…wait. Wrong season. Isn’t spring the season of love? According to just about any book or movie or song you come across…no. No it isn’t.
These days, romance is like the salt and pepper of the entertainment industry. So you think you’ve got a good story? Good plot, good characters, good interaction. Just to be sure, let’s add in a little romance. If you feel your story is starting to slip a little, put in a lot of romance so hopefully no one will notice that the story’s not really going anywhere. You see the problem here, right? Romance, in itself, is not a bad thing. It can fit into any genre (slice-of-life, fantasy, sci-fi, western, dystopian, etc.). It can be a genre of its own. But when you put in too much–when the romance overpowers the plot–it starts to lose its appeal. Just like when a novice cook puts the entire shaker of salt into the omelet, novice writers often put too much romance into their stories. Even veteran writers do this.
Once again, romance isn’t a bad thing. Lots of people like to read and write romance. They like to feel what it’s like to be in love. But for the majority of books, the romance can stand to be toned down a bit. I don’t know about you, when I pick up a book about wizards, I want to read about magic and battles and struggles and the wonder of doing things mere mortals couldn’t dream of. I don’t want to read about how being a wizard makes you automatically attractive and desirable and will get you into the
pants heart of whoever you want. It’s okay to include a little love, but at the end of the day, that’s not what the story’s about. A story about defeating an evil werewolf should not revolve around the wolf-hunter’s love life.
If romance is what you write, then I wish you all the luck in the world. You’ll find it to be very well-received, especially among women and young girls (let’s face it, they’re usually the types who like to read romance, though they’re by no means the only people who do). I just have one favor to ask. If you’re going to write romance, be honest about it. Don’t try to cover it up by slapping a pseudo-plot over it. Don’t insult the integrity of other authors who actually do have plots that aren’t romance-based by trying to fit a non-romance plot into a romance novel. Let the romance take center stage, instead of having it be the advertised side-show that just happens to take over the show. Don’t beat around the bush. If people want to read romance (and lots of people do), they’ll pick up your romance book. If you advertise a plot and people buy your work because of that, they’re going to be sorely disappointed when all they get is romance.
Like I said before, romance can fit into any genre. It doesn’t need to take center stage in all works. There are plenty of books with a larger plot that also include romance (Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley do a good job of this). It’s a fine line, though, between “just enough” romance and “waaaaaay too much” romance. You have to ask yourself a couple of questions when writing romance into your stories.
1. Is my story Romance-with-some-plot or Plot-with-some-romance? If Romance-with-some-plot, then embrace the romance and get on with it.
2. If your story is Plot-with-some-romance, do you spend more time overall on the romance aspect than on the actual plot?
3. If you spend more time on the romance aspect, does this advance your plot in any way? If yes, then congrats! You’re doing it right. Romance should contribute to the plot in some way; otherwise, cut it. You don’t need it.
4. If you don’t spend lots of time on the romance aspect, is it there for a specific purpose or just to be there? If it’s just there because you like it and not because it’s useful for anything, consider cutting it. If it’s there to add emotional depth to your characters, then that should be fine.
Balancing plot and romance is a very tricky business. Do you have too much or not enough? Is it the main focus when it shouldn’t be? Could it be used more effectively in another story? At the end of the day, though, you really need to look at your work as a whole. You can tell for yourself if the romance is at the appropriate level. Also, ask your friends or some other writers that you trust to take a look; ask them what genre they would classify it as (do they mention romance at all? should they?).
Romance can be a really great thing. It can add depth to your characters. It could provide a way to advance your plot. It could be your plot. Just remember to have a clear goal of what role you want romance to play in your story and try to stick to it as much as possible.
Happy writing, my dears.