Sunday, January 6, 2013

Romance Themes in Other Genres

My husband and I are buying our first house next year.  We've talked with our lender, figured out what we can afford, and we've got a plan for when and where to start looking.  The one thing we're missing is what to look for.  As a consequence of knowing diddly squat about what we want in a house, we've been watching a lot of HGTV.  I don't know if this the most ideal way to go about it, but watching people snip at each other over every detail of their house hunt is at worst entertaining, and at best informative.  It has us going over our likes and dislikes with each other in advance, so we're not bickering as we view homes.

The other night, a show about mansions came on.  We're not aspiring to anything quite that opulent by any means, but it was fun to see how rich people live it up in their custom homes with heated indoor pools and gold-leaf toilets.  One house in particular was so over-the-top, decorated in a style that would have put Louis XVI at home, that we laughed.  There was nothing--nothing--we liked about the house.  At least that's what I thought at first.  But then they started talking about the kitchen, and they cut to a picture of the range oven.  Okay, I thought, I could stand to cook in a kitchen like that.  Maybe a little smaller, though, without the heavy gold knobs and finials everywhere.  A watered down version of that kitchen would be really nice.

The same can be said for the romance genre.  I like the happily ever after, but sometimes the way you get there can be a bit too over the top for me.  I like watered down romance.  I like plot outside of boy meets girl, which is exactly what I try to put into my writing.

So today, I want to pull examples of watered down romance plots buried in other genres.  The most obvious, or perhaps the most useful within this group, is young adult.

Let's take a look at two very different young adult books.  For this purpose, I'm going with ones I know are relatively universally known for the sake of time.  Harry Potter and Twilight are popular enough that I won't have to go into lengthy detail, and at least most of you will know what I'm talking about.  So even if these aren't your favorite books, try to stay with me.

Harry Potter is about 99% fantasy, 1% romance.  I'm not necessarily talking about the way things end, with Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Hermione married with families.  I'm talking more about the themes that arise throughout the series.  Harry himself spends seven books learning his own value despite an unhappy beginning and what appears to be insurmountable odds in his future.  This is a theme that romance has perfected.  There is, in every book of the series, a bond between the characters that does eventually erupt into an actual, though downplayed, romance.  At one point Hermione has to choose between Ron, whom she loves, and Harry, who she knows is right.  She does what is right, and stays with Harry, despite the fact that it means losing Ron.  To me, this was the moment that rang most clearly of romance.

So, would Harry Potter survive without these aspects?  Probably.  It would be different, but it would be recognizable, because it is first and foremost about Harry and his world, and the fight with Voldemort.  Now if we look at Twilight with this in mind, we get a very different answer.

How long of a series would Twilight be if you removed the love triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob?  Maybe two books?  What if you remove the love aspect altogether?  Let's say, for instance, that Edward was already with someone.  That he and Bella became friends, and that Jacob too only felt platonic love for her.  That might take up a single, albeit long, volume, but it wouldn't be the same book.  I'm not even sure you would know it for what it was.  That's because there is nothing watered down about Twilight.

There are so many books that fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.  For young adult I like between twenty five to fifty percent romance.  In middle grade, or those on the cusp, like Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me or Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, I prefer little or no romance themes.  Older fiction, like sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, etc. can contain as much romance as is necessary to develop and enhance the plot, without stealing the spotlight.  That really goes story-by-story for me, and it's up to each writer, and reader, to decide how much is too much, or too little.

I'm curious to know what percentage you think is adequate--or at what point you think romance is overdone in various genres, specifically young adult, since I know so many people on here write it.


  1. First of all, good luck with buying a new home. That is exciting. :)

    This is an interesting question, and after thinking about it, I've realized I like all kinds of percentages of romance as long as it fits the story. I'm happy with no romance and I'm happy with 99% romance.

    My only issue is don't throw a romance in just to have a romance if that makes sense. If you aren't going to put some effort into convincing me that two people have feelings for each other, just leave the romance out. I've read a lot of fantasy novels where two people are just thrown into a romance without developing the romance at all.

    One example that springs to mind of a popular book is the Da Vinci Code. That story was so plot driven without any hint of romance at all, then at the end, the male MC kisses the female MC out of nowhere, and it annoyed me. If you want your characters to fall in love, you have to show it. If not, don't add it.

    Well that is my two cents on the matter. Great Post!!

    1. Yeah, I was thrown at the kiss in Da Vinci Code. I think like all things, there needs to be a clear trail for the reader to follow. He's a boy and she's a girl, so what the heck, have 'em kiss just isn't a good enough reason for me.

      And you're right, there are a lot of fantasy books where the romance is sort of forced on the reader, and it really doesn't add anything to the story. Great points, MaryAnn.

  2. I'm all about the the moment, I can't think of a book I like that doesn't have at least a hint of romance. But that might just be me as a reader, adding romance in where it doesn't belong.

    My favorite is when we see a spark between two characters--even if they don't see it themselves--and then most of the book is spent on a different plot. So I guess I agree with you, Trisha--25-50% romance. Probably 25% romance--but I read it for that 25%, not for the other 75%, so it better be good. :D

    1. I'm with you. If I'm reading a story with a romance sub-plot, it had better be good!


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