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View Full Version : Can fiction be good without some element of romance?



KCathy
08-25-2008, 07:46 PM
My husband insists that action movies include romantic subplots only because the women dragged to such movies need to be entertained, too. I think it's because part of the male desire to be the bad-guy-smacking tough guy includes impressing the big-breasted female he discovers imprisoned in the military compound he's single-handedly invading.

I can also see arguing that comedies only include romance because romance is so inherently awkward that it's hilarious no matter how serious it is.

I've loved a book or two without romance, but I still believe, generally speaking, that romance at least improves fiction in any genre. What do you think?

veinglory
08-25-2008, 07:47 PM
I think a great deal of fiction absolutely requires the absence of romantic love themes. There are many kinds of stories to be told :)

stormie
08-25-2008, 07:53 PM
Only if it truly belongs in the storyline.
(From one coast to another, KCathy :) )

Edmontonian
08-25-2008, 07:57 PM
Hi,

I believe that both your husband and you are right, in terms of why action movies have romantic subplots. I guess a lot of people see the good guy or hero ending up with the love of his life (whom he saved from the claws of death) as a reward for the labour involved defeating the bad guy.

In my first WIP, the hero, falls in love with his girlfriend because he realizes he loves her and he needs her in his life. All these takes place before the action scenes begin, and, after the hailstorm of bullets begin, they both have to fight and flight. In my second WIP, the hero goes into a reconnaissance mission because someone he likes does that too and I am still working on how and when they exactly fall for each other. However, I will try to make it not sound cheesy.

In sum, romance can add flavor to a thriller, if balanced properly, without sounding too cliche, being to distracting (like sex scenes for no reason) or greatly improbable (like making up during a gun fight). Romance and love is really a strong motivator for a heroine or a hero to perform a task or overcome a difficulty in any kind of spy/suspense/thriller novel. I would argue it is probably a stronger motivator than hate or revenge.

ED

RG570
08-25-2008, 07:59 PM
I sure hope it's not mandatory, because I tend not to think about romance when I write. I just have too many other things going on. It's a worry though, because you see tacked-on romance in so many stories, so maybe this is a requirement nowadays.

I think it's silly if that's the case, because there are plenty of cases where getting with someone is not a priority. Generally when there are dinosaurs eating people or aliens massacring or volcanoes going off because of evil villains who unlocked secret Mayan whatevers, one doesn't care too much about acting like a high-school boy who can't deal with libidinal impulses.

maestrowork
08-25-2008, 08:05 PM
A lot of great fiction is without a romantic subplot. Not even a hint of it.

Tachyon
08-25-2008, 08:07 PM
It all comes down to my characters. If my two characters are going to fall in love because of who they are and what they experience, then they'll fall in love--this in turn impacts the story, because it alters how they will act when the stakes increase and their loved one is in danger. I keep a close eye on my characters to see if they're developing any sort of romantic feelings and then decide if I want to foster the feelings or go back and crush them! :D

Pagey's_Girl
08-25-2008, 08:11 PM
Totally not required, in my opinion. It actually puts me off when someone tries to shoehorn a romatic subplot into a story that doesn't need one.

NicoleMD
08-25-2008, 08:12 PM
I would say romance is not necessary, but certainly interesting and complex relationships between characters are.

Nicole

nevada
08-25-2008, 08:13 PM
The romantic subplot in action movies comes from an ancient hero archetype, where at the end of his quest the hero was rewarded, sometimes with treasure, usually with a woman. Most often she was a token woman that he protected while engaged in the quest (Princess of Mars, every James Bond book/movie), sometimes the woman was directly held out as the reward for completing the task/quest. (Turandot) I wrote an in-class essay about this in University in my Sci-Fi class (A+ thanks. :) ). Even when the woman is kick-ass and holds her own and doesn't need saving or protecting, she very often still ends up as a reward for a job well done. (Neuromancer)

gypsyscarlett
08-25-2008, 08:23 PM
Hi,

No. I certainly don't think romance is necessary in all stories. Romance itself is great. I'm a sucker for good love story. Put it in if it adds weight to the main story.

What I don't like is how so many stories have a romance thrown in just to have it. The romance, even if its just a side element in the novel has to be handled with the same care as anything else in it. Show their feelings developing. The chemistry between them. Don't just have the main guy fall for the main girl just because they are the leads.

added: Some novels are enriched by a romantic subplot. Others are so unnecessary they have me rolling my eyes. Just finished, "Mount Dragon" by Preston and Child. I usually love their books. This one was a disappointment in general and not helped by the fact that main guy falls for the very bitchy woman because she has violet eyes. (if there was a deeper reason, I sure didn't see it)

Claudia Gray
08-25-2008, 08:30 PM
Romance isn't necessary -- plenty of great books have very little of it, if any (and same goes for movies.) However, the ubiquity of romance as a theme in all kinds of genres says a lot about how popular and flexible that theme is. It is very easy to throw in a paper-thin "love interest" as a sop; it's also very easy to sneer at all romance as being silly or sentimental. I think both approaches are off the mark. Well-executed romance can and does work in nearly every genre there is; the trick is that "well-executed."

