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Established Relationships in Romance

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thereeness

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Friends! Fellow authors! My first thread is here and I come to you with a burning question:

How do y'all feel about starting a story where the characters are already in an established relationship?

This is something I've been wrestling with for a while because I'm not that good at romantic subplots. Heck, I'm probably the most critical of the romantic subplot in YA stories (and even in some adult novels) because it's always read, to me, as trite and formulaic. Boy Meets Girl/Girl Meets Boy, Boy/Girl Despises Girl/Boy, Boy and Girl Trade Banter and Argue a Lot, then THEY KISS AND IT'S AWESOME. I dislike this trope for a number of reasons, but my top one is this: two people in a relationship, imo, should AT MINIMUM start out by liking each other. Even just a little bit. Relationships based on pointy barbs, dislike, betrayal, etc. just don't feel like they would work.

The amount of books I've read that has this kinda subplot is...Too many, we'll put it that way.

So, I thought about starting my novel with a pair of characters who are already in a relationship and, instead of the romantic subplot being the building of the relationship, it could focus more on how a couple deals with crisis moments together. How they overcome the monsters and sleepless nights and will they succeed in their mission (I write fantasy, so monsters are a thing) and stuff like that. I, personally, find that more interesting, kind of like Rick and Eve from the Mummy 2 handling being adventurers when they've got a kid in tow.

What do you guys think? Any input would be awesome, thanks so much!
 

Marian Perera

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How do y'all feel about starting a story where the characters are already in an established relationship?

I'm fine with this as long as the story is not labelled a romance.

This is something I've been wrestling with for a while because I'm not that good at romantic subplots. Heck, I'm probably the most critical of the romantic subplot in YA stories (and even in some adult novels) because it's always read, to me, as trite and formulaic. Boy Meets Girl/Girl Meets Boy, Boy/Girl Despises Girl/Boy, Boy and Girl Trade Banter and Argue a Lot, then THEY KISS AND IT'S AWESOME.

I'm just curious. Would you go to the SF/Fantasy forum and say you're tired of trite fantasy subplots where Farmboy Discovers Chosen One Status, Farmboy Gets Magical Mentor, Farmboy Goes On Quest, DEFEATS DARK LORD?

I dislike this trope for a number of reasons, but my top one is this: two people in a relationship, imo, should AT MINIMUM start out by liking each other. Even just a little bit. Relationships based on pointy barbs, dislike, betrayal, etc. just don't feel like they would work.

Do you feel that if two people start out disliking or distrusting each other, they will be unable to work together in any capacity, or to notice things about each other that are admirable or likeable, or to do the right thing by the other person, or to change their views?

Personally, I don't believe that relationships in enemies-to-lovers romances are "based on pointy barbs, dislike, betrayal, etc". I think the relationships in these romances can be just as strong and believable as those where the couple start out liking each other, especially because in enemies-to-lovers romances, the characters often need to confront deep-seated flaws in themselves. Pride and Prejudice is a great example of this.
 

tnfalpha

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Boy Meets Girl/Girl Meets Boy, Boy/Girl Despises Girl/Boy, Boy and Girl Trade Banter and Argue a Lot, then THEY KISS AND IT'S AWESOME.

Enemies-to-lovers isn't the only romance archetype/plot though. So disliking it doesn't necessarily mean your only option is an established couple.

Anyway, I would do what ever feels right for your story.
 

morngnstar

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I'm just curious. Would you go to the SF/Fantasy forum and say you're tired of trite fantasy subplots where Farmboy Discovers Chosen One Status, Farmboy Gets Magical Mentor, Farmboy Goes On Quest, DEFEATS DARK LORD?

I feel like I do see those threads quite frequently.
 

bombergirl69

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I like the established relationship thing a lot. It worked very well for Michael Gruber, who ghost wrote the first fourteen books in Robert Tanenbaum's series. The first book introduces us to both protags, who are DAs in NYC. Throughout the next 13 books, they get married, have three kids, and get involved in all sorts of stories! And they are sharply drawn as characters. She is quirky, tweaks the law a lot (she quits the DA and opens a business where she protects women from stalkers) and is a bit of a badass. Her husband is a straight arrow, great prosecutor, frustrated with her a lot but they have a terrific relationship--no cheating, some bickering but very well portrayed.

Like the OP, I really would prefer that to the enemies to lovers thing. Yes, I loved P & P and thankfully Mr. D did not rape, overpower, etc. Elizabeth and then start a romance (there is a special place in hell for that) but I really do like established relationship idea and wish it was done more often! :)
 
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Jeneral

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I think established relationships are great (Rick and Evy in the second Mummy film are one of my favorites, I agree!), but if that's the main couple in the book and it's their story we're following, it wouldn't be a romance. A romance, at its very essence, is about the relationship between the couple, how they grow and change and ultimately end up together. If the book starts out with them together on page 1 and is about them joining together to defeat some external conflict, that's not a romance. Could still be a really good story though.

