Total Romance Domination?

A lot of my discussion posts happen to be based on current trends in my reading or trends I’m noticing throughout the blogosphere and lately I’ve been having issues with fantasy and dystopian books. Don’t get me wrong, I still LOVE them. I appreciate the action, adventure, and world building that they provide and they will always hold a special place in my heart, but I’ve been wondering if lately we as readers are being marketed books based off of their romances instead of the foundations of the stories themselves.

I love a good romance in ANY book. Of course I’m expecting (and hoping!) to see a good romance in most of the books that I read and I think romances add a great depth to any given book in any given genre. I tend to learn a lot about a character by who they choose as a love interest and how the two interact. My issue lately is that I feel like romance is taking over the non-contemporary reads. I love a good contemporary romance and hello, it says it right there — contemporary romance. I fully expect (and want) the romance to be one of the major plot points in those books… But I’ve been through a string of books lately that could have very easily been five star books, except for the fact that the romance seemed to take over the story, pushing a lot of the world building to the back burner. Then the world building didn’t reappear much until the latter half of the book when it was needed for plot twists or reveals or the history of a specific character. I know this is my personal reading preference, but for me? I need a lot of that world building up front. When I start a fantasy, sci-fi, or dystopian, I’m entering a totally new world. I don’t know the history of it. I don’t know the people. I don’t know the culture or the traditions and may not even know the language, and all of those things are really important to me in order to be immediately captivated by this new experience and this interesting place which admittedly, I’m always eager to explore.

Of course, I don’t need ALL of the world building right away. There’s a fine line between establishing a world and explaining as the book goes along and infodumping. I’m no author so I can’t say exactly how hard it is to toe that line because I haven’t attempted to do it. (Actually, I made one sad attempt during NaNoWriMo of 2012 and I wrote myself into a corner with both plot and world building so I’m gonna say, it’s pretty hard!) I guess what I’m saying is, I feel like a romance should be interspersed throughout the story. It should grow from beginning to end, whether that relationship was previously established or two characters are meeting for the first time. I don’t like when the heroine (as it’s usually a female in the books I’ve read) gets so overwhelmed with her current relationship issues (whatever they may be) that all of these amazing details about this new world that the author has created take a backseat. I always appreciate when an author is so skilled to mix in world building, plot, suspense, romance, and character development all in one and I honestly don’t know how they do it because it’s incredibly amazing when it all meshes so perfectly!

  

Part of it makes me wonder… Am I noticing this because it’s intentional? Is the market swinging toward heavier romance subplots (or in this case, becoming a main plot)? Are authors being swayed by editors and publishers and other industry professionals to amp up the romance? Or is this just a totally random thing happen to pick up with my recent reads?

Now, I know we all have different reading tastes and obviously that’s a good thing! Some of those books I ended up rating completely differently than I might have had the romance aspect not taken over the plot and dwarfed the world building. Is that a personal preference? Absolutely. But I’m also wondering if this is something that anyone else has noticed too. Those same books that I ended up rating lower because I felt so overwhelmed by the romance and underwhelmed by the world building, others really loved.  I always feel like I’m missing something when that happens, but I can’t help but feel like the book had so much potential and I was just too blinded by this love interest and the drama that surrounded it that so many other things just got lost.

Obviously I can’t agree with everyone on every book — and frankly, that would be boring! — but I have to ask if anyone else has been feeling like they’re drowning in romantic drama lately. Are we (Readers? Authors? Editors? Publishers?) putting a larger emphasis on the romances in the books that we’re reading nowadays? Or is it just something that I’m feeling personally because I’m someone who is obsessed with world-building?

So let me know! Do you have issues with certain romances in some of your dystopian, fantasy, or sci-fi reads? Do you ever wish for more world building in place of the stage time some of the romances take or is a good romance a key element of your non-contemporary reads?

22 thoughts on “Total Romance Domination?

  1. Molly | wrapped up in books

    I feel like this has been the case for a large portion of sci-fi/fantasy YA for a LONG time. I like romance, too. Don’t get me wrong. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of the story overall.

  2. Amanda @ Book Badger

    I’ve definitely been feeling the same recently over some fantasy and dystopian books. I think there has to be a nice link and line between the world and the romance. By all means, develop your connections and characters and relationships but don’t lose the world, the history and the facts in between it all. Great topic hun, I like it 🙂

  3. Alison @ The Cheap Reader

    Oh it’s definitely everywhere. I personally hate it. I know that romance sells really, REALLY well. I just don’t appreciate that romance is crammed into every book out there whether is makes sense with the plot or not. It’s just so frustrating because like you said most of the time the romance of the story takes over and the ACTUAL story/plot/world building is left in the dust.

    I did my own discussion post on romance in YA (http://thecheapreader.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/discussion-romance-and-ya/). I’ll just share the link instead of writing a post of a comment on your blog. :p

  4. Candice @ The Grown-Up YA

    I don’t so much MIND the romance. But I do hate when there’s this awesome plot and it eventually gets drowned out by “who is she going to pick?! Are they going to end up together? Oh the swoons!” For example: Shadow and Bone. LOVE this one and think it has an amazing plot, world, action, all the things. But looking back, what plays heavily in my memories? The romance. I mean, I’m fine with it (obviously) but I wish that it had just been more like the Andes mint you get with your receipt after a delicious dinner. A happy treat but not the main course. Maybe Shadow and Bone is a bad example, but you get what I’m saying.