To take a point about action-adventure movies: "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" is an action film and a love story, and neither side of the story could exist without the other. Hidden inside all the silly shoot-em-up business is a fairly clever skewering of the idea of marriage as staid institution; John and Jane don't even really discover each other until they stop playing proper husband and proper wife and find out how much they're really alike. (IMHO, it's not for nothing that the final scene involves them tearing up a home-goods store, complete with destroying dioramas of backyard barbecues and other set pieces of a commercialized "perfect life.") That was an ordinary action movie made different and far more entertaining because of the romantic element.

Polenth
08-25-2008, 08:30 PM
I don't require romance in stories. Where romance appears, I expect it to feel natural for the characters.

When I'm writing, I don't go looking for romantic sub-plots to add. Most of my shorts have no romance. In longer stories, it's more likely that someone will get involved... more characters and more time. But I don't plan such things usually. It'll develop from acting out the characters.

regdog
08-25-2008, 08:47 PM
I think fiction can be just fine without romance. In fact sometime I prefer it without. Nothng can ruin a story more than putting a token love interest in just for the hell of it. Unless the romance, love interest or sex scene is a part necessary to the plot leabe them out.

eveningstar
08-25-2008, 08:55 PM
Many of my favorite books have absolutely no romance. And I don't think they would be improved by the addition of romance, either.

Fillanzea
08-25-2008, 09:00 PM
Christopher Booker - his book about the 7 basic plots is frustrating and often wrongheaded but also has a lot of interesting ideas - anyway, he claims that the ubiquity of romance themes in stories is because of what a romance represents archetypally. It's the hero's feminine aspect and masculine aspect being harmoniously integrated, so that the hero becomes fully whole.

Romance writer Laura Kinsale is onto the same idea when she describes romance as being a love story "between myself and myself," which admittedly sounds really narcissistic, but it's really about how we can't exist if we're alienated and isolated from parts of ourselves.

That said, that doesn't mean that every story needs a romance. You can express that archetypal stuff in other ways - or the story could go the other way, and you could have disintegration instead of integration.

SPMiller
08-25-2008, 09:04 PM
My favorite thing to do in my writing is to have anti-romantic subplots. You know, where the characters grow apart and don't get back together, the end. Just like real life.

Technically I suppose that counts as a romantic subplot because it deals with romantic feelings, but develops in reverse of the standard plot.

Phaeal
08-25-2008, 09:04 PM
Romance only improves a piece if it's integral to the story. Anything grafted on because "ya gotta have it" detracts from the work.

katiemac
08-25-2008, 10:12 PM
Totally not required, in my opinion. It actually puts me off when someone tries to shoehorn a romatic subplot into a story that doesn't need one.

*cough*TROY*cough*

Higgins
08-25-2008, 10:29 PM
To take a point about action-adventure movies: "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" is an action film and a love story, and neither side of the story could exist without the other. Hidden inside all the silly shoot-em-up business is a fairly clever skewering of the idea of marriage as staid institution; John and Jane don't even really discover each other until they stop playing proper husband and proper wife and find out how much they're really alike. (IMHO, it's not for nothing that the final scene involves them tearing up a home-goods store, complete with destroying dioramas of backyard barbecues and other set pieces of a commercialized "perfect life.") That was an ordinary action movie made different and far more entertaining because of the romantic element.

Great points about Mr. and Mrs. Smith...though it sort of worked the other way too...they could not continue to be good assassins until they came to terms with their desire for each other.

Anyway...I think the more romance the better in your basic adventure. For example I like the O'Brian nautical adventures up until Maturin married Diana and then what was the point?

grrrrrshon
08-25-2008, 10:36 PM
It will of course depend on the characters involved. If the stories characters fall in love - or lust - certainly it should affect theri future reactions no?

Higgins
08-25-2008, 10:39 PM
*cough*TROY*cough*

The whole war is about Helen and the whole problem the Iliad revolves around is Achilles' loss of his sex-slave. How much more romantic can you get. What's missing from the current Troy is the gods.

DeleyanLee
08-25-2008, 10:44 PM
Can fiction be good without some element of romance?

Sure it can. I don't know why I, personally, would want to read it, though.

Alpha Echo
08-25-2008, 10:55 PM
Yes, of course. I've read several books that have no romance whatsoever. But usually, there's a piece of romance in a book. Afterall, who goes through life without any romanctic interests? Life is mainly about love. Everything else, IMO, revolves around love. So it's realistic to have shreds of love in there...if of course, it makes sense to the plot.

maestrowork
08-26-2008, 12:02 AM
Great literature without romance:

To Kill a Mockingbird
Catch-22
Lord of the Flies
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Hamlet
A Clockwork Orange
Oliver Twist


(it's not too say none of the characters in these books has relationships or talks about love, etc. but there's no "romantic" subplot or it's just not a real plot element in the story.)

