Adding Love Stories To Genre Fiction

Welcome to Part 1 of my VirtualBalticon panel notes.

The panelists were: Mary Fan, L. Marie Wood, Ted Weber (mod), our Guest of Honor: Wen Spencer, and Ken Schrader.

Balancing The Story And The Romance

In Romances, the romance is the point of the story. In genre fiction — here defined as Science Fiction or other Fantasy novels, the intrigue, the adventure, the mystery is the point, and the main character’s relationships are often what makes the victory possible — be they romantic or otherwise.

Caveat: the romance has to be authentically, when it’s shoehorned in for the sake of the plot, it falls flat. (Thank you, Attack of the Clones).

Lois McMaster Bujold’s VorKosigan series, a Hugo award winning series is often credited as doing it well.

Stakes are why people read. And most stories have three types of stakes:

  • External (or physical) – Saving the world, or beating the baddie
  • Internal – overcoming their own internal conflicts, background, or weaknesses.
  • Emotional – their relationships with other people, be they familial, romantic, or other.

Using relationships to up the stakes is a great way to make the characters — and the readers — care.

Not All Love Is Gooey

When you think about people adding romance to a novel, many people think about gooey-romantic silliness. Most of those people are unfamiliar with Romance as a genre.

Many people have romantic relationships in real life, but the smitten, adoration phase is not the predominating feature, and using romance in genre fiction is all about authenticity. You want to show the struggles, the conflicts, and the good parts, all mixed together. Life is rarely all-one-thing.

The Biggest Mistakes People Make

Not making the love interest a fully-realized, three-dimensional character.

  • They need to be more than just handsome or pretty.
  • They need to have interests and goals outside of “support the main character”.
  • You need to show why BOTH parties are attracted to the other, don’t skimp on the non-Point-of-View character

How Much Sex To Add

Write what you’re comfortable with showing. You may have your mother or a reader read your scene aloud to you tomorrow, or in ten years. (both real incidents that happened to writers on the panel).

Be authentic — just like the romance, the sex needs to feel like it would actually happen between these characters for the shown reasons.

Erotica is porn, but for books. Romance is about the emotions and the character interplay, make sure you focus on what you want to show.

Ways To Add Relationships

Clearly, you can have the two characters that just keep running into each other. Or, are force to work together.

Don’t just have that “character that exists to flirt” and/or “only flirts because of tragic backstory”. They’re overdone. Give them a fresh take.

Short fiction isn’t made for the slow burn. And sometimes, novels don’t even have enough space.

If you’re writing short fiction (or even, not), it can be easier to build a relationship between people who already know each other, who have a backstory. You can give enough context with two-sentences, and save yourself chapters of backstory.

And series romances are usually harder than stand-alone. You typically have to keep breaking their relationship and then fixing it, which often feels contrived pretty quickly.

When There’s Genre in Your Romance

Romance novels have certain story beats and pacing that are expected by their readers.

Genre fiction has certain storybeats and pacing that are expected by their readers.

When you find the biggest backlash against genre fiction with romance subplots is when the story hits the Romance beats, instead of the science-fiction and fantasy story beats. Knowing which you’re hitting, can help you market the story right, and find a supportive audience.

Why Romance In Genre Fiction

Characters need to be realistic, and people have messy relationships all the time. To ignore romance, is to discount a large portion of what motivates humanity.

Meanwhile, genre fiction is a great place to explore the limits of what a relationship can look like, it can set aside our cultural expectations and experiment beyond the romantic binary or gender binary. We can use genre fiction to explore new types of characters, cultures, and worlds.


I hope you find these notes helpful, although feel free to check out the actual panel!

I’d actually forgotten I attended this one, but then I went to look at the twitch livestream to see if they had my first panel and remembered — after the Opening Ceremonies livestream, I’d left twitch open and this had just started playing. I had watched this one live, just not taken any notes. So, I rewatched and took notes, and here they are. From 5pm on Friday of VirtualBalticon

The closed-captioned version will be up on Youtube.com/BaltimoreSciFi in a bit, but for now, you can watch this panel on twitch from 0:32:05: – 1:30:15.

One thought on “Adding Love Stories To Genre Fiction

  1. Pingback: Adding Love Stories To Genre Fiction — Morgan Hazelwood: Writer In Progress | Novel Writing Festival

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