Friday, November 14, 2008
If a romance novel is light-hearted and cheerful, either a comedy of manners or a sweet story set in some Little Town on the Prairie, I’ll kick back and enjoy the setting or the style or the witty banter. Those will often compensate for a lack of major conflict. Romance novels don’t always have to have sturm und drang.
On the other hand, if there’s potential for fireworks of the wrong kind between the hero and heroine, there are a few things I’d like not to see.
1. Characters from very different races/cultures/societies fall in love and live happily ever after
Shouldn’t there be some problems caused by the fact that they may look different, behave differently, have varying expectations and customs and behavior? I’m highly Westernized, for instance, but I love spicy food. If I ever made Sri Lankan sambol for a man who’d been eating poutine and perogies all his life, he might end up in the emergency room.
Especially in the romantic subplots of speculative fiction novels, this consideration applies. Star Trek played fast and loose with genetics; anyone could breed with anyone else, and I expected to see Klingon/Tribble hybrids at any moment. If two characters are from very different races, their offspring could well be sterile, and their cultures shouldn’t seamlessly mesh either.
2. Characters meet and they’re soul mates.
The soul mate trope is either loved or loathed. I like it when the writer does something different with it – for instance, uses it to start a realistic relationship rather than using it to bring a happy happy ending to the search. Often it seems as though once you’ve found a soul mate, all your emotional troubles are over.
There’s also the free will issue. Is there any real difference between the powerful alpha hero abducting the heroine and insisting that she’s now his forever, and the powerful alpha hero abducting the heroine and insisting that she’s now his forever because the soul-star on her forehead lit up when he met her? I’d like to feel that the heroine spends the rest of her life with the hero because that’s the best possible choice for her, not because it’s the only choice she was given.
3. Unbalanced love triangles
In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett is caught between Ashley and Rhett. It's obvious to the reader that Rhett is the best partner for her, but at the same time, Ashley's not a stupid lout who beats her up. He's attractive in his own way, intelligent, respected in society, treats her courteously and compliments her. So it's also obvious to the reader that there's some basis to her infatuation with Ashley.
A lot of love triangles aren’t like this. Instead, it’s very clear that the writer favors one pairing, and the left-out person is therefore painted in unflattering colors. This doesn’t make whoever’s in the middle seem very smart – can’t they see that one of their suitors is roast evil with ugly sauce on the side? And, of course, there’s no conflict. Why should there be, when it’s clear to the readers that there’s only one possible choice the person in the middle can make?
Pamela Morsi’s Simple Jess gets around this very well. Althea isn’t interested in either of her suitors (who are both decent men in their own ways). Instead she grows steadily closer to Jesse, whom no one seriously considers a candidate for her affections because he’s “feeble-minded”.
4. Characters forced into a romance
By the author, rather than by other characters or circumstances. I once read a romance where, in the epilogue, the souls of the hero and heroine end up in two characters who meet for the first time, feel an instant connection and know that they will be blissfully happy together. There was no indication of why they would be happy – just that Fate or Destiny (AKA the author) had decreed it.
Even in fantasies of mine where there’s no overt romance, I like to have sexual tension between characters. That worked in every manuscript except Dracolytes. There was simply no way to engender romance between an aggressive fundamentalist soldier of one race and a sarcastic atheist psychologist of another. There was also nowhere a romance could go, considering that their homes were about three thousand miles apart.
They didn’t hate each other at the end, and that was all I could realistically expect from them.