Stormhawk
08-26-2008, 01:35 AM
Anything grafted on because "ya gotta have it" detracts from the work.
I agree with this.

I really, really hate the shoehorned-in romantic sub-plots.

ishtar'sgate
08-26-2008, 05:34 AM
I've loved a book or two without romance, but I still believe, generally speaking, that romance at least improves fiction in any genre. What do you think?
While I don't think romance is necesary for good fiction, it forms part of the normal human experience so certainly adds dimension.
Linnea

Mad Queen
08-26-2008, 06:18 AM
If you are writing clichéd stories, following a formula, then add the required clichéd elements. Otherwise trust your good taste.

In my opinion, adding a subplot to a story to entertain [insert social group] can only go wrong. If you want to entertain everyone, you'll end up entertaining no one. Write the kind of book you would like to read. Then you can guarantee that at least one person will be entertained.

Chasing the Horizon
08-26-2008, 08:02 AM
Most of what I write has strong romantic elements, but that's because I enjoy writing romance and think I'm pretty good at doing it. Romance won't improve a story if the writer is forcing it in or isn't good at writing the romantic scenes (and by that I don't just mean sex scenes, communicating the chemistry between characters is its own challenge.) Most of my favorite novels involve romance in some way, but several don't. Like pretty much everything in writing, it just depends on the story.

geardrops
08-26-2008, 08:06 AM
To answer the OP: good God, I hope not. I hates the romance.

I should say, romances with happy endings.

As I've mentioned before, my heart is truly a cold, black place.

Tachyon
08-26-2008, 08:11 AM
I should say, romances with happy endings
I agree. ^_^ Now, I will admit that I enjoy the occasional romantic comedy when I'm in the right frame of mind. But I am sick and tired of every story ending happily ever after because it "should." Where's the tragedy, the failed romance, the love-that-can-never-be?! Why?!

tehuti88
08-26-2008, 07:03 PM
I guess I'm in agreement with most others here. Romance is fine but it isn't necessary, and in some cases, really shouldn't be in a story. It should be there only if the story requires it, otherwise, like any element (comedy, drama, a plane crash, a cute puppy dog in a bow), it's extraneous and awkward.

My life hasn't had a lick of romance in it (nor plane crashes, nor cute puppy dogs in bows), so I see no reason why every one of my stories should have some!

benbradley
08-26-2008, 08:11 PM
It's not that I dislike romance, BUT... I really enjoyed "Rendevous with Rama" (Clarke) which doesn't have a bit of romance that I can recall. Then I read the (first) sequel (cowritten by Clarke and someone else), and there was romance in it. He had a good thing going, why mess it up...

Alpha Echo
08-26-2008, 08:20 PM
I agree. ^_^ Now, I will admit that I enjoy the occasional romantic comedy when I'm in the right frame of mind. But I am sick and tired of every story ending happily ever after because it "should." Where's the tragedy, the failed romance, the love-that-can-never-be?! Why?!

I agree that not all romances should end happily. In fact my WIP won't end happily, though love is the driving force.

Some romances SHOULD end happily. He SHOULD get the girl. I hate it when you read a book, and you think someone should end up together, but they don't, or you think they shouldn't but they do.

For the book to reflect life, not everyone should end happily.

geardrops
08-26-2008, 09:50 PM
I agree. ^_^ Now, I will admit that I enjoy the occasional romantic comedy when I'm in the right frame of mind. But I am sick and tired of every story ending happily ever after because it "should." Where's the tragedy, the failed romance, the love-that-can-never-be?! Why?!

I'll let you know when I get published ;)

Matera the Mad
08-28-2008, 07:19 AM
As a female reader, I can live a long and healthy/happy life without romantic sub-plots. If they creep into the story and look like they were put there just-because, I choke on them and toss my chapters. I gag on movies cluttered with romanticrap that were made from books that had none.

Tachyon
08-28-2008, 08:53 AM
I'll let you know when I get published ;)
I'll be waiting! :D

skelly
08-29-2008, 02:31 AM
The romantic subplot in action movies comes from an ancient hero archetype, where at the end of his quest the hero was rewarded, sometimes with treasure, usually with a woman. Most often she was a token woman that he protected while engaged in the quest (Princess of Mars, every James Bond book/movie), sometimes the woman was directly held out as the reward for completing the task/quest. (Turandot) I wrote an in-class essay about this in University in my Sci-Fi class (A+ thanks. :) ). Even when the woman is kick-ass and holds her own and doesn't need saving or protecting, she very often still ends up as a reward for a job well done. (Neuromancer)
I don't know if Neuromancer really fits. Molly fucked him and disappeared. He got some sex, not love. It's been a long time since I read that tho.

I always thought of her as the hero anyway.