In the last post I went over what romance looks like in an Epic Fantasy story, why you should consider including one, and if romance is even necessary at all.
In this post we get into the details of actually setting up a romantic subplot in your story!
Let’s talk tropes
Every genre has it’s ‘tropes’. Fantasy is full of them: the wise mentor, the young protagonist that comes of age, and the evil sorcerer who wants to rule the world—just to name a few. Romance also has its tried and true themes. However, romance tropes tend to focus on the type of relationship rather than character tropes. There are loads of them, which of course you should put a twist on (just like with Fantasy tropes—no one wants a LOTR rehash!).
Here are just a few romance tropes that can work well in Epic Fantasy. You might smile at some of them, but before you scoff remember they are popular for a reason:
- Enemies to lovers
- Friends to lovers
- Protector/ savior
- Woman in charge
- Forced marriage
- Beauty and the Beast
- Second chance
- Love triangle
- Abducted/Slave and master
- Forbidden love
- Unrequited love
- Different worlds
Like I said above—and I’m going to repeat it because it’s so important—the trick is to put a TWIST on the trope (or tropes … you can use more than one), to make it fresh, exciting, and truly your own.
For example, your trope might be Protector/Savior. However, ‘what if’ your hero was actually sent to kill the heroine but pretends that he was sent to protect her instead? ‘What if’ she’s not the sort of woman who needs protecting, a trained killer herself. This was the premise behind my novel, The Lost Swallow. It provided plenty of conflict, both for the plot and the romance.
Don’t be afraid to play with the tropes a bit. Keep asking yourself ‘What if?” and try to mix a couple of tropes together to create something original.
Blending the romance trope with your main story
Of course, all of this is easier to do BEFORE you start writing. If you’ve decided you want a forced marriage subplot as part of your Epic Fantasy story you’ll find it easier to achieve if you incorporate this at the planning stage!
The marriage should be an integral part of the plot, not just a vehicle for romance (Grave Draven’s Radiance does this really well). Political intrigue, assassination attempts, royal advisers with their own agendas—let your imagination fly!
In The Lost Swallow, my hero is an enchanter, an expert in the healing arts. This makes him an unlikely choice of assassin. However, his superior wants rid of him as he’s a threat to her power. He naturally falls into the role of protector later in the story but he has huge hurdles to cross before he does. He’s been charged with killing a young woman and her female bodyguard … and of course things are complicated further when he falls for the bodyguard!
It’s a good idea to ‘echo’ the main themes of your story in both your romantic subplot as well as your main story. E.g., in The Lost Swallow, the theme was ‘the most important choices are the most difficult’. I made sure this theme resonated for both the romance and the main story.
Choosing your characters
Characters aren’t static. They develop and grow. They start of with things they need to learn and flaws they need to rid themselves of. Make the romance subplot part of that.
Think what finding love does to us. We become softer, wiser (or more foolish!), braver, more honest and self-sacrificing. Choose characters who need to learn these things.
Love makes us vulnerable, but we often resist that vulnerability. Show your characters resisting what’s happening to them. Maybe changing who they are puts their goals in jeopardy, which means at some point they are going to have to make a difficult choice
Speaking of goals…
Your characters have to have objectives. These will often change throughout the story. A character might shift the goal posts every few chapters, depending on what’s happening in the story, and that’s fine. But they always need to want something.
Make your hero and heroine’s goals opposing. He wants to kill the princess and she wants to protect her. He wants to escape and she wants to keep him prisoner. He wants peace and she wants war.
The more at odds you make the goals of your love interests the easier it will be for you to create chemistry, longing, and emotional intensity in your story. Contrary to what those who criticize romance often say, it’s these elements (not steamy sex scenes) that makes a romance a romance. These are the things that keep readers coming back for more. The longer you can keep the lovers apart, the more opposing their goals, and the more obstacles you throw in their way, the more epic the romance will be.
My next post, Blog #3, is all about how to build emotional intensity and how to approach sex scenes (if you decide to go there at all).
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Please leave your comments below.