How to set up a romantic subplot in an Epic Fantasy novel

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
  • Revenge
  • Redemption
  • 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.

Why include a romantic subplot in your Epic Fantasy novel?

Romance adds emotional depth. It can allow Fantasy writers to make their books more character-driven. It can make the central conflict more intense, raise the stakes, and allow the readers to see your main characters as fully rounded characters.

Romance can also add a lighter element to your story – for although you might make your characters suffer for love and put them through the emotional wringer, you will need to give them a HEA (Happy Ever After) or at the very least a HFN (Happy for Now) ending. If you don’t, it isn’t a romance but a love story. Love stories often end tragically – thank Gone with the Wind and Titanic.

Do you actually need romance?

Some stories just don’t need luuve. 😉

If your novel features a really young protagonist who comes of age during the story, then the focus is more likely to be on their maturation and development. Romance would only muddy the waters. Seriously flawed protagonists can also make romance a challenge. If ‘love’ is part of their redemption then it can work, but if it isn’t then once again adding romance might just confuse or irritate your readers.

Of course, my personal opinion is that just about any story can be improved with a touch of romance. Before I started writing romance I noticed that the Epic Fantasy and Historical Adventure stories I liked to read all had a strong romantic element that enriched the plot for me. My first attempts at writing Epic Fantasy were very traditional, but somehow romance still crept it there.

My path to Epic Fantasy Romance

I’ve made my name as an author if Historical Romance set back in the mists of time. As a self-published author I was able to set my books in a non-traditional time period for Historical Romance: 7th Century Anglo-Saxon England, and 4th Century Scotland. Although I used what historical evidence I could find for my novels, writing this far back (especially for the Pictish novels) allows me to enter the realms of fantasy.

These books, especially The Warrior Brothers of Skye series, have done well for me, but my heart always returns to Epic Fantasy Romance. In my opinion, Fantasy is more difficult to right than Historical. You have to build an entirely new world rather than research an existing one, and the plot tends to be more complex.

The two novels I’ve published so far in the Light and Darkness series are both romances, although I approached each one differently. In the first, Ruled by Shadows, romance is a strong subplot, integral to the story but slightly overshadowed by the main action. In my second novel, The Lost Swallow, the romance holds equal weight to the action. Both are high-octane stories, but I handle the romance differently in each. I’m now 30% into Book #3 in the series and am letting the romance drive this story as well.

Final thoughts: confidence, respect, and a little knowledge

Handling romance well in a story requires confidence, respect for the genre – and a little knowledge. People who don’t read romance often think it’s formulaic and cheesy. If you believe this, you might find it hard to incorporate a successful romantic subplot into your story.

You can’t fake romance. You either feel it or you don’t.

I’ve been writing romance for the past seven years and with each passing year I love it more. I was never a ‘romance’ reader in the past but I love how romance allows a writer to add emotional depth and conflict to a story. Sure a good romance has to have certain elements to work properly but that doesn’t make it formulaic – and if you write from the heart your romantic subplot won’t be cheesy.

In the coming posts I’ll be covering how to set up your romantic subplot, how to approach emotion and sex scenes, how to structure the romance arc in your story, and how to achieve a satisfying emotional confusion to your romantic subplot.

In Blog #2, we’re going to dive into what makes romance work, and how to blend it with Epic Fantasy.

Any questions or comment about this post? Please feel free to comment below!

How to include a romantic subplot in an Epic Fantasy novel: blog series

I’ve embarked on this five-post blog series to help Epic Fantasy authors who are interested in adding a bit of romance into their stories, but aren’t sure how to approach it. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, as I’ve had a few Epic Fantasy writers contact me via this blog asking for advice.

Anyone who has never written romance before and then tries to incorporate it in a story often gets a shock (as I did initially) about just how hard it is to get right. Actually … it’s only hard if you’re fumbling blindly ahead of you. Once you know how romance works, and what the key ingredients are to making it shine, it’s a lot easier.

Of course there are lots of sub-genres within Epic Fantasy (grim-dark, high, Arthurian, heroic, sword and sorcery just to name a few). Most of these can benefit from having a romantic subplot added to the story. The romance can be very slight, to the point where the attraction is barely hinted at and the characters don’t even kiss, to being a fully fleshed out romance that runs alongside (but is still secondary to) the main story.

So …. to start this series off let’s take a look at why you should include a romantic subplot at all? Do you actually need one.

Blog post #1: Why include a romantic subplot in your Epic Fantasy novel?

Blog post #2: How to set up a romantic subplot in your Epic Fantasy novel

Update on THE LOST SWALLOW

THE LOST SWALLOW launched on August 14th and the novel has had a good response to far. Reviewers have enjoyed the book too, which is always a bonus!