    I don’t think it’s really a push by anyone so much as it’s seeing that one of the favored parts of these huge, popular books is the romance. Hunger Games, for example. The romance isn’t even that big of a part of the book, but everyone is all Team Gale and Team Peeta! And ignoring that it’s more the story of a corrupt government and the people trying to take it down. I think writers want to write stories that aren’t inherently about romance, but sometimes it just creeps up. Or maybe it is a huge money-making conspiracy and authors are pushed to write romance into all stories.

    If the romance is like the Andes mint, I’m fine with it. I’d much rather focus on the steak than the mint. But when the mint becomes the best part… that’s when I have problems.

  5. Rebecca @ The Library Canary

    I definitely agree with you. For fantasy/dystopian/scifi I want the romance to be kind of a nice little side thing. I don’t want it to be front and center taking over the story. I think that the focus should be on the world and the plot, not on the romance. It frustrates me when it takes center stage and then the world-building completely falls flat.

  6. Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook

    Okay, well, I should say first that I do love romance in my books, and often that is the aspect of the story I care most about. So I never really feel like the heavy emphasis on romance makes me like a book less – as long as the romance is written well. Poorly written anything – whether it’s romance, world building, character development, obviously affects negatively my feelings toward a book.

    I’m very much a character-driven reader. World building is always kind of low on things I want in books. That’s not to say that I don’t want writers to create these wonderful, new and different settings and worlds, but it doesn’t affect my overall feelings much.

    I do think romance is in a lot of books lately, and I definitely think that publishers ask for authors to beef it up. I think it’s been popular, and that a lot of readers of YA want romance, so that’s why I think publishers push for it. I read this article not too long ago where a school librarian asked her girl students to list what they wanted to see in the books they read and a large amount did mention love stories (with strong heroines, too!:) ), so I think that reiterates that so many YA readers do want romance. Even the adult romance book industry is incredibly popular.

    That said, of course there are a lot of YA readers (I mean people who read YA) who don’t care that much for the romance. And maybe that’s where the fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian element comes in to the books. Maybe publishers see lots of crossover appeal ? But of course finding that happy medium isn’t easy, which maybe is why you’ve been feeling a little frustrated with the heavy romance in some of the books you’ve read lately? This is pure guess work on my part.

    I do wish publishers would put out a wide variety in the books published, but I can also understand why they find out what’s popular and try to get on that bandwagon, too.

  7. Emily @ Books & Cleverness

    This is such a wonderful post! I’ve been realizing this trend for a while now that to me, it has almost become the norm when I pick up a sci-fi/fantasy/dystopian/other YA genre book for it to have a dominant romance. In some cases it works, but I agree – when I read a book set in a different world I want to learn all about it! It seems like the romances in these books are getting to be more and more cliché. Great post! 🙂

  8. Tara

    I think this is a complex phenomenon. I felt some of the same frustration with romance overload, but I actually think it’s because I’ve read sooooo many YA books at this point that I’m experiencing some romance fatigue. Like, a book that has a romance that I might have loved 3 years ago (like when I first read Matched…or Divergent…or Delirium) might feel like too much now. I had a much higher tolerance for it 150 books ago!

    But I also think you (and your commenters) are right that there is actually more of it. Readers love the romance, thanks to Twilight, and publishers know this. Especially with dystopia, I do think publishers knew they needed more romance to hook a sizable audience for the genre. I really want to call some of the books “dystopian romance,” because that’s really what they’ve become. It is so annoying to me when protagonists are trying to do some serious government-toppling scheming and they are concentrating on some boy throughout the whole process — even risking their lives in the process. I’m definitely in the camp of “revolt now, kiss later!”

  9. Amanda @ Late Nights with Good Books

    I’m one of those rare YA-heavy readers who prefers her books to be light on romance overall. (I know, I’m weird.) So *any* book that isn’t explicitly being marketed as a romance with a heavy romantic focus is going to be more negatively rated by me. I know that romantic relationships can be a great way to reveal characterization and all, but there are so many other ways to get across similar points. Many times it feels as though romance is the easy way out, the easy way to gain readership and all. And it bothers me.
    I can’t think of this as a fantasy/speculative fiction problem in particular, since I notice this issue all over the place. But it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to have this be indicative of the current publishing market. If romance is so popular in contemporaries, I can see publishers and agents and authors all saying, well let’s just extend the romance into other genres.

  10. Monique Morris

    I don’t mind the romance. It’ s just that I would rather not read about love triangles and insta-love. Ummm….Ewwww!!!!! If they’re going to write about romance, that’s fine, I just hope they can actually back it up with good story-telling and world-building. There are too many romances that have zero plot, and it gets annoying.