Enemies to lovers is just one of the many, many, MANY tropes in romance, so to say that's the only romantic arc out there is definitely wrong. And I suspect that you might benefit from a closer reading of an enemies to lovers story since, by the time they get to the kissing, they've started to see each other in a new light that makes them less likely to argue and more likely to start smooching.
 

Hbooks

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I can like both kinds of stories. Some of the thrillers I read feature an already married pair of cops/FBI agents, and that's cool as romance is not the main selling point in a thriller. I didn't need a romantic subplot in THE MARTIAN unless you count Mark Watney and all those potato plants.

That said? I LOVE and WANT romance and romantic subplots most of the time in whatever genre I'm reading from historical fiction to YA to romance to paranormal to fantasy. If I look at my favorites book shelf, almost every one has romance or a romantic subplot. But, every book and reader is different. That's just my preference. You have to write your book as you see fit.
 

Marian Perera

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And I suspect that you might benefit from a closer reading of an enemies to lovers story since, by the time they get to the kissing, they've started to see each other in a new light that makes them less likely to argue and more likely to start smooching.

That's a good suggestion. You could also try a wider selection of books. For instance, I don't think "enemies to lovers" only means stories where the couple feel nothing but hatred and contempt for each other at the start. I think it could also cover stories where they distrust each other, or have reason not to like each other, but are still good people at heart, and so they find ways to work together and get along.

Nearly every romance I've written has the characters in some sort of conflict with each other at the start. And this is usually a serious conflict (he has good reason to believe she's an assassin sent after him, she has a secret that could ruin his career, she's on a mission to save his soul while he thinks she's being a holier-than-thou prat, etc).
 
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morngnstar

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Just as I see certain approaches to romance quite frequently here.

But I don't think they get shot down on the fantasy forum. You're going to have differing opinions, and maybe chosen one fans will be in the majority, but no one will say you're wrong to write a fantasy novel without a chosen one protagonist.
 

Marian Perera

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But I don't think they get shot down on the fantasy forum.

I don't think they're shot down on this forum either.

You're going to have differing opinions, and maybe chosen one fans will be in the majority, but no one will say you're wrong to write a fantasy novel without a chosen one protagonist.

Likewise, no one here will say you're wrong to write a romance novel with (or without) an enemies-to-lovers theme.
 

thereeness

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Wow, thank you guys so much for the feedback!

As to the above: Yes, I would say I'm extremely tired of the SF/F tropes listed above and have posted/read the threads in that forum about such topics. But I also still like some of the tropes, as long as they're presented with new and interesting twists. The same goes for tropes in Romance books, too. If it's done with a new spin, I'm down to at least give it a try.

My romance reading list is a little outta date, since I've been focusing on YA fantasy (since that's what I mostly write) but I do agree that, when thinking about it, an established relationship isn't the basis of a romance novel as we know it. That means I probably posted this in the wrong thread. But since my main question revolved around romance, I thought it belonged here....? I dunno, but either way, I'm grateful to have your guys' feedback. Thank you so much!
 

DarienW

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I like the established relationship thing a lot. It worked very well for Michael Gruber, who ghost wrote the first fourteen books in Robert Tanenbaum's series. The first book introduces us to both protags, who are DAs in NYC. Throughout the next 13 books, they get married, have three kids, and get involved in all sorts of stories!

... I really do like established relationship idea and wish it was done more often! :)

On this note, I'm writing thrillers, and I'm sick of the studly guy who gets a new girl every story, only to dump her at the end. I'm still mad Indiana Jones didn't stay with Marian, LOL!

Within my story, I did a version of enemies-to-lovers with a M/M couple. MC has heard some things about the LI before they meet. The LI is attracted but conflicted. A few complications happen as they grow in attraction, but once they are a couple, they stay one through the end and into the sequel.

I do know not everyone loves a romantic sub-plot in a thriller, but tons of them have one.

To Bombergirl's quote, I hope to keep them together through more stories. I'd like to read more of them as well. Karin Slaughter has a book series that uses the established couple. There's some complications I won't spoil, but she's on a good grove with them now! :)
 

Zombolly

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My romance reading list is a little outta date, since I've been focusing on YA fantasy (since that's what I mostly write) but I do agree that, when thinking about it, an established relationship isn't the basis of a romance novel as we know it. That means I probably posted this in the wrong thread. But since my main question revolved around romance, I thought it belonged here....? I dunno, but either way, I'm grateful to have your guys' feedback. Thank you so much!