Here’s what one reviewer had to say about the novel:

TLS_review1

If you’re keen to know more about the story, you can watch me talking about THE LOST SWALLOW prior to its launch.

Work has now begun on Book #3 in the series, PATH OF THE DARK—and I’m really excited to get stuck into it. Things get really dark in this novel (as the title suggests!). The romance focuses on Ryana (an enchanter) and Elias (the prince of Anthor) as two kingdoms clash.

More updates on Book #3 coming soon!

Release day tomorrow!

THE LOST SWALLOW (Book #2: Light and Darkness) is about to leave the nest! Until then … here’s another excerpt to enjoy!


Eventually, sure both Asher and Ninia now slept deeply, the copse silent around them, Mira stood up.

She’d always been quick on her feet as a mudlark; it was the only way she’d survived in a city full of dangers. Her Swallow training had also taught her how to move noiselessly. The life of one of the members of the royal family might have depended on her ability to sneak up behind an assassin.

She moved quietly now, padding across the damp ground and out of the clearing. Mira took care to keep her breathing slow and steady, her senses straining.

Just a few more yards, and she’d be out of earshot. Then she would lengthen her stride.

Mira walked on, the darkness enclosing her in a shroud that turned her blind on this moonless night. She reached out a hand before her, feeling her way so that she didn’t collide with the trees.

The glade where Asher and Ninia slept now lay behind her. Mira smiled into the night and quickened her pace.

Almost there.

She’d only traveled a yard or two farther when a man’s voice split the silence behind her.

“Where are you going?”

Mira whipped around, reaching for her sword. Her fingers tightened around the hilt, as her gaze alighted upon a tall, broad shouldered figure following her. Even in the darkness she could see the long pale hair spilling over his shoulders.

Curse him. Asher had followed her.


 

Get your copy now!
US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D7JGT92
UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07D7JGT92
AUS: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07D7JGT92

TLS_FB_COVER2

Book Review: Blade and Rose by Miranda Honfleur

515gDyrTZ8L._SY346_Blade and Rose (Blade and Rose series, Book 1) by Miranda Honfleur

An excellent start to an exciting Epic Fantasy Romance series. It’s often hard to find good Fantasy Romances which aren’t Young Adult or Paranormal. But there’s nothing better than a sword and sorcery adventure with an emotional love story woven through it!

Definitely a five-star read. Here’s what I loved about it:

Blade and Rose is an epic novel – both in size (it’s over 700 pages long!) and in scope. Miranda Honfleur builds a credible world built on European civilisations and an exciting magic system. The characters are well-drawn and with enough flaws to make them seem real. Rielle is a complicated heroine, a mix of strong kick-ass sorceress and painful insecurity. She doesn’t have any trouble attracting men into her life, only she has been terribly hurt by them. When she meets Jon, a man she has sworn to protect, she struggles between her attraction to someone she can’t have, and her own fears of being hurt or hurting those she loves.

My favourite character in the book though (and I’m not sure if the author intended this) is the werewolf, Brennan. He’s a really mixed-up guy, and does some dispicable things during the story, yet we never totally lose sympathy for him. He is conflicted and as the story progresses starts to gain a little self-knowledge. As the series progresses, I imagine he will have a pivotal role … well, I hope so.

The writing flows smoothly and is highly readable. The author doesn’t get bogged down in lengthy description but at the same time manages to create a richly-drawn world that fantasy readers expect!

Any niggles? Only a couple of tiny ones that didn’t detract from my rating. The book was very long … and could have been trimmed in a couple of places without affecting the story. Rielle and Jon’s relationship sometimes felt a little bit like ‘instalove’. I would have liked to have seen a bit more angst and conflict between them in the beginning. However, their emotional journey was depicted well and leaves plenty of scope for the next book in the series.

An engrossing Epic Fantasy Romance read!

Check out this book on Amazon.com.

Exciting Epic Fantasy Romance authors to watch

A few years ago fantasy romance was dominated by vampires, werewolves, and shifters—and that’s fine if you’re into that. However, for readers who want an Epic Fantasy tale, with a strong romance element, there just wasn’t anything out there. That’s changing … fast.

Just over the last year they’ve been popping up like mushrooms! High Fantasy, rollicking Epic Fantasy adventures, with a fully developed romance plots. There are now many novels to try. Some of them cross over into the Young Adult/New Adult domain, as the protagonists are often in their late teens to mid-twenties, but most of them are written for adults as well.

At the moment Reverse Harem Fantasy Romance is huge, and fantasy romance with fae heroes isn’t showing any sign of slowing in popularity. But if neither of these sub-genres interest you don’t despair … there are plenty of sword and sorcery fantasy romances out there. As for what’s trending in the Epic Fantasy Romance genre—it appears that witches and wizards are really hot at the moment.

