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14 February 2011 @ 11:18 am

On this day of big red hearts all the world is contemplating love. It’s an occasion, thus, to explore romantic tension in fiction. Whether as a main plot or subplot, a love story ups the reader’s emotional involvement. And while it’s comforting to think our grandparents courted without obstacles or rivals, we’d never tolerate an insipid or drama-free story line in a book. Indeed, we expect our protagonists—in the name of love—to pine and suffer before prevailing. With this in mind, it’s worth exploring a few archetypes of romantic tension.



We owe Shakespeare and his Romeo and Juliet for the popularity of this construct, one in which outside forces—seemingly greater than the characters—conspire to keep them apart. Sophie Jordan’s Firelight with its dragon girl falls for dragon-hunter boy premise is an example. In Malinda Lo’s April 2011 release, Huntress, the two characters, Kaede and Taisin, are selected for a dangerous mission. The pair come to rely on each other and even fall in love, but the Kingdom requires only one of them to prevail.



In this archetype, fates conspire to bring together two strong-willed or seemingly mismatched individuals. Early interactions are beset by fiery personalities, a misunderstanding, or opposing views. In my own novel, Stork, new-to-town Katla riles traditionalist Jack with her pro-development, bulldoze the downtown stance. Early misunderstandings are forgiven as the two come to understand a shared history and recognize their unique powers and combined destinies. Jenny Moss’s Shadow is another example. The protagonist is Shadow, an orphan raised alongside the queen as an attempt to subvert a prophecy. When the young queen dies as predicted, Shadow flees with the aid of Sir Kenway. During this escape, she discovers both love and her true identity.



An individual disadvantaged by class, race, or other society-imposed value proves his or her worth, talent, and/or moral fiber and wins the notice and heart of an advantaged individual. Cinderella and its retellings, such as Malinda Lo’s Ash and Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, are examples. And with Cinder, a Spring 2012 release, Marissa Meyer promises a new spin on this story line, one in which an android Cinderella must save the planet.




A reverse Cinderella, if you will. In this scenario the main character possesses a societal or monetary advantage over a potential match. In order to find love, the power-holding protagonist must reconsider his or her values. The Princess Bride emerges from this archetype. The Runaway Dragon by Kate Coombs tells the story of the feisty princess Meg who, on a quest to find her errant dragon, encounters the dashing bandit Bain.



The protagonist must conquer his or her own inner conflicts before the right partner becomes clear. In Two Moon Princess, Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban introduces us to Andrea, a headstrong, hoping-for-knighthood princess who time travels between a medieval land and modern-day California and must choose between duty and desire. In Marissa Doyle’s Bewitching Season and Betraying Season, identical twin heroines must learn who they are and accept their magical abilities before finding love.



Twilight by Stephenie Meyer—although also falling into the star-crossed category with the human falling for a vampire dilemma—is responsible for the “team” phenomenon in this category. Whether you’re Team Edward or Team Jacob, you can’t argue with the success of the series. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins furthered popularized the love triangle as archetype with Katniss’s dilemma between revolutionary Gale and faithful Peeta. Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices has the protagonist Tessa torn between bad-boy Will and gentle Jem.

So there you have it, a few ways in which writers create conflict with love stories. Does your favorite book fall into one of these categories? More importantly, knowing the constructs, what is an original angle? All good and worthwhile things to ponder on this day of big red hearts. Happy Valentine's Day and many thanks to the contributing Inkies whose works are cited above.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on February 14th, 2011 05:51 pm (UTC)
Love it! Thank you, Wendy. One thing's for sure, a great romance is a wonderful thing.
carmenferreirocarmenferreiro on February 14th, 2011 07:03 pm (UTC)
Great post Wendy.

As they say who wants to read a story where the protagonist(s) doesn't suffer?
ebooraem on February 14th, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC)
I'm pondering THE PRINCESS BRIDE. That one might be all of the above!

Fun post, Wendy.
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FangsWands&FairyDusfangswandsfairy on February 14th, 2011 11:03 pm (UTC)
Great Post
Thanks, I am not good about thinking of stories in this way and. When I went to school it was light on constructs and high on free thought. It was also a long time ago.
Sayantani DasGuptaSayantani16 on February 15th, 2011 01:14 am (UTC)
great post
OO love this.
an awful one - but pretty prevalent in old fashioned versions of fairy tales - the rescue narrative? Does that fit?
readwriterockreadwriterock on February 15th, 2011 03:05 am (UTC)
My #1 favorite trope is the Good Girl paired with the Sensitive Bad Boy (which I think is related to the Star Crossed and Princess and Peon archetypes, but doesn't quite fit neatly into either category). Bonus points if they start off hating each other before succumbing to their Boundless Love ;).
ex_marissam on February 15th, 2011 04:31 pm (UTC)
Great post! I'm always fascinated by the different ways people can take a rather structured archetype and still create a unique story from it. I'll definitely be adding some of these to my reading list!

I also feel like I should point out that the CINDER artwork featured here was created by a friend who runs a really wonderful book review and cover art blog, if anyone is interested in checking it out: http://abackwardsstory.livejournal.com/
angie_frazierangie_frazier on February 16th, 2011 01:23 am (UTC)
Very fun post! I admit, the star-crossed angle is my favorite. There is just something so romantically tragic about two people who long to be, but can't be together for whatever reasons. And while I also like the "Threes is Not Company" angle, those can be tough to pull off as a writer!
(Anonymous) on February 16th, 2011 01:31 am (UTC)
Thanks for the helpful post! I would not have gotten this otherwise!
wendydelsol on February 16th, 2011 03:23 am (UTC)
Thanks, everyone for all the great comments. @ebooraem - I had originally included Princess Bride under the Princess and the Peon heading, but in the end found it difficult to categorize. @syantani16 - Hmmm. A rescue narrative. Good one. Provided we're not endorsing weak-kneed protags. We'll have none of that :) @readwriterock - good girl/bad boy could have its own category. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles and Jane by April Lindner come to mind. Appreciate all the input!!