Yeah, I think you don't know what the romance genre is all about.

Here's the Romance Writers of America's requirements:

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

If the romance isn't the center of the story, it's not a romance. Simple! :)

If I want a story where the couple is established already, I'm going to steer clear of the romance section of the library. Keep in mind, many authors don't put the couple together immediately because it adds more tension to the novel. Tension is GOOD!
 

bombergirl69

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On this note, I'm writing thrillers, and I'm sick of the studly guy who gets a new girl every story, only to dump her at the end.

ha!! (although I do love the Travis McGee series, if you're his GF, the chances are excellent you're gonna get offed one way or another to make room for the next one!)

I did not know all the subgenres of Romance, so...interesting. i'm still partial to couples sticking together (I find the issues more engaging--just my opinion) and there are PLENTY of ways to add tension beyond the "will they or won't they?" arc--one or both members of the couple is in jeopardy/one is ill/emotionally unavailable, etc. I guess it's true though, that the established couple thing works really well as either a subplot of a thriller (Michael Gruber, Margaret Truman Steve Martini) or as the main plot of some kind of domestic drama, perhaps not romance! I will avoid the Romance shelf!!! :)
 

Marian Perera

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I did not know all the subgenres of Romance, so...interesting. i'm still partial to couples sticking together (I find the issues more engaging--just my opinion) and there are PLENTY of ways to add tension beyond the "will they or won't they?" arc--one or both members of the couple is in jeopardy/one is ill/emotionally unavailable, etc.

The thing with romance is, once the couple are fully committed to each other, their story's wrapped up. It's like a mystery where, halfway through, we find out the butler did it. So the second half of the story is about how the trial plays out, because he's pleading justifiable homicide. That can still be very interesting to readers. But as a mystery? Probably not so satisfying for mystery readers, because it might feel like a long-drawn-out anticlimax.

Same thing with romance. After the couple finally come together for good - obstacles overcome, dragons defeated, amor vincit omnia - the story's done. The characters can make brief appearances in sequels in a romance series, just as a detective can mention that he previously solved the murder of Colonel Mustard, but the new romance shouldn't be about them any more than the new mystery should revisit the Mustard case.
 
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Shawna Doersch

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I'm also of the opinion that if your characters start out in an established relationship than it's just not really a romance. Now you could take that couple and throw huge problems at them and make the book about how it either strengthens or crumbles their relationship and not have to deal with how their romance actually begins...but then whatever problems you throw at them could be the main story arc as well.

I'm largely a fantasy reader and in the well written ones (not the physical interludes strung together with thin bits of story) the characters often come together as a couple after dealing with whatever magical issues that the book centers around. In those cases it can be enemies, friends or even neutral party to romantic love and because your central story isn't just that of the romance, it can be whatever genre you want it to be.
 

bombergirl69

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See, nothing to do with romance categories, as I admit, Zombolly's info was new and interesting, but I HATE that "romance" is considered over and done once committed (although again, I take the point that in that category, I guess the only arc allowed is will they or won't they--and I 'm guessing if it's romance, They Will). But anyone who's been in a long term (happy) relationship knows that romance is an ongoing pursuit! There can be plenty of conflictual issues (again, I'm not speaking to the actual categories as I really am ignorant there and that was interesting!) that can beset a couple. The reason I mention Michael Gruber (and there is no way his work is considered "romance"!) is that he finds plenty of ways to create romantic tension with a happily established couple. Even if one were to remove the legal thriller or whatever his actual genre is from the book, the relationship aspects between the two protags is engaging, fun, conflictual in a good way and very satisfying. Definitely a large reason his work has been so popular.

I think Mary Stewart is considered to have written romances (mystery romances? Romantic mysteries?) and I can definitely think of one where the wife is looking for her husband--no question of their commitment, she is using cues from their (happy) relationship to find him so there is no "gee, will they wind up together?" arc.

I guess i'm really just bitching about the constraints of the category--that romance is so tied to one arc!! :)
 

bombergirl69

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And just adding--NOT the responsibility of a book genre!!-- that this whole "romance is only about will they or won't they?" thing does have real life implications. I've seen and known plenty of folks who think relationships are only about romance (as in, that definition, The Chase.) Once they get committed in some fashion, to their way of thinking, Over and Done, yes the butler did it, no reason to keep attending to the relationship, Boring --- > so on to the next! They have no idea how romance plays into a committed relationship! And sadly, that idea (all about The Chase) gets reinforced a lot socially. I guess I'm bitching about that too! (and again, hardly the responsibility of book genre!) I just really appreciate those authors who do manage to get romance/conflict and happily established couples!! :)
 

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I guess i'm really just bitching about the constraints of the category--that romance is so tied to one arc!! :)

Wellll...if I write a story with no futuristic or fantastic elements and I call it science fiction, I'm wrong. It may be a marvelous, compelling story, but I've mis-genred it.