  11. Cristina @ Girl in the Pages

    I think you make some fantastic points. Romance is a part of the human experience, so it has a place in most character’s stories, but it has become THE story of most characters instead, reducing their essence to a co-dependency on someone else, even when there are much larger issues at hand, which is the pitfall in most dystopian/sci-fi novels with strong romantic undertones that I’ve read recently. And it’s always a very specific type of romance too, heteronormative, often predictable, with an unassuming, more average protagonist with an astoundingly dangerous or attractive or important love interest, which brings up the issue of romance being implemented not even for the sake of romance but for the sake of marketing (such as, “What kind of romance sells best?”) I also think there’s an element of wish-fulfillment from readers, who want romance implemented so they can experience it themselves while reading, which is great but why is that any more important or exciting than overthrowing a corrupt government or learning you have fantastic-warrior-magical-powers?

    I agree with Candice above, about the romance being to heavy handed in Shadow and Bone, as I wanted so much more world-building and political background than was given in favor of Alina’s Mal/Darkling love triangle. I actually think that the Lunar Chronicles handles the balance well, as it has many separate romantic subplots but Cinder’s biggest concern remain dealing with Levana and basically saving the world. I wonder if this balance is more easily achieved in the Lunar Chronicles because it’s specifically sci-fi retellings of fairytales, and if the fairytale elements help to create a compartmentalized place for the romance without the romance taking over the entire story line(s). I think that could be the best solution for authors: acknowledging that readers want romance and setting aside a place for it within the series, but realizing that the world building and plot points of sci-fi and dystopian need to have their own significance, because that’s what will keep readers coming back, since we can literally go to almost any other series to find romance.

  12. Julie S.

    I agree with you. I expect a romance in any kind of book regardless of genre, because people are people and they still have feels and stuff. But it can’t be the main focal point in a fantasy book with villains and monsters. I definitely expect more world building and character development there. Great topic!

  13. Charleen

    Oh, yes. It’s so frustrating. And it’s not just a YA thing either, it happens plenty in the adult books I read. Great conspiracy thriller going along, and then BAM, unnecessary romance. Those especially surprise me because those types of books are typically considered “guy books,” and I guess maybe the romance is an attempt to bring in a female audience, but you’d think guys would get tired of reading that stuff… and is it worth it to potentially alienate your main audience while attempting to bring in another? (Yes, I know that’s a totally simplistic – and sexist – way of looking at it… but this is me trying to get in the minds of publishers and marketers who don’t seem to acknowledge that we’re a wide variety of readers with a wide variety of preferences.)

    It doesn’t completely overwhelm the plot as in the books you’re describing (which is a big reason I don’t read more YA than I do), but it still gets old.

  14. acps927

    I completely agree with your thoughts! I seriously and truly love seeing a sweet romance building up in a story, but I don’t like when the story has all these other potentially wonderful elements like worldbuilding and the like and it all takes a backseat to the romance! There could be a problem on the publishing side of things, but I think a lot of times authors get so excited about their own OTP they’ve written that they let it overshadow things. I’ve struggled with that some in my writing. And you know, maybe the author needs to get all that excitement out in their first draft, but you would think in editing they would work it in better along with the rest of the other elements of the story, so I don’t know, maybe the editors are pushing for it. I am glad to know I’m not the only one who has thought of this, though!

  15. Alexa S.

    What an interesting post! I love having romances in my books, honestly, as I live for reading love stories. But I do understand what you mean by stories getting overwhelmed by romance when they were marketed about being something else entirely though. I think, for me, if an author is able to find just the right balance between the love story and the rest of it (especially in my fantasies), it will work!

  16. Nicole @ The Quiet Concert

    SO I can’t answer your question – what is causing this focus on romance in ALL genres – but I have noticed it too and I’m not really a fan. I like when a relationship complements the book, not when it becomes a big focus and overshadows everything else (unless I am reading a romance novel). Even in contemporary books, I like when there is more to the story than just a relationship. But ESPECIALLY in fantasy, dystopian and other genres that should have world-building and adventure and more than just a romance. When books get carried away/ sidetracked by relationship drama, and sacrifice the plot and other detail (like secondary relationships) I tend to rate them lower. I agree though, this is a personal thing. And I have gotten caught up in my fair share of swoony men, but I will always rate a book higher if it has more than just that to offer. I like my book well-rounded, and I am not a huge romance reader. I’m probably getting repetitive now. Interesting discussion!!

  17. Greg

    I agree that a lot of times it seems like the romance is shoehorned in, almost like checking off a checklist item. Then again I’ve read some where it seemed to fit and was done well. And of course the execution matters-it’s not as jarring sometimes if done well, but I’ve read some books lately where there’s a big dystopian struggle but hey we have time for a little canoodling too , the revolution can wait. 🙂 And I think, rally people? LOL.

    Loved the comment about the Andes mint and the steak- that about sums it up. 🙂

  18. katz

    I always want more books with no romance at all. Romances can be very nice, but fiction often gives the impression that it’s the only kind of relationship that’s important or meaningful. Friendship and relationships with family play crucial roles in teenagers’ lives, yet you hardly ever see a YA book (especially a genre book) where that’s the central relationship.

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