Romantic Tension and Why Love Triangles Hurt

A romance is never just about the romance.

Whether subplot or main plot, a romance plot line is not about the love itself.  It’s about the process of falling in love.  Now, as we know well from Disney, that process can take place within the space of a single song.  Unfortunately, that’s a three-minute character arc.  Romance introduced— romance over with.  Everyone is bored, let’s get back to the explosions.

That’s why romance is never just about the romance.  Romance can be a really quick thing, but we need it to take longer.  We need it to cover hundreds of pages, ramping up conflict and tension between characters as they near the climax.  If we introduce and finish the romance quickly, it’s ineffective, not worth including.  Either that, or really good for a joke.

If left to itself, a romantic plot line would resolve itself in less than three minutes, with song, dance, and birdies chirping.  That’s why you can’t leave it to itself.  You have to figure out a way to slow it down, while making it feel like it can’t possibly go any faster.  You have to create romantic tension.

Romantic tension is what allows a romance plot to slow down and yet remain engaging.  The reader knows two people ought to get together, but something is keeping them apart— even though it’s hardly life or death, that much tension can keep the reader reading in this style of plot.  How to create romantic tension?  One word: obstacles. Continue reading “Romantic Tension and Why Love Triangles Hurt”

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How to Write Strong Females

Strong female characters puzzle me.  I’ve been planning to write this post for a long time– hopefully now I’ll be able to make it make sense.  An early analysis suggested that scarcity was key– Tolkien wrote two of the strongest females I know among the least diverse cast he could manage.  But that makes no sense.  Tolkien also wrote countless interesting male characters.  Characters are characters; their gender shouldn’t make a difference.

And that, I finally realized, is the first hurdle to clear when you try to write strong females: don’t try.  That doesn’t mean don’t do it at all– just don’t concentrate on making a female interesting.  Just make the character interesting and the rest will follow.

A brief note: this is not speaking only to male writers.  Female writers seem to have the same problem– look at the Hunger Games, in which there are perhaps three strong females in the whole thing, depending on how you look at it.  Those three are heavily outweighed by the strong males, and the author is a woman.  Just something to think about. Continue reading “How to Write Strong Females”

Why The Hunger Games Worked

I’ve read The Hunger Games a grand total of two times.  The first time I read it, I loved it.  The second time, I bashed it.

Before we go on, I’d like to apologize for that second time.  Bashing any book is unwise.  It’s fun, yes, and especially so when there are legions of fans for that book, but it’s a fleeting exhilaration, and most of those fans don’t listen to you anyway.  If a book is badly written, it will come across as badly written the first time– you don’t need to reread it with a magnifying glass to see it.

That being said, the points I raised in my second review of The Hunger Games were valid; I’m not the only person to think that Katniss, the main character, is hugely selfish.  My mistake in that review, however, was assuming that because of that, no one would like her.  Of course, I had already been proven wrong by the aforementioned legions of fans.  Why would so many people be charmed by this book if it was fundamentally flawed?

The answer, of course, is that they wouldn’t– and the book wasn’t that flawed in that area.  Yes, Katniss taken by her selfishness alone is unlikable, but that’s why the readers never had to take her by her selfishness alone. Continue reading “Why The Hunger Games Worked”

Dear YA Authors

Dear YA authors,

I graduated from middle grade fiction a long time ago.  Hardly knowing what was to become of me, I left the world of short, heartwarming stories about orphans and cats behind and invaded the unknown land of death, kissing, and trilogies.  I used to bemoan the absence of books over 300 pages, but now the shelves are chock full of long books.  Not only that, but no author stops at a single book– they always write at least three books per series.  I thought that was great.

At least, until I realized I wanted something else.

Series are great.  It’s always nice to follow the same characters through a few books, watching them as they grow over time.  Trilogies likewise.  Trilogies have a distinct format that makes it enjoyable to see two opponents fight each other for three books in a row.  It’s a great feeling, when you reach the end, to know that the main characters have finally won out against all odds.  They can finally live.  Regardless of the predictability of a trilogy– with its charming first book, its slightly sagging sequel, and its dark and bloody finale– a trilogy makes a nice, tight boxed set that looks great on any bookshelf.

But after a while, trilogies get tiring, don’t you think? Continue reading “Dear YA Authors”