Blog Post by Ingrid Victoria
It’s late February, and the romantic surge of Valentine’s Day is settling back into the hum of everyday life.
But story characters do not have an everyday life – only scenes which serve to move the plot forward. Often, then, when it comes to romance, two (or more) characters are depicted in a whirlwind of big events, jumping from major relationship stage to major relationship stage at whatever pace is necessary to get them together by the final chapter, all the while interrupted by whichever monster, supervillain, or quirky hijinks the story also has to feature.
With all this necessary plot filling up the pages, is there room to add the touches of normalcy to a character’s budding relationship? Is there time to write it unfolding naturally, in a method more similar to how real people may find it? Would readers even care to read these normal tidbits, or are they impatiently flipping through to reach that scene with the dragon or spaceship or supervillain destroying the city?
Would even the ones who cheer the hero(ine)’s romantic get-together at the end of the story want to read through pages of the couple discussing who’s going to pick up laundry before they go to lunch with one partner’s parents? (Of course, seeing how many adventure protagonists conveniently have no parents, that’s one less step necessary. And if your protagonist’s parent turns out to be the story’s villain, well then you can wrap the ‘meet the parents’ scene into the ‘final confrontation with the villain’ scene and call it a day!)
Ultimately, fiction is a careful balance of the epic and mundane, with enough epic for the reader to want to take the time to devour the whole story and just enough reality attached for the reader to understand and connect with it. When it comes to romance, this balance is often shifted further to the epic side, to accommodate limits on both time and attention. However, as time goes on and readers become inured to the romantic side character who only shows up for a dramatic kiss atop the rubble of the villain’s destroyed headquarters, that balance has begun to creep back towards realistic.
However, as the previous limits on readers’ time and attention are still in place, this leads to a few required judgement calls by the author. Do they set some chapters aside for the gritty Undead Slayer to abruptly leave the battlefield, ignore the cackling necromancer for a few days, and bake muffins with his mother-in-law as she drops hints about wanting grandkids? Do they add just a few hints of normal relationship behavior and hope the readers who care about that will fill in the blanks themselves? Do they wrap normal relationship activities into plot-relevant scenes, such as the aforementioned ‘meet the parents’ dinner happening in the supervillain’s lair, where the hero must misdirect questions of when they’ll finally send out wedding invitations while wrestling over the doomsday weapon’s remote control?
Each option has its pros and cons, its own impacts on the pacing, drama, comedy, and realism of the entire story. Which, if any, is the best received by readers?