According to all of the fans I have talked to, the most important part of the story isn’t how the hero will save the world, the protagonist’s journey of self discovery, or the high stakes battle for the fate of the universe itself. Nope. It’s all about which characters will end up in a romantic relationship.
My Honest Thoughts on Love Interests
First let me reiterate the common pitfalls I outlined in the video.
1: Do not add a love interest or a romance side plot unless it will add something to the story. A poorly written love interest will drag down an otherwise good story.
2: Be careful not to have a romantic side plot take over the story.
3: Commit to and carefully consider the love interest’s character and story arc. Failing to do so will often anger fans who will become invested in either a relationship that isn’t resolved or prefer a different character that fails to become the love interest.
All easier said than done of course. I really think a lot of poorly implemented love interests and romantic side plots could be avoided if the author just decided to cut them out entirely. Screen writers often do not have this luxury as the executives from on high demand a romantic side plot in order to draw in the date crowd. For the rest of us though I really think every writer must ask themselves the question “does my story really need romance?”
I had to ask myself this question in an earlier draft. One of the best moves I made for the story was to cut out any and all romance save for the barest hints of romantic attraction. After all, my characters are still humans who do feel desire. However, mate selection does tend to get kicked down the priority list when in the middle of a life and death struggle.
A lot of fiction written for young female audiences really falls into ‘The evil stormtroopers are at my doorstep, but there is still time to make out!’ trope (I’m looking at you Young Adult!). I get it. A lot of women readers want their romance and their action adventure, but give the characters some downtime first. Fiction targeted to a male demographic tends to fall into the tacked on love interests who get abducted so the writer doesn’t have to really write a female character. Especially in a lot of fiction for male audiences they could really stand to just cut the romance entirely.
I think a good litmus test for seeing if the love interest adds anything to the story is to try exchanging them for an inanimate object. If you switch out the love interest for say a desk lamp and nothing changes then maybe the love interest needs some work. Either that or you could have all the characters start fighting over a desk lamp.
Chemistry can also be a chore to write. Often a love interest shares no chemistry with their partner because they just don’t get enough screen time together. The thing is that any characters who interact with one another in interesting ways have a certain amount of chemistry. That is chemistry in a nutshell; two characters who when added together become more than the sum of their parts. A dour character who would be insufferable alone can become compelling when mixed with a chipper character who would otherwise be grating individually. Chemistry becomes impossible when one of the pair is locked away in a dungeon until act 3. Hence why fans will so often lock onto pairings the writers do not intend; many fans tend to be drawn to chemistry without regards to compatibility. That is the other issue as chemistry can occur regardless of romantic attraction but romance is far easier to sell if characters have chemistry. If scenes featuring two characters are fun to write and fun to read then most likely those characters possess chemistry and will be seen as candidates for a romantic relationship.
Which brings us to the Shipping Wars! For those unfamiliar with the term, shipping is a fan term for relationshippping which is basically a fan’s preference for romantic character pairings. When a fan says they ship two characters together, they are saying that they want those specific characters to end up in a romantic relationship by the story’s end. Sounds innocent enough right? WRONG! Shipping is serious business that has caused entire fan communities to erupt into lengthy flame wars. Unfortunately romance tends to be a zero sum game. There are only so many characters and as characters are paired off in the story’s canon the possibilities for romantic pairings dwindle.
I think the worst thing a writer can do though is to tease a relationship and then by the end of the story pair no one together. The more invested I am in the romance the more ticked off I will be when I reach the end of the series and everyone is still in relationship limbo because the writer could not be bothered to tie up the loose ends. This drives me crazy. A lot of Anime aimed at young men are particularly bad about this. Commit or ditch it. The romance plot line will count for nothing unless there is follow through. And if you follow all of my words of wisdom then your fans will still be unhappy and fight each other over which characters should end up together because there is no way to avoid the Great Shipping Wars.