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!

THE LOST SWALLOW is finished!

Well the first draft is! It’s now with my editor.

I’m really excited about THE LOST SWALLOW (I know … I say that about all my books. But I really am). It’s got a lot of romance, loads of action, and is a massively character-driven story. It’s the sequel to RULED BY SHADOWS, so there’s an overarching plot which continues through the trilogy (Book #3 is already planned out). However, it’s also a romance, so there’s a stand-alone love-story.

What’s changed from Book #1?

  • Lilia and Dain (our hero and heroine from RULED BY SHADOWS) don’t appear in this story. Instead Book #2 focuses on Asher (who we meet in the first story) and Mira.
  • RULED BY SHADOWS was a coming of age story, whereas THE LOST SWALLOW is about two individuals with opposing goals, forced to work together for survival.
  • RULED BY SHADOWS is a quest story, where our heroes work toward preventing disaster (the release of a terrible dictator from an enchanted prison), whereas THE LOST SWALLOW takes place in a kingdom that has just recently fallen to the enemy. Our heroes are focused on escaping danger and fleeing to safety before it’s too late.

Introducing The Four Kingdoms of Serran

My story world is The Four Kingdoms of Serran. The kingdoms—Rithmar, Thun, Anthor and Farras—have a bloody history. We’re introduced to the conflict between Thun and Anthor in Book #1 but RULED BY SHADOWS focused more on another, darker, threat. By the time THE LOST SWALLOW begins, the situation has worsened. Thun has fallen and our characters are trapped in occupied territory.

the-four-kingdoms-of-serran

TheLostSwallow_COVER4What’s THE LOST SWALLOW about?

She’s entrusted with protecting a princess … but he’s been sent to kill them both.

Mira belongs to The Swallow Guard—an elite all-female bodyguard who protect the royal family. She hates her role, and has been planning her escape for years—only when her city comes under attack she finds herself on the run, and the unlikely protector of a spoiled and wilful princess.

Asher belongs to the Order of Light and Darkness. He’s an enchanter who spends his days healing the sick and injured. But 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 desire to flee and start afresh, and her need to protect the gifted young woman who has come to depend on her. 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.

Epic adventure and romance collide in this emotional romantic fantasy. Book #2 of the Light and Darkness series, THE LOST SWALLOW is for fans of Sarah J. Maas, Grace Draven and Leigh Bardugo. If you like vibrant world-building, edge of your seat adventure, and a powerful love story, this Epic Fantasy Romance is for you.


I’ll be putting the novel on pre-order with Amazon in the next few days—so watch this space. Release date coming soon!

Update on Book #2 in the Light & Darkness series

Book #2 now has a name: THE LOST SWALLOW. I’m now 20% into the manuscript, and with other writing projects out of the way (two Historical Romances set in Dark Ages Britain and Scotland), I can now focus my attention on my Epic Fantasy Romance series once more (happy dance!).

Naturally … I’m excited about THE LOST SWALLOW.

The first installment, RULED BY SHADOWS, was a coming of age story about a young woman who must face her greatest fears in order to save her world. It’s an epic journey, both physically and emotionally. However, this tale is darker. It’s about a renewal of hope, of redemption. Lilia (the heroine of Book #1) starts off fragile and gains strength as the story progresses whereas the heroine of Book #2, Mira is more streetwise. Her story is more about a lost soul finding her purpose.

Orphaned, Mira starts life scrounging a living on the streets of Veldoras before the Queen of Thûn plucks her out of the gutter and gives her the chance of a new life. Only such generosity comes at a price … 

Here’s a sneak peek at the PROLOGUE to give you an idea what’s coming. Enjoy!

***

THE GIRL DUG her hand into the mud, her fingers fastening around a small, round object. The slimy river silt gave up its treasures reluctantly, and made an obscene sucking sound as she pulled her find free.

Mira straightened up, her bare feet sinking into the cold mud. She held the caked object aloft, squinting at it in the bright noon light. Disappointment pricked at her when she wiped away the grime to find a smooth, pale-pink surface underneath. It was a seashell, a pretty conch, but not something that would earn her a meal.

The shell wouldn’t even buy her a crumb of bread.

Mira’s stomach growled, reminding her that she needed to find something she could barter for food—enough to take the edge off the hunger that clawed at her belly and made her legs tremble underneath her.

Inhaling deeply, Mira stuffed the shell into the pocket of her filthy leather vest and looked about her. She stood up to her ankles in sludge, around five feet from the edge of the Brinewater Canal, the sun glinting on the dark river flats. A hump-backed bridge made of pitted grey stone reared to her left. The Bridge of the North Wind was a good spot for mudlarking, for this was one of the richer areas of the city—and wealthy folk crossing the bridge might accidently drop something valuable into the mud.

Mira wasn’t alone here. A scattering of other Mudlarks—children who combed the riverbed at low-tide looking for treasures—picked through the mud around her. Like Mira, they were a scrawny, filthy bunch; clad in rags with eyes too big for their thin faces.

