Writing Excuses: Writing Romance

This was so funny: Writing Romance

And since I’ve brought it up…

Romance in Speculative Fiction

Lots of times when I see romance done in speculative fiction it just isn’t good.  Or rather it isn’t believable.  It’s more like a “oh, I have a male main character and a female main character, so I think they should suddenly have the hots for each other” kind of deal.

Not cool.  I usually don’t buy it.  (Sun of Suns is an example of where I did not buy the romance.)

If you didn’t foreshadow and build this “romance” earlier in the novel, or if it is executed in an incredibly contrived way, then maybe you should consider just leaving it out altogether?

Sometimes, though, romance does just happen.

When I started my WIP I didn’t plan on writing about any romance.  But then…somehow it just started to make sense.

One of my characters is incredibly headstrong and vocal about how he feels.  And his love interest…well, she tends to keep her thoughts to herself unless asked to reveal them (and even then she may be reticent).  When she does speak her mind she is very straightforward about it, so she can appreciate his bluntness.  However, she, too, is quite headstrong when it comes to certain things, and they naturally don’t see eye-to-eye very often.

Of course, they end up having to work with each other on a very important mission and trust me, there is plenty of head-butting along the way.  Regardless of all the naturally occurring roadblocks between them and even other major characters’ attempts at discouraging him, the man is still adamant about pursuing his lady-coworker.  (Polite rejections don’t work on this guy, which she is quickly beginning to understand.)  The reasons why he’s so interested in her are slowly revealed throughout the story.

To make matters even more wrought with tension, he is currently married and has an estranged relationship with his wife–though I should mention attitudes about marriage and courtship in his culture are a bit different from ours because a small amount of polygamy (that’s for both sexes) is actually legal where he lives; for his love interest, though, it’s very unsettling to be pursued by a married man.

There’s potential for lots of interesting things to happen here, I think.  It’s romance on unstable ground, and it seemed to come out of nowhere when I started writing about these two.

No Excuses

Even so, I don’t think this is an excuse to just suddenly let romance burst out of nowhere onto the pages of my manuscript.  I think that if romance can be worked in fairly naturally into the story (meaning the characters actually feel like they have chemistry between them and needs that can be met by the other), adds interesting conflict where it is needed most (like when things are going along a little too swimmingly) and can contribute in some way to the larger plot (or builds character), then perhaps it has a place in the story after all.

Of course, it’s guaranteed a place in your story if you are writing romance to begin with!

Do you have romance in your current/most recent WIP?

If so, how do you handle it?  Was it something you planned for or something that came about later on in the process?  Also, can you name any works of speculative fiction in which the romance worked particularly well?  Where it didn’t work well at all?  (I realize it’s all to easy too be a critic, but that’s how you learn, right?  Look at where stuff works, where stuff doesn’t work, figure out the whys and try it out for yourself.)


10 thoughts on “Writing Excuses: Writing Romance

  1. Oh I’ve seen it done badly a LOT in spec fic! I think from your process that it will turn out well, because it’s a natural progression rather than slapped on/forced.

    I have romance in my novel, and the process was strange to pin down. I planned on two characters getting together, but they were too different to really click on the outset. Then another character came along, and wow the sparks! Some things were planned, others not, but it made me realize that characters do need to be compatible personality wise, or at least have to learn how to work and change together for the romance to feel believable.


    • That is strange when that happens, huh? Sometimes I get mad when it turns out like that. “Why aren’t these two working together?!? I made you, for crying out loud!” And the more you try to force things, the worse it gets–which could make for an interesting story if there’s an arranged marriage somewhere or some similar situation. (Wow, too many Ssss there, haha.)

      Eventually, though, things just work out the way they should in the end.


  2. A romance that actually worked for me, oddly enough, was the one in A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony (one of the few Xanth books that I’d still recommend all these years later, with the caveat that I thought it was good when I was a tween/teenager at the time). There have been numerous other romances that worked or didn’t work for me to a greater or lesser degree. (I’m struggling to think of good examples, but I can think of many examples that are not all good.)

