Don’t Let Romance Hijack the Plot
By: Adelle Yeung
I’m browsing the teen section of a bookstore or library, and I come across several books with great premises. Strong heroines galore in fantastical worlds! A girl with mutant abilities must escape her prison, a princess must conquer an opposing kingdom, a skilled genius must hack into the government database to protect her family. Who doesn’t love a strong heroine?
Excited to embark on new adventures, I take a book home and begin my journey. Excellent first chapter. Gripping. I understand the main character’s plight. This is going to be so great.
Enter Pretty Boy.
Suddenly, our strong heroine devolves into a blubbering mess. Mutant girl falls for her captor, the princess becomes infatuated with her enemy prince, the genius has the hots for a fellow hacker. She’ll do anything to be with Pretty Boy, even forget her main goal, because Pretty Boy becomes her main goal. She’ll even make out with him amidst gunfire on a battlefield.
It’s so distracting and unrealistic that I’m pulled out of the story, and I find flaws in everything that ensues. What happened to the badass I was promised? Is Pretty Boy really worth giving up her goals? How could readers possibly idealize their relationship?
Sure, a little romance can enhance a story and deepen relationships between characters. I agree that romance is important to a lot of teen readers who’ve yet to experience their first romance. Of course, there are plenty of great contemporary young adult fiction that focus on the romantic relationships of teens and all the hardships that come along with them.
However, so often I’ve come across promising premises of high-concept young adult fiction that do a bait-and-switch and turn into a full-fledged romance instead of the action-filled adventure that I craved from its blurb. I wanted to cheer on the heroine to reach her goal, but instead I find myself wishing for divine intervention to separate the heroine and her new boyfriend, so the more interesting plot can continue.
To an extent, I feel that this bait-and-switch is even harmful to young readers who’ve yet to begin their own first romantic relationship. I’m afraid that it teaches young girls that it’s okay to give up their hopes and dreams, if it means that they can be with the one they love. It’s not okay to change and give up everything that you are just so someone else will fall in love with you.
Great fiction will present heroines that young girls can idolize. They lead their own stories, reach their goals despite obstacles, and sure, maybe fall in love with a hot guy. Reaching your goal—whether it’s to overthrow a corrupt government, or even become a kindergarten teacher—is not mutually exclusive with being in a romantic relationship. You can have both.
What I would love to see more of is a love interest who doesn’t hijack the plot, and instead supports our badass heroine with all of her goals. He shouldn’t be an accessory to her, of course; I would love if it he were fleshed out with his own goals, and they could support each other equally in pursuing what is most important to them.
Yeah, yeah, fiction is an escape, but it’s the realism behind the characters, their relationships, and motivations that keep me grounded in the story and believe in the plot. All I ask is, please, unless your genre is romance, don’t let it take over the story. Your premise deserves so much more than that.
About the Author
Adelle Yeung is the author of The Cycle of the Six Moons trilogy, a young adult fantasy adventure.
She is also a voice-over artist who can’t go a day without a cup of tea. When she’s not writing or recording, she enjoys sewing costumes, baking sweets, and escaping on video game adventures. She lives in California with a cat that dreams of eating the pet bird.
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