Friday, December 9, 2011

On romance in fantasy

The writer's gut: Semper vigilo
I had a partial post for Thursday the 8th, but I looked at it that morning and my gut shot it down for being disorganized and not particularly interesting.

Which left me with the question: what is pressing on my brain, as I plow through part 2 of this fantasy monstrosity, that I could blog about?

And unfortunately, the answer is: romance.

I don't read the genre. I have nothing against romantic relationships in stories, of course, but the genre has always faced an uphill battle with me. There are many tropes that I could rail against, but it boils down to the same problem that The King of Elfland's Second Cousin pointed out (see point #3 here) (and then read his whole series on reader trust) about the old Prophesied Savior tradition in fantasy: lack of tension.

We all know what the goal is and we all know that failure is not part of the genre. The market is so well delineated that you can find your favorite styles and heat levels by brand name.  It's not unusual for historic, scientific and logical accuracy to be sacrificed to get that Happily Ever After. Yes, I have read a few romances and I lived to tell the tale, but I haven't yet enjoyed one.

Somebody out there is thinking you just haven't read the good stuff by Favorite Author -- and that may be true. I reserve the right to revise my opinion.

I am thinking about romance because despite my exasperation with the genre, my fantasy monstrosity has a strong dose of romance in it. One ignores tropes at one's own peril. Even if they're in a genre you don't intend to emulate? Yes. Maybe even especially if. I know I have already stomped all over some romance tropes and Part II isn't even done yet. 

Romance is an enormous genre and well beloved by its fans. Ignore them at your peril. Stomp around in their favorite garden at your peril, too.

My nerdish compulsion to acquire information kicks in at this point and fills me with the vague dread that I'm going to need to read some more romance (fantasy or science fiction flavored, preferably) and read up on the structuring thereof.

Why? Because a writer shouldn't do anything accidentally. That's something that Uncle Jim encapsulated very well at the Viable Paradise workshop -- it's an underlying theme of a lot of writing advice, but I haven't often heard it made into a point on its own.

I have resolved not to do anything accidentally, which includes falling into the hackneyed tropes of a genre I'm not familiar with. Have you?

(Feel free to recommend fantasy romance books -- and I mean solidly alternate-world fantasy -- if you have any favorites. I'm familiar with Mercedes Lackey and a fan of Lynn Flewelling, but I'd consider them the romantic side of fantasy rather than the fantasy side of romance IYKWIM.)


Bluestocking said...

This is an issue I'm dealing with in my current WIP... how much is too much romance and how to treat it in a specfic context. You may want to take a look at Sara Creasy's Song of Scarabus. Ostensibly SciFi Adventure, but romance is a big part of the plot too...

MKHutchins said...


Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson, has a wonderful sub-plot romance (so do Elantris and Warbreaker, come to think of it).

The Redemption of Althalus by David Eddings, a stand-alone, has numerous romantic threads and is also excellent.

There's also a well-done romantic sub-plot in The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones. I'm not sure how stringent your secondary-world criteria is: this is based on 8th century Baghdad.

There's also a lot of great YA fairytale retellings, which tend to have a good mix of action/adventure in them, like Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days or Levine's Ever After or Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball.

Umm, and Mary Robinette Kowal has a great kind of Jane-Austen-with-magic book called Shades of Milk and Honey, which probably doesn't meet your list, but I'll throw it out anyway.

And now I'll be quiet. Can you tell I like recommending books to people? Hopefully some of these match your tastes; I found myself nodding my head during a lot of this post.

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