At LTUE last week, I was on a panel that gave me some food for thought, which I’d like to get some discussion on. The whole panel was set up around the difference between a romance (maybe Romance, capital R) and a story with romantic elements. Panelists included adult SFF author John Brown, YA fantasy author Mette Ivie Harrison (here’s her take on the same panel), and romance author Lynn Kurland. I believe (and I hope she corrects me if I’m wrong) the other panelist Amy Chopine writes YA fantasy as well.
So add me into the mix and you’ve got a panel skewed toward books for young readers (we focused on YA), which I think does affect how we view romance, because we’re not talking happily-ever-after most of the time, even with happy endings—you know in a year or two, even though you want the couple to stay together, they’re young enough that they’ll probably break up off-screen, because life happens (though happily-ever-afters do also abound in YA; there’s just not always that kind of pressure, you know?). John had some really interesting questions he asked the panel, though I didn’t take notes and can’t remember a one of them. The thing that stuck out to me, really, was the idea that Lynn and several other romance writers in the audience insisted upon that the best (maybe only) kind of successful romance story is one in which the main love interests hate each other at first, ala Taming of the Shrew or perhaps Lizzie and Darcy.
I love me a good vehement discussion (some would call it argument, yes), and I took issue with this position. I think that there can be successful romance stories in which the main characters like each other at first, but some other plot element is the driving conflict. But perhaps this is the difference between a romance vs. another genre with romantic elements (in YA, Twilight might be considered a romance, for example, rather than a fantasy with romantic elements—the romance drives the plot, not the other way around).
Lynn also described a really interesting way she decides whether a story is a romance or just a story with romance in it: if the plot points that resolve first are the romance, then the saving-the-world or whatever other plot line you have wraps up, it’s not a romance. Vice versa, and it is.
That is, the emphasis the plot places on romance vs. other conflict is what defines the genre. I can totally go with that.
What of this “only stories where the protagonist/love interest hate each other at first but then fall in love are good romances” stuff?
Does something have to keep the protagonist/love interest apart the whole time for a romance story—whether Romance capital R or romantic element—to be successful? And does the thing that keeps them apart have to be that they don’t like each other? Is this just a big difference between YA and adult category romance?
Somehow the conversation then turned to love triangles, which I’m not fond of but my dislike of them pales in comparison to Mette’s, which includes thinking up ways to kill off the girl caught between two boys, and matching up the boy she likes with one of her own more sensible characters.
I like Mette’s description in the first post I linked above, of the couple against the world, working together against the main conflict of the book. That’s the kind of story I’m drawn to. I’m having trouble coming up with good examples of couple-against-main-conflict, though. Except I suppose Tankborn (which I can’t link to because we are not quite to catalog-and-covers-to-share stage, but soon you will be able to see why I love it so!) which involves the two main characters eventually finding themselves in such a situation (which I can’t tell you about yet because I don’t want to spoil it!). The love triangle in The Hunger Games and Katniss’s PTSD do get in the way of any romance going very far, but that story also has a lot of Katniss & friends (including two love interests) against the world. That might be why Mockingjay made me so angry, because Katniss’s team, especially Gale, was broken so severely.
What do you think? Do you prefer obstacles to be contrived for the couple not to get together (see how I loaded that question?)? Do you like couple-against-the-conflict-together plots? Are there other kinds of romance and/or romantic element-al stories that work better for you? What makes a story a Romance vs. a story with romantic elements?