It's not "constraints of the genre." Genre is a marketing tool. Having romantic elements is just fine in nearly every genre there is - but it's not a romance unless the romance is the story.

Labelling a book romance when it doesn't fit the genre constraints is only going to hurt the book, and the author.
 

bombergirl69

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Wellll...if I write a story with no futuristic or fantastic elements and I call it science fiction, I'm wrong. It may be a marvelous, compelling story, but I've mis-genred it.

It's not "constraints of the genre." Genre is a marketing tool. Having romantic elements is just fine in nearly every genre there is - but it's not a romance unless the romance is the story.

Labelling a book romance when it doesn't fit the genre constraints is only going to hurt the book, and the author.

Yes, I do see that point. Writing a book about ponies and labeling it under "cat care" is not going to be helpful!! :)

My point (do I have one? not sure yet!) is that there are larger implications to how we see and define "romance."
 

lizmonster

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My point (do I have one? not sure yet!) is that there are larger implications to how we see and define "romance."

But there are two different issues here. There's romance within a story, and there's the Romance section that you find in a bookstore. The genre constraints have to do with the Romance section. Nobody's suggesting there aren't other types of romantic stories out there, or stories of all genres (including Women's Fiction, the other genre covered by this forum :)) that don't have compelling and satisfying romantic elements.

I think asking what genre to use for a romantic story that stars an established couple is a reasonable question. The only thing people are saying is that it wouldn't be, from a genre perspective, a romance.
 

Marian Perera

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See, nothing to do with romance categories, as I admit, Zombolly's info was new and interesting, but I HATE that "romance" is considered over and done once committed (although again, I take the point that in that category, I guess the only arc allowed is will they or won't they--and I 'm guessing if it's romance, They Will).

Different romances run on different variations of this question, though. Maybe it's sex, maybe it's emotional commitment, maybe it's marriage, maybe it's their different lives, etc. So even though it's the only major question in romance, it's enough for romance readers (just like, in mysteries, the only question is usually "who did it?" but there's enough variation and suspense here to make it fun for mystery readers).

[But anyone who's been in a long term (happy) relationship knows that romance is an ongoing pursuit!

That's right. But here's the thing...when I read romance, I'm not looking for real life. I want escapism.

So I'm not interested in picking up a romance and reading about a couple who have been happily married for fifteen years, and now they're planning how to surprise each other for an anniversary when they're juggling other responsibilities and commitments. That's great for women's fiction or for some other genre. When I pick up a romance, I want to read about the couple falling in love.
 

Marian Perera

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Labelling a book romance when it doesn't fit the genre constraints is only going to hurt the book, and the author.

It has the potential to hurt readers as well. There have been rough times in my life when all I've wanted is to escape into a world where everything will end happily.

When I needed that security and assurance, if I had picked up a "romance" where one person got killed on the last page* because the writer didn't want to be hemmed in and constrained by the HEA requirement, I would have ended up even more depressed. That's the reason I don't read romances written by anyone who denigrates the genre or doesn't seem to understand it.

*A bit hyperbolic, but we had a discussion some time back where one poster asked how the story could not be a romance if it was 399 pages of the couple falling in love followed by 1 page where one of them was killed. Sorry, but I don't read this genre looking for a punch in the gut.
 
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bombergirl69

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But there are two different issues here. There's romance within a story, and there's the Romance section that you find in a bookstore. The genre constraints have to do with the Romance section. Nobody's suggesting there aren't other types of romantic stories out there, or stories of all genres (including Women's Fiction, the other genre covered by this forum :)) that don't have compelling and satisfying romantic elements.

I think asking what genre to use for a romantic story that stars an established couple is a reasonable question. The only thing people are saying is that it wouldn't be, from a genre perspective, a romance.

And again, yes, I do see your point. I just really, really hate that the genre has such a tight grasp of what is a "romance." No HEA? Then not a romance! And, not from a writer (or reader's) perspective but a shrink's, there are some seriously shitty implications of that (people have very limited/unhelpful ideas of how relationships and "romance" work.) Is all of that (the implications) on the genre of romance? Of course not, but it's one more place where that shitty idea of "all romance plays out in the chase" gets reinforced. In the same way I hate the way some--certainly not all--include some degree of violence or threat of violence as being fine! Not really surprising that people show up in seriously abusive situations they thought were "romantic."

But yes, I do see your point(s) about the genre.
 

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