If you follow me on twitter, you might have seen a recent tweet I sent out about the damaging role of overpowering romantic relationships in Dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic literature.
I want to start out by saying that I am not against having romance in these genres. Far from it. I myself also include romantic relationships in my stories of these genres. The Dythoids series has multiple romantic relationships within its pages. I love romance stories. I’m a sucker for Rom Coms and I’ve watched the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie more times than I’m willing to admit.
However, in the books in question, the romance or romantic relationship become the focal point of the story. This becomes even more obvious when movie adaptions come into play and the real world media gets a say in the content filtering and marketing.
When I talk about overpowering romance and romantic relationships in these sub-genres, I’m talking most commonly about YA. It it possibly due to the fact that YA and NA are my usual readings that I notice the pattern more in these books.
There was a day months back when I was browsing a bookstore with a friend. Almost every single book I picked up in the YA Science Fiction (especially with a female protagonist) had a variation of the following on its back cover:
A young girl living in a post-apocalyptic land discovers she has new powers that she can use to save the world. Along the way she meets a young man, a wizard, who unknowingly casts a spell on her heart. The problem is, she has someone back home waiting for her. Can she lead her world…and her heart…to a happier, brighter future?
Again, I have no problem with romance in YA Science Fiction (or YA Fantasy). My problem/concern is that readers of these stories, intentionally or not, are being lead to believe that they/the protagonist have to get the guy/girl when they save the world, or they aren’t really succeeding.
No, that’s a little harsh.
I guess a better way to put it would be to say that what should be romantic subplots end up taking over the show. People start debating Team Gale vs Team Peeta or Team Edward vs Team Jacob and kind of just forget or ignore the original point of the story.
(As a side note, I’ve never read the Twilight books, but I have watched the first few movies. Their inclusion here is a result of several other people bringing up the series to me in relation to ___ vs ___ romance in YA.)
I don’t mean to spoil anyone’s fun in bringing this up. If you want to debate Guy A vs Guy B, do, but also debate the topic of the novel’s social commentary.
If you’re a writer, I urge you to consider trying to leave the romance out of the checklist for saving the world. Include the romance, but don’t have it ride shotgun–or worse still the backseat driver– with the main world saving/world falling apart topic that you want to drive your story.
From the perspective of a reader, I’d be interested in watching the world implode, explode, reemerge…what-have-you…through the eyes of a character who isn’t constantly distracted by Suzy Saviorlover’s shimmering golden locks catching the first rays of sun or Gun Muscle Greg’s gravelly voice blowing his uncut hair out of his perfectly green eyes.
I know for a fact that there are other readers who feel the same way I do about this.
Let the world hinge on the abilities of your hero, not on their romantic interest.
Consider this: if the world was ending, would you be more interested in trying to save it by a deadline (literally), or would you be more interested in trying to hook up with the first person you just happened to cross paths with?
If you’d do both, great. But priorities should be considered. Save the world then get the romantic interest, if you want.
Writers, whatever the point you are trying to make by writing an apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, or Dystopian story, do it justice:
- Make your point shine so bright that it can outshine Suzy Saviorlover’s golden locks
- Maybe jar your readers even more than Gun Muscle Greg’s gravelly voice
- Make your readers think
- Make them reconsider their position on a real world issue
- Don’t make them pick sides in a debate of romantic interests
And don’t just include the romance because you think it’ll help draw in readers, either. Please. Your story can succeed without having to cater to the ___ vs ___ romance formula that seems to be prevalent in YA novels.
Don’t sell yourself short.
What do you think, friends? Do you think these troubled world stories need romance plots in order to succeed? Especially when it comes to YA novels? Have you noticed this overpowering romance pattern in your have-read pile? Do you think YA literature, in particular, needs to have a romance element in order to be considered YA?