Lately I’ve heard more & more people say that the sheer amount of romance in various media (mainly YA, but other things too) is unnecessary. I agree. I shivered with pleasure at the lack of romance in Pacific Rim (let viewers decide how to view the main pair! hooray!) and I’ve spent the past month and a bit catching up with Elementary, a show that focuses on the partnership between a man and a woman who aren’t sleeping together or constantly wishing they were sleeping together.
These films & shows make a nice change from the will-they-won’t-they dynamic we’ve grown used to, and they don’t bore me the way that tired trope does. Romantic tension is exciting, but it’s not the only kind of tension that exists, and I think the world is ready for a little more variety in the romance (or lack thereof) department. The message I’m getting from many vocal sources is clear: we don’t need unnecessary romance in our media.
Is there a clear distinction between necessary romance and unnecessary romance, though? Something that appeals to me might seem forced to someone else, and vice versa. Are there many authors who write romance into their work thinking “this is dull, and I don’t believe in it, but I’m going to write it anyway”? Of course, I know there must be creators who include romance because they think they have to, but I’m also certain a lot of creators who have written “unnecessary romances” don’t do it on purpose; I’m sure many miss the mark quite naturally despite believing in the work they do. Is it because they unconsciously believe they have to include romance, and thereby don’t give its inclusion enough care or thought?
Maybe. I know I used to think a story had to include romance to be interesting, and it’s only in the past six years or so that I’ve changed my mind. Seeing characters care about others is the most compelling thing for me—but that care doesn’t have to stem from desire. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if YA authors hear—from every possible source—that YA revolves around romance. So maybe the answer is just “resist that urge”. Resist the urge to condescend to readers, thinking “they won’t be interested if I don’t give them a love interest”. Resist the urge to think that appointment of the title “love interest” makes a character inherently interesting. I think authors will have an easier time changing this way of thinking than, say, action movie directors, who always seem to need a hot chick to fill the screen and haven’t realised women can do things other than fall in love with protagonists yet. George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road) is lovingly excluded from this generalisation.
Can authors anticipate unfailingly what will make a romance ring true—or false—to readers? Probably not, but I think focusing on what characters actually mean to each other is a lot more compelling than the constant “they loved each other, they loved each other, they were everything to each other” tell-don’t-show of some books. Maybe it’s not love. Maybe it’s mutual need, or just a desire to see a friendly face, or—are we allowed to admit this exists?—physical attraction without an emotional bond beneath. Maybe it’s simply that they make each other laugh.
And maybe it’s not even a romance. Maybe it’s a friendship, which—as I hope some of my pop culture examples have shown—can be just as compelling. Talk to me about the friendship between Jess & Trish on Netflix’s Jessica Jones sometime if you want to lose an hour of your time; I promise I won’t shut up for at least that long. If you’ve read the Sirantha Jax series (and not enough people have), talk to me about the deep bond between Jax and Velith. I’ll rant for days…
…but maybe you’d like to be the one ranting. Here’s your chance: what are some of your favourite fictional friendships?