Romantic Subplots

Posted on 29 September 2009

So, one of the comments to come out of the aforementioned “Strong Female Protagonists” panel at D*Con was that every needs to really buckle down and learn how to write a romantic subplot.  Why?  Well, because there is a reason it is the most common subplot in books: because it is the most common subplot in real life.  This, kids, is called Truth in Television.

So, what do I want to talk about in regards to this?  A particularly nasty subset of this subplot: failed romance.  See, everyone wants the hero to get the gal (or the heroine to get the guy), but you know, that just isn’t the case all of the time.  Sometimes the romantic interest is brutally murdered, or dies in some other dramatic yet necessary way for the plot.  Or, sometimes it just doesn’t work out.  This can be useful for both existing relationship type stuff—such as a character having to deal with an ex-lover—or it can be used in the new connection.

Of course, this is also a good way to anger your readers.  See, if you are just a bitter anti-lovey person who wants to make everything seem like it should work out fine and then an unrealistic, unforeshadowed, and most of all, un-satisfying twist destroys the relationship, well, that just makes you seem like someone with an ax to grind, or maybe worse, a bad writer.

Wait, Unky Richard!  How can a relationship that falls to pieces be satisfying?  Do you mean like we never actually wanted them to get together cause she was a mean-spirited witch that didn’t deserve him?

Um, no.  Well, that can work, but it’s a little trite, truth be told.  Doable, but difficult.  I was getting more at “yes, you want them to get together, but it makes sense within the natural flow of the story and plot of why.”  Example, two people seem to be overcoming social mores that would prevent them from being together only to realize that they really just aren’t going to work out well together.  This can work very well, oh say, if the resultant action of the story—and that Big Black Moment thing—changes one characters outlook on life.  Um . . .  oh!  Think Gone with the Wind or Casablanca.  Yeah, there we go.  Satisfyingly failed romances.  And, because of that, they were successful romantic subplots.

On that note, I’ll shut up.


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