Mira sighed. Standing here feeling sorry for herself wouldn’t buy her a hot meal. She was about to bend down once more, when she spied the roof of a gilded carriage as it rumbled onto the Bridge of the North Wind.

She watched its passage, her gaze tracking it across the bridge’s arch … and when the carriage stopped half-way, a smile stretched across Mira’s face.

A nobleman had come for some easy entertainment.

She watched two individuals—a young man and woman—climb out of the carriage. They made a fine couple: he was tall with long black hair, a dashing cape hanging from his broad shoulders; and she was slender with hair the color of gold, wearing a becoming jade dress.

Mira stared at the woman, transfixed; she looked like a princess from one of the stories her mother had told her. It seemed like a lifetime ago, those nights when Mira’s mother would sit next to her by the fire and tell her tales of ladies and lords, warriors and enchanters, and great adventures. Both Mira’s parents had died, taken by the Grey Ravage four years earlier. Now, at the age of ten, Mira survived by scavenging a living on the streets and waterways of Veldoras.

The man sauntered to the edge of the bridge and cast a smirk over his shoulder at his companion, beckoning her to him.

Smiling coyly, the young woman approached the walled side of the bridge. She looked down, her gaze sweeping over the collection of urchins picking through the mud below, and her pretty nose wrinkled. The stench of the canal at low-tide, the eye-watering odor of rotting weed and refuse, was a smell that offended many of the citizens of ‘The City of Tides’ as Veldoras was known. However, Mira had lived amongst the stench for so long now that she barely noticed it.

The man dug into the pocket of his jerkin and pulled something forth, before leaning out over the edge of the bridge. “Children,” he cried out, grinning. “Come give us some sport!”

And with that, he flicked the object he held high into the air and watched it plummet toward the muddy flats below.

Mira watched it to, caught the glimmer of yellow that told her he had just thrown a gold talent, and felt her empty belly contract.

A gold talent was a fortune, enough to buy her food for a week.

Time slowed. Desperation soared within Mira when she realized that she was not standing where the coin would fall. Rowan, a weedy boy of her age, had been scavenging directly under the bridge would catch it. Realizing his good fortune, Rowan let out a whoop and reached out his thin arms toward the coin, his face screwing up in concentration.

Mira dove for him.

Rowan caught the talent, an instant before Mira collided with him. The two of them went down in a tangle of limbs.

“No!” Rowan wailed. “It’s mine!”

But Mira ignored him—so deep was her desperation that all she could think about was the hot soup, the fresh bread, and the wedges of salty cheese that gold talent could buy her. She didn’t care about Rowan, or about the other Mudlarks.

No one needed that money as much as she did.

Rowan fought her, his limbs flailing, but one vicious, bony knee to the belly brought him down. She heard the boy’s breath rush out of him, as he sank into the mud. Then, she pried the coin out of his hand.

A moment later, she was on her feet and running as fast as her trembling legs could carry her. The sucking mud slowed her down but a few strides took her to the banks of the canal, and the row of mildewed stone steps that led up to the embankment above.
Her foot hit the first step and she heard a howl behind her, followed by a string of filthy curses.

Rowan was coming after her.


Hope you enjoyed the preview of THE LOST SWALLOW. There will also be a cover reveal for the novel coming soon!

Work begins on Book Two…

With RULED BY SHADOWS finally released, I’m about to start work on Book Two of the Light and Darkness series.

The title and cover are still ‘work in progress’ but I have the story outlined and will be embarking on the first few chapters next week. Since this is a new series for me—and a new genre—it’s important I crack on with the next volume. Give readers something to look forward to!

Book #2 follows on with the Epic Fantasy storyline that will take three novels to complete—however, like the first book there’s a standalone love story.

Here’s what the next book is about:

BOOK #2 LIGHT AND DARKNESS

Light and Darkness_2_COVER TEASERShe earned her own freedom—but now she fights for the freedom of all.

Mira has never been the master of her own destiny. Plucked from the sewers of Valdoras as a child, she was raised to become part of The Swallow Guard: an elite group of female bodyguards trained to protect the royal family.

Years later she wants for nothing but her life feels empty … meaningless.

Everything changes with the arrival of war. When the kingdom is attacked by southern invaders, the queen offers her a chance to start a new life. If she manages to smuggle the king’s youngest daughter to safety in the north, Mira will earn her freedom.

But Mira soon realizes that with freedom comes responsibility.

Far to the north, she meets Asher: an enchanter in the Order of Light and Darkness. Despite her attraction to him, Asher is also her mirror—an unwelcome one. Like her, his life has been devoted to serving others … and like Mira, he’s learned to hide his true feelings well.

Yet neither of them can escape the path set before them.

When a chance comes to end the war which risks tearing their world apart, both Mira and Asher choose to embark on a journey into the heart of danger … one they are likely never to return from.


