Friday, January 11, 2013

Can You Have A Good Story Without Romance?

I hear a lot of people (mostly adults who take it upon themselves to review YA fiction online) complain that YA has too much romance. There's quite a lot of romance in adult literature too. And while YA doesn't usually go any farther than kisses or prom, a startling number of adult novels end with (gasp) marriage!
So I've started wondering. Can you have a good story without injecting romance?
A lot depends on the genre. Mystery stories don't need it, unless the detective's girlfriend is going to be murdered, because the plot revolves around finding the killer. Books written for anybody below the age of twelve will avert this for obvious reasons.
But most stories will have romance unless there's a specific reason they shouldn't. Maybe it's set in a World War II submarine or a girls' boarding school. But writers can sneak it in anyways. Soldiers carry pictures of  girlfriends with them into battle. Cue the flashback scene. And those boarding schools have to go on summer break at some point.
Mostly of the complaints seem to be about undying love, instant love, and love triangles. Especially that last one. If you bother to read beyond the two figureheads- Hunger Games and Twilight- you'll find they're not as omnipresent as literature trolls make it sound. Most YA books have a boy and girl who believe they shouldn't be together. Because they're from different social spheres, or she's not really into dating, or he has a reputation as a heartbreaker, or they loathe each other. And then they end up kissing anyways.

I can think of a few YA books with absolutely no love whatsoever.

Brian is stranded in the wilderness. The only female around is a moose and that wouldn't work out so well.

There aren't boys Digger's age around for most of the story.
 Novel Nightspell Bookcover
Both of Leah Cypess' heroines are devoted to their goals and don't have time for romance.

Andi has quite a few guy friends. And they're just that. Guy friends. She mentions past boyfriends, but none of them show up in the story.

Brian's mom has an affair and it's on his mind for most of the book.
Digger does have a boyfriend. He dies on the first page.
Mistwood has no romance...until the epilogue. In Nightspell, Darri is arranged to marry a prince, so she spends some time checking him out.
Andi's love for her brother Truman is a driving force in the story.
You know, you can argue about the definition of love. There's no romance in Charlotte's Web, but Wilbur does love Fern and Charlotte. Unless you story is about a guy with amnesia being the lone survivor of the apocalypse, your character will have people they care for.
Love is universal. People expect it. We automatically pair characters in our minds. That's why fan fic exists. Romance can provide motivation, comic relief, and subplots. It can give the audience something to tune in for if most of the story consists of stuff blowing up. Or politics.
But it isn't omnipresent in YA or anything else. You can pull off a story without it. But the majority of stories, regardless of genre or audience, will shove it in to give readers something to coo over.

EDIT: Since doing this post, I've found more books without romance, or so little romance that it might as well not be there.

The Lost Crown by Sarah Miiller
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

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