    In the last complete work I finished (a novelette) when I originally started work on it, in it’s very first draft, I didn’t start with the intention of introducing any romance at all. It was, in concept, a humor piece. In that initial draft, my main character acquired a (former) love interest. And things got complicated. In redrafting it, I realized that this love interest was actually integral to the plot and climax of the story, and I worked it in tighter. I’m more satisfied with the result.

    In the projects I’ve planned to start working on in the next couple months, neither overtly has a romance involved. However, I’m cognizant that in the novel-length project, a romance is likely to come up as I put more thought into the plot. It’s just that at this point, I’m not sure who, how, or where.


    • Thanks for the example. I’m not familiar with it, so I’ll have to check it out.

      There’s very few authors of fiction who don’t incorporate romance in their stories, whether intentionally or unintentionally–at least not out of the ones I’ve read. Even the YA novels I’ve read seem to have it!

      Cherie Priest is one who does not have it in some of her novels. The first time I read Boneshaker, for example, this struck me as odd. I was like, “How can you not have romance? Not even amongst minor characters?” It was weird because I guess I was kind of expecting it. Her other Clockwork Century novels are like this, too.

      I guess this isn’t really a bad thing, but at the same time I don’t really know how I should feel about it.


  3. I seem to write romance in all my longer fiction, it’s organic part of the character development of the main male and female lead.

    Smooth Running had a desire for partner and for respect underneath white-hot attraction.

    Angel Odyssey has love as a major rite of passage for both the male and female progagonists.

    Now my with my new book, I’m toying with something different: the unreliable lover. The femme fatale that the protagonist is drawn to, that they are forced to rely on but is never quite sure they can trust.

    I agree that romance needs to arise naturally from the real reactions of fully-realized characters. The same with sex scenes, neither should be shoehorned in to satisfy some marketing impulse.

    Where DIDN’T it work? That’s actually harder, books where the romance didn’t work often failed for other reasons as well…and are often forgotten by me. I didn’t buy the romance in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy between the protagonist and the fool. Everything by Elizabeth Haydon…drawing a blank right now. Maybe that’s a good thing. I have to say I’ve read a lot of novels where that kind of male-female connections seemed to be artifically missing. Maybe the writer wasn’t comfortable writing about it but if you get two single, attractive people together for any length of time, one or both of them should be at least THINKING about sex/romance.
    Lots of writers have derailed their stories/careers with bad romance/sex: Heinlein’s later books, John Ringo’s later books.


    • I love a good femme fatale character! They can be fun to write, but doesn’t it seem like they’re always either sexually promiscuous or practical prostitutes? I wonder if it’s possible to write about a femme fatale who isn’t these things but is still very dangerous and alluring.

      And I think a forgettable romance is just as bad as an unforgettably horrendous one!

      “…if you get two single, attractive people together for any length of time, one or both of them should be at least THINKING about sex/romance.”

      Lol, it’s inevitable.


  4. My intended audience is YA male readers. And really, they don’t want romance in their books. Longing, awkward moments with the opposite sex, etc…so are fine. But nearly 100% of teen boys don’t want romance in the books they’re reading.


    • That’s to be expected, I guess, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find it in YA fiction. However, when I say “romance” in terms of YA I don’t mean exactly the kind that’s used in adult fiction. I guess it’s more like “puppy love” than it is hardcore romance.

      I’m thinking of examples like Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn series with Matt Cruse and his determination to win over the daring and adventurous Kate de Vries, or even the relationship between Deryn and Alek in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan.


    • You know, I don’t really think that’s the case. (I was once a teen boy, myself, so this is my own personal experience.)

      Which is to say, they don’t want “Romance” in their books, if you use the word “romance” to describe it, but they do want romantic relationships.

      If you say the book has “romance”, it sets off a teen boy’s “mushy stuff” alarms. So you don’t sell it as having romance, you sell it as having action and adventure. But if the story lacks romantic involvement, there’s a not-insignificant chance it’ll feel flat. Because teen boys may dislike “mush stuff”, but they still have raging hormones.


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