Aphelion Issue 232, Volume 22
September 2018
 
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How important is the element of romance to a Science-Fiction story? I can see that it is almost a requirement in a Fantasy genre story, but is a romantic side plot right for a story that you're writing? Andre Norton managed to weave G-rated romance into quite a few of her novels. Marion Zimmer Bradly added in tasteful plot points of both male/female and male/male romance into her Darkover books. So tasteful that if a reader wasn't paying strict attention to the subtext, they'd miss it entirely. There is romance even in Terry Pratchet's Discworld novels. Now, I'm not talking about the occasional semi-explicit sex scenes that some books contain. My focus here is on romance, a love story element and whether or not it can be used to bring your characters more life within the story. I have used romance as a story element in several of my stories, but I personally prefer to keep any actual sex off-stage, as it were. But this is just what I feel comfortable writing. I primarily write adventure stories, and I've found that there are times when the story is in full flow a couple of the lead characters sometimes do tend to develop a romance as I'm composing the tale. Not something I usually plan to have in the story, but when I reach the point where the characters take over and start telling me what to say, sometimes they're falling in love with one another. So obviously there is a romance circuit in my brain that kicks in when characters start behaving a certain way towards one another. It works for me as a writer, on those occasions.

But, aside from the "I do it" element, my question is "is it necessary?" Does it advance the plot? Does it improve or detract from the story? Does it improve the characters? Does a romance within the story read as if it were a natural thing between the characters concerned?

My view is that if it makes the story more fun to read, leave it in. Anything that makes the story less fun to read should be considered for editing out. But that's just me. What works for me might not work for everyone. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you can't have bad things happen to your characters. It'd be a pretty boring story that didn't have challenges for the characters to overcome. And there's no need to be sexist, either. In one story I have my Mighty He-Man Hero clubbed in the head and his girlfriend having to save him from the Big Badguy. And that wasn't even a re-edit. The scene just played out in my head that way. My hero wound up taking a blackjack to the head and his girlfriend leapt in to save the day. That scene worked a whole lot better that way than it would have if I'd made my hero ten feet tall and bulletproof, and his girlfriend a helpless paper-doll cutout.

But my original question remains, how important to a story is a romantic plot element?

I would guess that if said romance advances the story, fleshes out those characters, improves the reader's experience, and "feels" real for those characters, then it is a good addition to a story. If it comes off as a forced thing added in just to have an additional plot point, then a rewrite may be in order. I'd really like to see a long discussion in the Forums on this topic. What are *your* views? I'd really like to know.

And now, we come to the point in the editorial where I recommend that people go read this issue's stories while I shut up and exit, Stage Left. This is our annual double-sized Holiday Issue, so there are twice as many stories for your reading pleasure. Ready? Ste? Go read! And may each of you enjoy the very best holiday season you've ever had so far!

Dan