I’ve been in love with love–with romance novels–since I was a high school freshman avoiding the cafeteria cliques by hiding in the library. I wandered the stacks until my eyes found the painted glory of Janet Dailey’s This Calder Range or Kathleen Woodiwiss’s Petals on the River. Despite claims to the contrary, I don’t remember my first love; it was more than a decade ago.
Still other romance lovers understand the genre’s appeal. A good book boyfriend causes random smiles to bloom because of a joke or observation. The extraordinary though seemingly ordinary moments seem perfect. The funny misunderstandings draw couples closer together after almost tearing them apart. The passionate moments and “when will they” tension keeps me reading until early morning.
Romance hooked me.
Recently, however, I’ve spent a lot of time with fantasy and sci-fi writers. I decided to read fantasy and sci-fi. So I visited Barnes & Noble one afternoon to explore my new genres.
I was shocked.
I’ve read more than a few dozen young adult fantasy and sci-fi books for more than a year. (I won’t name any titles to protect the storylines.)
Still, I wasn’t surprised that I liked fantasy and sci-fi. I was shocked that the books read like romance. The stories took on the worst aspects of romance.
The YA fantasies and sci-fi stories I read include a romantic subplot. The fantasy heroines debate their heroes’ interest. The hero is inexplicably drawn to the heroine. They are hesitant, but their love is quick and long lasting.
Even when the relationship is a circumstantial subplot, the romance reappears when it is neither relevant nor helpful to the story. In fact, the relationships seem become a pivotal point when the main character feels alone, helpless, or incapable. The romantic partner arrives, and they can conquer anything. In fact, their progress in their mission/challenge/rebellion improves as the hero/heroine relationship progresses. And if there is discord, the next mission usually fails.
Love is powerful, unpredictable stuff. The romance here is predictable–too simple and too boring.
But the reader shouldn’t worry. Even if the couple isn’t fated within the plot, the author has destined their relationship.
The couple always, always comes together in the end. Never mind the man is chauvinistic and obnoxious as he treats his girlfriend like a mindless, overused sex toy. The woman slept with the hero’s father every Friday to pay for her college tuition before she decides the hero is the guy for her. As a romance lover, I must hope for the relationship. As a romance reader, I know the confused couple can work out their challenges.
Sometimes, characters would have an epiphany and walk away from the relationship. But nope, the characters always get together in the end. For my inner romantic, these guaranteed happy endings are nice, but it ruins the novel.
In fantasy, why are these relationships inevitable? If the heroine has sex with the hero, can they still attack the incoming ships without a relationship? Can the warriors swing their swords just as effectively for the elf queen if she spurns their advances?
Why? Does a good story need good relationships? Since when are romantic relationships a requirement?
Love interests add depth of character, right? Ahh, no; action, back story, and personality add depth of character. A character can show emotion by showing emotion, not by worrying whether the guy she just met is attracted to her.
And never mind the obstacles, the situation, or the characters, the story ends happily ever after.
No book actually says it, but any reader who opens a romance knows how it ends. If the couple doesn’t get together by the last page, they do at the end of the series. Happily ever after is the staple of the genre.
The exceptions are rare, but romantic happiness is guaranteed, which is now a trope in the other genres.
In the YA fantasies I’ve read so far, everything works out. When rebels threaten a dystopian society, the rebels win. When demons overtake heaven, the angels overcome. The villain is defeated. The truth is always revealed. Despite some nail-biting failures, the hero/heroine achieves success.
The hero and heroine never fail, and they get together in the end.
It is boring . . . and irritating.
Romances create unrealistic situations. If it is real love, the sex is hot and frequent. If it is real love, anything can be overcome. Everyone is super sexy and finds a mate. If it is real love, he’ll come back; sometimes, the second chance happens years later. Nice fantasy, but nope, it doesn’t happen. These behaviors don’t feel right.
Fantasy and sci-fi have fallen into the same clichés as romance. Difficult situations are overcome with good relationships. Despite multiple failures, the exact success that was planned can be achieved. Overthrowing a dystopian dictatorship opens the door to better government. And the truth is always revealed when it’s needed.
These concepts are horrible, but even worse, they are boring and predictable. That’s what many books have become.
Fiction doesn’t require realism. Characters don’t need to suffer needlessly, but why can’t characters have sex without a commitment? Why can’t the main character die, but the rebels persevere without him or her? Why can’t the battle fail, but the significant loss of lives open discussion among enemies? Why can’t the final battle fail miserably, but still achieve some small success?
Romeo and Juliet die in a great play. Gatsby doesn’t get the girl. Little Women, Of Mice and Men, Nineteen Eighty-Four—these novels end sadly and still maintain their greatness without adhering to the happily ever after romance rules.
Readers should feel shocked and awed rather than happy.