Here’s a list (not exhaustive) of exciting new Epic Fantasy Romance authors to watch, with links to their Amazon author pages:

51zhRaQ0woL
Amber Argyle
5199TDhbKLL
Shannon Meyer
515gDyrTZ8L._SY346_
Miranda Honfleur
Ruled_by_Shadows_COVER4
Jayne Castel
51QsKafXVZL
Emily R. King
517GPpv94VL
G. Bailey
51zNGvS6vKL
Sara C. Roethe

 

510l7244KaL
Claire Merle
51GgZD8zJCL
Frost Kay
51rXu4OFykL
Kelly St. Clare
51I3NJQ6j1L
Helen Scheuerer

Do you have an author you’d like added to this list? Please get in touch!

 

Excerpt from THE LOST SWALLOW

THE LOST SWALLOW will be released on August 14 … in the meantime here’s a short preview of the novel. It’s the scene where the two main characters—Asher and Mira—meet.

The Lost Swallow_Cover5Excerpt from THE LOST SWALLOW:

Where did she go?

Asher turned around, planning to retrace his steps, and found himself facing a cloaked and hooded figure.

It took barely an instant to realize that she’d somehow managed to get behind him. Then she struck out, hitting him hard in the solar plexus.

The force of her punch knocked Asher back against the wall. A heartbeat later she had a cold blade pressed to his throat.

The woman was shorter than him, and had to look up to meet his gaze, but she didn’t appear remotely cowed by his greater size or strength. She pressed the blade close to his windpipe. Her hood had fallen back, her dark hair whipping around her, and her eyes were narrowed and dangerous.

“What do you want?” she asked, her voice a low growl.

Asher held her gaze and inhaled slowly and carefully. She had a murderous glint in her eye.

“To speak to you,” he wheezed, still recovering from her punch. “I’m a friend.”

Liar. If the woman knew what was good for her she’d end him now.

Her mouth twisted and the pressure on his throat increased. Asher felt a sting as the tip of the blade dug into his flesh.

“Try another answer,” she growled.

THE LOST SWALLOW is available on preorder!

Woop woop!

The Lost Swallow_Cover5THE LOST SWALLOW (Book #2: Light and Darkness) is available on pre-order! Release date: August 14th!

All her life she’s trusted her instincts—but now she must follow her heart.

Mira belongs to The Swallow Guard—an elite all-female bodyguard who protect the royal family. She resents her role, and has been planning her escape for years. But when her city comes under attack she finds herself on the run, and the unlikely protector of a spoiled and wilful princess. Despite her desire to look after herself, she finds she can’t abandon the girl.

Meanwhile, far to the north, an enchanter receives a chilling mission.

Asher belongs to the Order of Light and Darkness and spends his days healing the sick and injured. Yet when the head of his order commands him to track down the last survivor of a slaughtered royal family—and kill the girl and the woman protecting her—he finds himself in the role of assassin.

In an epic journey through the heart of occupied territory, Mira struggles between her instinct to flee, her urge to protect the gifted young woman who has come to depend on her—and her attraction to an enigmatic stranger who says he’s been sent to help them. Asher must also make a choice. Does he trust his instincts, follow his heart, and bring wrath down upon him … or does he follow orders and risk losing his soul.

If you like the fantasy romance of Radiance, the thrills of the Throne of Glass series, the epic adventure of Game of Thrones, and a fierce heroine, you’ll love Book #2 of the Light and Darkness series.

Preorder your copy of THE LOST SWALLOW and dive into an action-packed, emotion-filled Epic Fantasy Romance about how the most important choices are never easy.

Preorder your copy here:

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D7JGT92
UK: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D7JGT92
AUS: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07D7JGT92

More Epic Fantasy Romance novels to try

Why oh why is good Epic Fantasy Romance so hard to find?

51MtqQ9qn4L._SX303_BO1204203200_
Haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on my TBR list. Love the cover!

Personally, I’ve had enough of reading about fae/human romances—it’s been done to death, and I’m looking for something different. I’d like to read more fantasy adventure stories that have emotional love-stories. I’ve got Sarah J Maas’ latest novel on my Kindle ready to enjoy, have pre-ordered Grace Draven’s upcoming release, and have also downloaded Kushiel’s Dart—so I’ll be posting some reviews on this blog as I chew through my TBR pile.

In the meantime, here are some great blog posts to help you discover your next Epic Fantasy Romance read. There aren’t many I’ve read on these lists, so it looks like I’ve got some discovery to do.

Three Fantasy Romance Series to sweep you away!

Recommended reads: Fantasy Romance

The Epic World of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Romance

8 Fantasy Romance novels that are sure to satisfy


 Happy reading everyone!