In another cliché-related post, I’ll touch the most used and maybe the one most favored by readers: eternal love. I’ll share why I think it works so well as well as some thoughts about the alternatives.
I’ve said in a past post that “marry the princess, live happily ever after” is probably the oldest cliché. In a way, the ‘princess cliché’ is a buffed way of eternal love, seasoned with royal blood. Hence, all I say here applies to the royal version as well. Anyway, let’s get to the point:
Why it works
Stories, no matter the form (book, movie, even a song) are a great escape from reality. While readers want relatable characters and plots, they also want something that’ll bring their attention away from some of the less pleasant aspects of life. They want to see the hero rewarded – and feel that reward with him. Finding your soulmate and live a happy life together is very rewarding (more on that here).
It’s also a simple concept: the hero and his/her to-be soulmate meet (usually) early through the story, go to hell and back together (often forced by circumstances) and forge a strong bond during that time. While there are some alternatives when it comes to the ending, happily-ever-after is the most favored one because it feels like a true ending.
Now, there are alternatives even before it gets to the ending. Of course, it’s possible to write a “lone wolf” story and avoid romance (and thus the cliché of eternal love) completely – but that’s not the point of this post.
There are alternatives to romantic development of a character other than love on first sight and waiting for the wedding at the end.
One of those alternatives is another cliché: love triangle. I believe (but don’t have any data to support it) it’s overused the most in “vampire vs. werevolf” type of stories, helped by ancient rivalry. This avoids the fact that one lover forever sounds far too idyllic but creates another issue: if it’s a prolonged concurrent interest in two (or more) potential partners, it might seem that the character in question does not know what he/she wants. And that might be deterring for some.
An alternative that is a bit more realistic is when it’s not as obvious at the beginning and needs some level of trial and error. What comes to my mind is Ginny Weasley and Harry Potter. Ginny eyed Harry in book one and was saved by him in book two but it was only much later when they actually got together – after both went through some other unsuccessful short-term romances in the meantime.
What would be even more realistic is the possibility of going through a romance with someone else before even meeting the future soulmate – but I’ve yet to encounter such a story. If you know about one (preferably Sci-Fi or fantasy), please let me know in the comments.
Of course, the author can take any other way. They can go the Bondgirl way, with a hero that has a different partner each time (without any hint regarding what happened to the previous one).
Another point is that taking an unexpected twists at the point when someone expects it to go all the way through this cliché can potentially backfire as well. As happy ending is very pleasant, having the pair part ways (hello, Eragon!) or one of them die at the end might lead to heated reviews – and the author should be prepared for it if they take that route.
I’m wrapping it up here. Feel free to share your thoughts on this matter – whether you’re an author, a reader, or both. And, as I said above, if you know about a story where the soulmate is not the hero’s first love, please tell me in the comments as well.