For I am sick of love…

OK, maybe not entirely.  And I don’t mean the same thing that was meant in the Song of Songs, either.  But I recently read an interview in the SFWA Bulletin, in which the interviewee said (and I’m paraphrasing, having discarded the issue) that in any YA novel Romance must be the core of the story.  The italics and cap are mine.  She went on to point out that even in The Hunger Games series, much less something like Twilight, the love story is the core of those books.  She may be right.  In fact, I think she generally is.  YA is the age at which hormones surge, and the gender-of-your-preference becomes a matter of all-consuming interest.

But even when I was a young adult, and an avid reader, the romance was usually the part of the story that interested me least.  Straight romance isn’t a genre I’ve ever read much, though I do enjoy a romantic sub-plot in a mystery, or an SF or fantasy novel.  And there are a few novels, written by masters of characterization (I’m talking about Lois McMaster Bujold here) in which I found the love story deeply moving and wonderful.   So it’s not that I’m immune to romance in fiction.  But does it have to be the core of every story, even for young adults?

As a writer, and a reader, I generally find deep laid plots, humor and derring do—along with serious moral dilemmas—a lot more compelling than how the guy gets the girl.  Because let’s face it, there’s not much question about whether that’s going to happen—it’s more a matter of how their coming together takes place.  That’s not dissing romance writers either—you try to write a story where the reader absolutely knows how the most important aspect of the plot will end, and make it fresh and engaging and interesting.  Every time.

Most of the novels I’ve written have either light romance, or none at all.  Which may be one of the reasons why they don’t sell as well as Twilight or The Hunger Games.  But am I alone in not finding romance the most important aspect of any story?  Or is this me, being out of step with the rest of the world?  (Wouldn’t be the first time.)  So I’d like to take a short poll here:

Are you male/female?  Teen or adult?  And what aspects of a story do you find most compelling?  The romance, or something else?


Hilari Bell is the author a number of books, including Navohar—which she thinks has a perfectly good romance!—and which has just been reissued as an ebook.


14 thoughts on “For I am sick of love…

  1. I love this post! I am, by most accounts, almost anti-romance. Not because I don’t like it. Simply because I don’t think it’s all that interesting when it’s too “perfect.” I mean, really. Most first kisses are botched. Big time. I was an awkward teen. My books have love interests, crushes, and I wrote my FIRST KISS in my fourth book. And it was botched. Her second was good, though. And that’s as far as it got on the romance level.
    So. No. I don’t think YA needs romance. The market and our readers, though, seem to be telling us something else. *sigh*

  2. I’m an adult female who reads for escape, education, and a sense of wonder, not romance. If you’re planning to write a multi-book family saga, romance helps ensure there will be a next generation to continue the story. 😉 But it’s not the prime draw for me either.

  3. I’m female and in theory, an adult. I really enjoy YA, but it has gotten to the point that I have to scan Goodreads reviews for the words “love triangle” before buying any books these days. Most of the books that I read focus on mystery and adventure. Pacing is very important as the author needs to keep building the suspense so I feel compelled to keep turning the pages.

    Romance is not inherently bad, but it often bogs down the story. A character may quit worrying about how they will get out of the giant cockroach infested dungeon of horror because it is much more important to analyze what secret meanings motivated their love-interest when said love interest gave them the flame-thrower instead of the broadsword.

    I find romance particularly jarring when there is a larger ensemble of major characters. It often ends up limiting a character’s interactions with the characters they aren’t “in love” with. To me, that destroys the fun of having so many characters in the first place. It pains me to say it, since I love Riordan, but Mark of Athena was particularly obnoxious in that respect. That poor book was thrown across my living room in disgust several times.

  4. I’m a female, and a teen. I agree with you, romance is not really needed in books. I feel like authors just use the romance part of the book so that readers wouldn’t notice that the plot the author created really sucks (of course, that doesn’t apply to all romance books). Books only draw me in when the ending of the book is uncertain, and can’t be easily predicted. I find most fictional romance too…. perfect. Everyone knows that the girl/boy will end up with a boyfriend/girlfriend in the end. Or, in books related to an apocalypse, the boy and girl will be the only one that survives, and they become boyfriend-girlfriend, and it’s happily ever after.

  5. I’ve seen the same trend. It seems like romance works its way into most YA novels these days. Though I have read a few without much romance at all. I have to admit they are refreshing every now and then. However, I do like a good romantic subplot, and as a romance author myself, I do enjoy a good romance book.

  6. Female fogey here. I love a love story, but if all the books I read were primarily romances I’d be bored silly. And if not handled well, the romance does indeed bog down the story. Great post!

  7. Another female fogey here–hey Ellen! I also enjoy a romance as a subplot of a book, but not the main meat and potatoes. I also tire of the *love at first sight* crap. There’s got to be a lot of other things going on, but when romance is written well, with finely crafted characters–nothing makes me happier! I guess I’m just a sap at heart–and I must admit, I love writing it even more than reading it!

  8. I’m 28 and female. I can enjoy a good romance, BUT, I prefer romance that centers around a solid plot rather than a plot that centers around romance. If that makes sense. I’m also a fan of slow-burn romances. Something subtle and profound rather than an all-consuming love-at-first-sight kind of thing.

  9. I see the trend, and I agree it enhances a book. But it’s not necessary for a book to be good. I’ve read many books that did not have a romantic core. My book has a romance in it, but it’s not the core of the story. If you removed the romantic element of my book, you’d still have the basic plot. 😉

  10. I’m with you, Hilari! (This is possibly why I love you so much. 😉 ) Despite being a part of a perfectly good love story myself, I would way rather read about a sibling, father-son, or mother-daughter type relationship than yet another romance. (This includes buddy-type novels.) There are, of course, a few exceptions, but they all involve a real, functioning friendship that grew naturally into a love story. (Cough– “Ella Enchanted” makes me cry. Still.)
    I am 22 and female. And married. And I’ve always been this way. 😉

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