Sitting Down and Writing: Romance in Science Fiction

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.

overpowering

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.Novel Checklist.png

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 thisDeath by Love.png.

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?

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7 thoughts on “Sitting Down and Writing: Romance in Science Fiction

    1. Thank you. 🙂
      I hope so! Do you think there are certain demographical factors that have lead to writers feeling the need to include overpowering romance in their stories, even though the romance potentially distracts from the deeper elements of the writing?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It possibly has something to do with the fact that we all watched Disney movies growing up – they all had an overpowering romance element to them.
        And then there’s the societal pressure: women can break glass ceilings, but they’re not successful if they’re not in a relationship. Crazy, I know, but it seeps into our writing anyway.
        I think that if we’re aware of what we’re doing – perhaps making it part of the plot as an aha-moment – we can change the view. Like how princesses chose to live with dragons and save themselves in literature from the 90s, opposed to being saved by a prince.

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      2. I hadn’t really considered the Disney influence on this. Good point. Disney princess movies now are kind of the opposite. The romance element is more often aligned with what the hero is fighting against instead of what they are fighting for. In Brave, one of the things Merida battles is the expectation that she should marry or pursue romance. In Frozen, romance is the tool used by Hans to trick Anna. This is very different than, say, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty.
        Do you think the increasing number of female writers in the public eye could be one of the factors battling against the societal pressure and this romance trope? That’s not meant to mean that all women writers are straying from the established trope. Some women, unconsciously or not, do help perpetuate it. Like you said, though, being aware of it is a step in the right direction.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. The new Disney princess movies are definitely better: they teach that family is important and that romantic love isn’t the be all and end all.
        Yes, having women in the public eye that show in their lives that they can be independent and happy is a great way to battle societal pressure.
        Yet, just last week I saw a cleaning set (broom, duster, etc.) in pink and purple in the toy aisle: perpetuating yet again that girls should all be like Cinderella. Argh!

        Liked by 1 person

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