 

Follow my journey and get exclusive updates

If you’d like to receive updates about the next book in the Light and Darkness series—plus receive exclusive deleted scenes and short-stories connected with the story—make sure you sign up to my Epic Fantasy Romance mailing list. 🙂

RULED BY SHADOWS is LIVE on Amazon & free on KU

Exciting news—after nearly two years in the making, RULED BY SHADOWS is now available for purchase on Amazon! 

RULED BY SHADOWS is an Epic Fantasy Romance about a fearful young woman named Lilia who is catapaulted into an epic adventure. Romance, action, adventure and High Fantasy—this novel has it all! I’ve published this story under my pen name, Jayne Castel.

Here are the links to the book on Amazon (if you buy a copy, please consider leaving an honest review—I’d appreciate it hugely):

Click on one of the links below to purchase from Amazon (it’s free in KU):
amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
amazon.com.au

What’s RULED BY SHADOWS about?

Watch the YouTube book trailer to find out more about the novel.

Try RULED BY SHADOWS before you buy
Claim your free sample from Instafreebie and read the Prologue and the first three chapters of RULED BY SHADOWS on your Kindle or e-reader!

Why storytelling matters

I’m fully immersed in writing at the moment – with two projects on the go. I’m also reading a lot and thinking a bit about stories – why some work and others don’t.

elf-478330_1920I’ve come to the conclusion that what makes a good story, isn’t beautiful prose. It isn’t seamless sentence construction. It isn’t a passage of breathtaking description that makes you go “ahhh” when you reach the end.

Sure, all of the above make a story more pleasurable to read.

Instead, what sorts an average story from a really good one is an exciting – can’t stop turning the page because I have to know what happens next – story.

Sounds obvious?

It might do – but looking back at my mindset when I started taking my writing seriously, it wasn’t something I really considered. In English classes at school, ‘creative writing’ consisted of writing descriptive passages about a member of my family, or a beautiful view. When I studied English Literature at university, very few of my lecturers (with a couple notable exceptions), talked about the strength of Shakespeare’s storytelling. Instead, we focused on symbolism and the deeper (and usually not immediately obvious) meaning beneath the action.

This is fine if you just want to study fiction rather than write it – but it sends out the wrong message to writers. We think that crafting a novel is a matter of writing beautifully, yet it’s about so much more.

Whatever novel you’re writing, it’s the story that matters most.

Call it plot, call it action – the story is what moves the novel forward. Think of your favorite novels, your favorite movies. I’d guess they all have powerful stories; they make you laugh, cry, get angry, or hold a pillow to your face in fear!

But don’t the characters matter?

Of course – but great characters don’t exist in isolation. They become great through being put through their paces, through living a story that tests them on every level.

Here are five of my top tips for making your story a strong one:

  1. Add conflict: this is what creates a sense of purpose and urgency in a story. Layer conflicts – they need to be both external (i.e. assassins hunting your protagonist) and internal (i.e. a paralyzing fear of conflict). Each chapter needs to have some form of conflict, where your characters push against inner and outer forces.
  2. Make things bad . . . and then make things worse: this just follows on from conflict. Readers don’t want stories about people who have easy, perfect lives where nothing happens and everyone’s happy. They want to see your characters get into strife (it’s not their life after all). They want to see things get diabolically bad for your heroes . . . and then they want to see them figure out how to put things right.
  3. Make the story a journey: it doesn’t have to be a physical one but we need to feel as if we’ve been through the wringer with the characters by the end. The world needs to look different by the time you reach the last page. We need to feel something massive has been gained or lost by the end.
  4. Give your characters room to grow: your main characters need to change. Give them a ‘flaw’ at the beginning, a ‘false identity’ that they’re living that’s not really who they truly are. See them fight against it as the story progresses and watch them take tiny steps forward and then big leaps back. Let the readers know that if your hero doesn’t change, he’ll never get what he wants. Cheer at the end when your protagonists face their deepest fears and become who they were meant to be – even if it means their own doom.
  5. Give your characters goals: I’ve put this last, although it’s probably one of the most important on the list. A hero who wants nothing, needs nothing and is working toward nothing is boring. He has to want something and there has to be someone or something that thwarts him. Just like each chapter needs a conflict, it also needs a goal. A story won’t have just one goal – there will be many – and this is what creates an exciting pace. Your hero might be out to save the world, but there will be many mini-goals on the way to him getting there. He’ll need to cross the enchanted forest, convince the reclusive wizard to join his quest, learn how to use a sword, save his travelling companions from goblins, and then wrestle with the troll gatekeeper before he gets to the big goal of killing the dragon at the end!

So next time you start agonizing over whether your prose is purple enough – stop yourself. Lovely writing won’t make readers love your novel. Focus instead on building a story that has them on the edge of their seats.

Want to know more?

Here are three of my favorite experts when it comes to storytelling. Their websites are mines of information and resources – I recommend you dive in!