I've been thinking about writing a post on this subject for a while, and now seemed like an appropriate time, yesterday being Valentine's Day, and all.
When I was little, I despised romance. While I wanted to know who the characters married when they grew up, I didn't want that to happen in the story. Possibly because I hated for characters to grow up, but that's beside the point. As I moved into my teen years, I started to like a dash of romance in books and movies. Over the last few years, I've gotten to the point where I want to put a romance subplot into my own books. That, among other things, has gotten me thinking about just how I want fictional romance to be. Because while I now really like that romantic subplot, I'm still rather picky about romance. And the analytical side of my brain had to figure out the exacts of the matter.
Top five things I dislike in romance.
1. Inappropriate content.
This pretty much goes without saying. If a couple goes further physically in their relationship than they should prior to marriage, that's not okay with me at all. Most likely, I'll skip the story entirely. Even post-marriage, where certain things are right and acceptable, it doesn't need to be shown to the reader/viewer. While I love sweet, touching, romantic scenes, a fact to which I'm sure Kendra will attest, there comes a point where the reader should no longer be welcome and the couple should be given some privacy.
2. Excessive relationship drama
Every couple is going to have struggles. It's just part of being human. However, I cannot stand it when it gets excessive. You know the drill: Couple gets along great, wants to get married. Misunderstanding comes about, they break up, no longer want to ever get married. Misunderstanding is cleared up, they're ready to get married again....until the next installment in the series where they do the whole thing all over again. Yes, I'm looking at you, Spider-Man 3. Disagreements shouldn't be that drastic. I don't care if it happens in real life.
3. Dating that lasts forever without leading to marriage
Relationships that go on forever without ending in marriage, or even ones that take absolutely forever to get to marriage, annoy me. What's the point? As much as I love Andy Griffith, and while I understand that many funny situations in the show are dependent on Andy and Helen still dating, it tends to annoy me that they don't just get married. There's no purpose to a relationship like that. (They do get married post the end of the show, but that's still after dating forever.) I think a lot of writers think romance ends when a couple marries, but it absolutely doesn't. The Scarlet Pimpernel and the DragonKeeper Chronicles are two excellent examples of romance about a married couple.
4. Shallow relationships
I especially hate it when fictional relationships are based on practically nothing. He's good looking, she's pretty, let's date. And there's no more depth to it than that. A relationship with no roots is never going to last. Love at first sight falls under this as well. While in real life, love at first sight can and often does turn into a true, lasting relationship, fictional treatments generally seem to be shallow.
5. Love triangles and other "which guy do I choose?" situations
Don't get me wrong, there are tons of stories I love that contain these types of situations, but they still annoy me. If you can't choose between Alec and Alonzo, chances are it's because you haven't met Jonas yet. (bonus points if you understood that reference) (extra bonus points if you got that one) While it may be funny in an indecisive character, it makes the girl seem like a flirt, whether she is one or not. If she is one, I'm not going to like her all that much. These situations also set up fans to ship the wrong ship, and then you've got fangirls complaining about how you're blowing holes in their ship...not exactly what you want. Swanfire, anyone?
Top five things I like in fictional romance.
1. Relationships with God at the center
The first antidote to shallow relationships. With God at the center of a relationship, if He is the one drawing the couple together, in fiction as in real life, this is a relationship that has everything in the right place. God is our rock, He is our foundation, and this should remain true in romantic relationships. One of the reasons I love the way Molly Evangeline/Jaye L. Knight writes romance is because she always keeps this in mind.
2. Couples that are also best friends
This is the second antidote to shallow relationships. Couples ought to be really good friends. If two people don't have enough in common to be best friends at a just friends level, why would they have enough in common to be husband and wife? But what I personally especially like is when the couple is good friends before officially becoming a couple. They already know each other well, their relationship as friends has already lasted, and it has the best of chances to last as a marriage. That's one of the reasons Reuben and Petra from yet unpublished Lady Dragon, Tela Du are one of my favorite couples. They're already best friends, they already know each other well enough to know that they are right for each other, and it will be a lasting relationship, once they're ready to take that next step.
3. When marriage is the goal from the beginning
There's no point to a romantic relationship if the end goal is not marriage. Yet so many stories toss in that dash of romance just to have that dash of romance. Just look at Indiana Jones. I love the stories that look on a romantic relationship, be it dating or courting, as a means to the end of marriage. I'm going to bring up Molly's books and DragonKeeper Chronicles again. I love how there's no reason for having the relationship other than eventual marriage. For Anne Shirley and Emily Starr, it's the same thing. Even though Anne has some difficulty recognizing her real Prince Charming and Emily's has difficulty getting over his shyness enough to tell her he loves her, the goal isn't to date, the goal is to get married. And I love that.
4. Girls that fall for the "good boys"
I can't tell you how the "bad boy" trend annoys me. Which is why it makes me so happy when the girl falls for the "good boy" instead. Jace, Bardon, Prince/King Arthur, Reuben Eaglechaser, Gilbert Blythe, Teddy Kent, Calvin O'Keefe...guys who treat the girls with honor and respect (carrots was when they were kids, it doesn't count), who will protect and defend them, who will choose to do the right thing. Girls of the storybooks, "bad boy" may be your charity case, but "good boy" should be your husband.
5. The ability to make up after a fight without going through a huge drama first
My sisters and I fight, but we never stay mad at each other for long because we love and care about each other, and that overrides our disagreements in the end. If that's true for siblings, how much more so should it be for a couple? Things aren't going to go swimmingly all the time. Characters should be just as human as real people. And that does mean that sometimes the characters will disagree and fight and not get along. But it doesn't have to mean going through the whole Spider-Man 3 drama. Because with characters, like with people, love should be strong enough to enable them to make up.
So there you have a recipe for my favorite fictional romance...author friends take note. ;) And now that I'm ready for my characters to start pairing off, I think you'll begin to see these principles in my stories as well.