs surveyed. In this case it was 64%). Three main points were specifically indicated as trends that readers of speculative fiction are fed up with in the romance category:
The Love Triangle
This one has been around for ages but I think the Twilight books really wore the trope out for many readers. That isn’t to say it should never be included. It’s a good source of friction between characters and opens the door for a lot of angst and agony. All good things for a story. But, be careful to give it a unique treatment. And for God’s sake, don’t make EVERY dude in the book hot for one girl.
Love at first sight
I think Romeo and Juliet started this one…or was it Adam and Eve? Those surveyed advised that “attraction” at first sight still works, but the devastating, this-is-the-one, love to end all ages kind of love does not work in a first sight scenario. Maybe people have experienced this personally, but conveying it on the page is just not working for readers, no matter how much the author feels it between their characters. If no one else does, it’s the tree falling in the forest situation. Build the relationship, that’s the advice the bloggers repeatedly gave.
And on a side note, you can play around with this ‘at first sight’ thing. Here’s an awesome example found in a commercial from the Netherlands. You can thank my Dutch hubby for finding the link for me:
Abuse as romance
Finally, this one had the most poignant comments from bloggers. Many noted that it appears to be on the rise in fiction. A disturbing thought. It took the form of men against women.
Physical abuse: Punching wasn’t mentioned, but pushing and forcing a girl from one place to another, aka. kidnapping, was.
Mental/Verbal abuse: Nearly all of them called out bullying and name calling/running the girl down.
Emotional abuse: Threats of abandonment. Withholding affection if she didn’t comply with the guy’s line of thinking.
And these things stemmed from the supposed male protagonist, the girl’s love interest. According to those surveyed, no matter how badly the guy behaved, the girl was so in love that she either forgave him when he showed the smallest glimmer of kindness, or she couldn’t leave him/overlooked it because he was so damn hot. *shudder*
There you have it folks. Things to watch out for when crafting those romantic plots/subplots. The essential point here? Love can take many forms, but when it comes to fiction, it should never be cliché.