In practically every review I write, I always say that I hate romances in novels. Why, you may ask. Many people feel that it’s the romantic element that really makes the story. Others, like me, think it’s like handling explosives. If you do not do it right, it will blow up in your face. Like a lion eating its trainer in a circus. Love is an extremely dangerous game. Especially in stories.
I will begin my rant with an example. The name I’m going to use is very well known. He is celebrated as some sort of demigod in English literature. William Shakespeare. In tenth grade, we had to study one of his plays. As You Like It. And you know what? Thank you very much, Billy, but I DID NOT like it. In a nutshell, here’s the entire story. Rosalind, a Mary Sue, falls in love with Orlando, a Gary Stu , and vice versa. A little bit of blahblahblah happens and they end up in the Forest of Arden where they meet, court, and live happily ever after. The end. There was no actual plot, no climatic ending, a very poor antagonist, and unrealistic situations. Now all you Shakespeare fans can go, “DO NOT INSULT OUR GOD!” on me, but let’s get this straight: it was ridiculous. One would expect better from the Bard.
As You Like It is one of the reasons I don’t enjoy romance in novels. Because unless you have a solid plot that’s set in stone, your characters will end up running around in an enchanted forest fainting at the sight of blood and coaching each other in love. Please, spare us. You want to learn how to work with romance? Then you got to understand what romance in a novel really is.
Now, despite my “Love-Cynic” exterior, I’m actually a hardcore romantic. To prove this, I’ll let you in on a secret. I was the original Taylor Swift fan. Yes, it’s true. I still think most of her older songs are cute. For me, a book without romance it’s like chocolate cake without chocolate. The problem is that the author just ends up putting so much sugar in the damn cake that I get diabetes. That’s why I tend to keep my distance from fictional love stories.
So, what is romance? What significance does it hold in a story? Well, in the blandest possible sense, the romantic element is just another element. It’s just the same as the ‘Fighting Your Demons’ part or the ‘Friendship Is The Truest Wealth’ part of a novel. There’s no need to treat it like it’s a celebrity. That’s the first problem that writers make. A book is like well-made lasagna. It would not exist without its different layers. Romance is just another layer.
Once you strip it off its celebrity status, romance becomes easier to deal with. Now it can receive attention equal to the other elements in the story. Now you no longer have to worry about going overboard with it.
The next thing to do is develop your characters. I’m going to put this in bold. You cannot have two characters fall in love with each other unless there’s something to fall in love with. Think about it. You’re in love with someone. Why are you in love with them? What qualities do you find most attractive? What about them annoys you? You can’t answer these questions without knowing your characters like you know yourself.
Here’s where I’d like to deviate a little and advise writers to think different. It’s very easy, and very attractive, to have a beautiful woman and a handsome man (or two good-looking people of the same sex–however you like it), fall in love with each other. The fact is that a person’s looks is one of the things we judge them on, sad though it is. (Ever wonder why in all the movies, especially in cartoon and animation, the heroes are sexy and the villains are ugly? Can anyone say “The Ugly Step Sisters” in Cinderella? Or how about the Sea Witch Ursula in The Little Mermaid who has been portrayed as fat? You know what, just check out this link.)
Writers, challenge yourselves! Think different! What if one of the characters, or both of the characters, were physically unappealing? Is that such a crime? Or shall we follow the Rick Riordan principle where in his Heroes of Olympus series he all but blatantly declares that only beautiful people deserve love? Seriously, the personality of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, is just SO FREAKING WRONG. In Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero, there’s actually a scene where Aphrodite gives all the main characters a make-over. The point of the scene, I think, was to make the Piper/Jason romance angle even more bold. While all the other characters get a make-over, Jason only gets a clean shirt because apparently “This one didn’t need any changes” in his appearance, and therefore he was perfect for Piper. Do you really want your novel to come off as being that superficial?
Ahem. Alright, I’m done deviating. Where was I?
Right. Once you’ve got your characters sorted, you need to work on your plot. There is a common misconception that romance in a novel must run parallel to the plot of the story. But no. Parallel lines never meet. If you want to write a story, the general assumption is that there is a logical flow from Point A to Point B. You can’t have two random characters making out just because “That’s What The Readers Want”. What does it add to the damn plot? The romance needs to be part of the story line. It needs to add to the plot.
Here’s where I’ll give you my favourite example. The Hunger Games Problem. At first glance, it appears that the romance in The Hunger Games is vital. Without Katniss and Peeta pretending to be in love, they’d never have survived. Yes, that argument is kind of true. But Suzanne Collins did something very, very wrong. Aside from the fact that Katniss is a lousy main character, she just went OVERBOARD
with the romance. Essentially what you’re reading is a Mills and Boons sprinkled here and there with a little bit of bloodshed. I asked for a freaking action novel, do you mind? Katniss, Peeta, can you please get a room so I can read about people killing each other without having to see your tongues down your throats every three seconds? Thanks, I appreciate it.
Another thing that irritated me about that book is Katniss whining about how she’d have to marry Peeta even if she doesn’t want to. Look, I’m no supporter of arranged marriages myself, but is it the end of the world? Please. It happens every day in large parts of the planet, so suck it up and get on with life. What The Hunger Games really is, is a high-level romance novel where the background is the rebellion. Darlings, unless you’re writing a romance novel in the first place, keep the love where it belongs: on the sidelines.
That reminds me. Ladies and gents, what is the most fatal weapon in literature? When you add it to your story, you need to know exactly what you’re doing. Go on, give it a guess. It makes normal romance look easy. If you guessed Love Triangle, you’d be right.
Scientifically speaking, a triangle is the stablest of all shapes. In the literary sense, it’s a nuclear bomb. Add a love triangle to your story, and it will go KABOOM! Unless, of course, you know how to handle it. Twilight is how NOT to handle it. The Sound of Music is the correct way. If you’ve seen the movie The Sound of Music, the Captain is infatuated by the Baroness, even though Maria is in love with the Captain. The Baroness initially tries to sabotage Maria’s chances with the Captain, and a clueless Maria falls for it. But later, the Captain realises he’s in love with Maria and he gracefully, kindly, breaks off his engagement with the Baroness, who takes it in an equally graceful way. Jeez people, you’re dealing with a person’s emotions. Someone is going to get rejected. Stop making a hissy-fit and use a little tact.
Another reason Love Triangles are so dangerous is because it’s very easy to deviate from the plot, assuming your story isn’t a full-blown romance. It’s always easier to make your characters to make out with each other than get them to fight a war or sign a treaty or face their fears. You really need to be careful while using Love Triangles. You could get hurt.
The most important thing you have to watch out for while writing romance is the cliches. You really have to be careful to keep the cheesiness and corniness in your dialogues to a bare minimum. Sure, sometimes, it’s unavoidable and also a little cute. Check out this video from Avatar: The Last Airbender (It’s only 13 seconds long, so do check it out!) Is it cheesy? YES. Is it cute? HELL YES. But on the whole, keep the cliches out. Please.
So this is why I’m such a picky person when it comes to romance in novels. There’s only one book that comes to mind where I actually enjoyed the romance. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It’s difficult to nail the love-story element of a story like he’s done. I wept in the end. In school. People thought there was something wrong with me.
Love is a dangerous game, in real life, and in fiction. Especially in fiction. So unless you know what you’re doing…