Writing: romance elements in fantasy

In past, I made two posts about my thoughts about romance elements in fantasy from a reader’s point of view. Today, I’m finally getting to share my thoughts from a writer’s side. Spoiler-free.

I’ve mentioned many reasons why I like romance elements/subplots in fantasy in the first of the linked posts. Yet, when deciding whether or not to incorporate them in a story, there are other aspects to consider.

Subplot goals

I’d say that one of the first things that should be thought about is how the story would look with or without the romance elements. The goal is to realize how it interacts with the story in regards to setting, characters, main plot, other subplots, and so on.

Coming back to what I said in the two mentioned posts, romance subplot can have a variety of effects. Some that come to my mind are:

  • choice of partner can (even if indirectly) show more about a character’s values
  • the way a character approaches a relationship tells more about their personality
  • it gives the characters relatable and realistic strengths and weaknesses
  • it creates memorable moments for the characters
  • it can serve as a realistic diversion from the main plot

The more effects a romance subplot has on the involved characters, the more connected it is to the story – and the lower the risk of looking like it’s there for the sake of being there. Something being a part of it just for the sake of being included is probably a bad step (at least that’s how I see it).

Likewise, in the cases I have in mind, there needs to be some moderation when it comes to how much it is present, otherwise, it might turn from a fantasy with romance elements into a romance with fantasy elements. I am quite sure that both cases have a slightly different target audience and it’s good to keep it in mind.

Writer’s choices

While the abovementioned points are a significant factor, it’s the writer’s choice whether or not (and in what amount) it’ll be included. Doubt is a stronger enemy than ever because poorly written romance subplot might be quite obvious to a well-read reader – and severely hurt the story as a whole.

Still, fantasy is a genre about imagination. That gives the writers some space as they can come up with different approaches to courtship due to cultural traits (like a society that is more open/prudent about intimacy). Plus, the author can choose to incorporate his/her dreams about a perfect relationship – or use their life experience. Or combine both.

Possibly the hardest choice, should there be a chance for it, is whether or not to include a scene that would show intimacy or even full-scale sex scenes. It’s not easy to make those an organic part of the story that actually has a deeper purpose than showing that the pair got that far – but that’s a topic I’ll leave for some other day.

Writer’s beliefs and preferences

While imagination is a powerful tool for writing, I believe there will always be some degree of personal experiences and preferences of the author. I’ll confess that I never believed in a two-way love in first sight and thus I’m unlikely to ever write a story that would be based on it. I am someone who believes that forming a strong bond takes time and effort. All these personal opinions greatly affected how I approached the romance subplot(s) in my writing. I might share more on that matter one day but as it would have massive spoiler potential, that day is likely far away.

Likewise, if you’re someone who does not understand (or even hates the idea) of some specific kind of relationship or even a fetish, it’s likely that it would take significantly more effort to convincingly write about it. For some, it might be a battle lost before it begins. Forcing yourself to write about something you don’t understand, let alone despise, will probably hurt the resulting work. I’d say it’s better to avoid such situations.

To close this: Romance elements were something I planned since early concepts for my work-in-progress fantasy – and it was probably more challenging than many other parts. A writer can ‘invent’ strange creatures and complex magical systems but romance will probably fail in having the desired effect if it’s far from what people know and expect – because they’ll likely want to relate to it, more so if it touches the main characters. My first-hand experience in this regard is minimal and thus I’ll need to make sure I don’t stray too far into an idealistic approach and give these parts some extra attention in the coming drafts.

I’ll wrap it up here, despite feeling that I haven’t said much. I’ll welcome any insights from you so feel free to leave a comment. Questions are welcome as well though I will not go into spoiler territory.

See you next time.

4 thoughts on “Writing: romance elements in fantasy

  1. Pingback: Reading: intimacy and sex in fantasy | Tomas's blog and web

  2. Pingback: Writing: intimacy in fantasy | Tomas's blog and web

  3. Pingback: 12/2018 Writing update | Tomas's blog and web

  4. Pingback: Fantasy thoughts: fertility and culture/setting | Tomas, the wandering dreamer

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