Bad Romance: Star-crossed Lovers, Love Triangles, and Bewitched Boys
Romance brings all the readers to the yard—and has ever since Adam first crushed on Eve, with Lilith waiting in the weeds. But far more interesting than a match made in heaven is an affair borne of hotter stuff. Star-crossed lovers, treacherous love triangles, and bewitched boys. An affair filled with as much blood as beauty. A bad romance.
Because a good romance is too easy. Love’s power can only be seen when it’s forced to fight—either against some other affection, some magic spell, or even the world itself. And the tension in such strained relationship is palpable. The danger adds a dose of adrenaline to the already electric affair, and the feeling of impending tragedy adds a fragility, preciousness, and urgency to each moment spent in a forbidden embrace. After all, what price would you put on a loved one’s kiss if you knew it was your last?
But besides all that, bad romances are fun! You should try them! They create endless story opportunities and put your characters through an emotional—and fascinating—hell. So, in the hopes of spurring more ill-gotten affairs, here are a few tips for how to stir up a little bad romance of your own.
Star-crossed lovers—two characters desperately in love whose romance will end in tragedy no matter how they strive to avoid it. Romeo and Juliet it is the classic example of star-crossed love, but it remains a popular theme to this day, from the angel who dared love a demon, to the two students magically bound and pit against each other in mortal combat. The tension is centered on the conflict character vs. destiny, as the characters strive against the relentless forces that drive them to their inescapable and unhappy end. However, “destiny” is often just a fancy word for “everybody hates a rebel,” as the cause of the lovers’ troubles can often be laid at an unbending society’s feet.
Sacrifice lends love both value and a sense of purity. When you are willing to die for love, people tend to believe you’re in powerful kind of love. Of course, an empty life is a relatively easy thing to promise in exchange for love. But a life worth living? If you must sacrifice beloved friends and family? If you must leave behind everything you own, everything you’ve come to represent, and everything you hoped to do with your life? That kind of sacrifice, often delayed with torturous indecision, makes for an affair to remember.
Why It Works: The idea that love can be so pure as to reach past generational hate and form a bond between two characters so strong as to be worth dying for is incredibly potent.
The very best love triangles are not examples of a character who must choose between two suitors. That’s more of a love line, really, in which two characters play tug-of-war with the affections of a third. No, the best love triangles are isometric affairs, in which each member is drawn equally toward the others, the two suitors sharing a bond with each other as strong as their bond with their beloved.
And it is that extra bond--the bond between the two rivals--that gives a love triangle its terrible power. Think of King Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere--a classic love triangle perhaps most touchingly portrayed in The Mists of Avalon. There is no poison so bitter as being cut off from both your lover and your best friend—and no romance so cruel as the one that drives you to hurt someone you both care for. Pitted against both a rival and themselves, they really just can’t win. No two can become closer without a painful distancing from the third—a balance which constantly shifts and tightens until it finally snaps, breaking over the characters with disastrous (albeit interesting) consequences.
Why It Works: The tension created with three different relationships at stake is intense. But also, the tragedy is much higher. In a “love line,” all the tension evaporates with a simple decision—and the longer that decision is delayed, the more it can sometimes seem like the main character’s problem isn’t that she’s so hot she attracts all these awesome guys, but that she can’t make a decision to save her life. In a true love triangle, you can see why the characters are paralyzed with indecision: every move has tragic consequences, and yet that restraint serves only to make the forbidden love more desirable.
How much harder would it be to love someone who did nothing but spurn your advances? Sure you might nurse a crush for a little while, but most of us have the self-respect to eventually go after someone who loves us back. But when one character is bewitched, the man you thought would always love you might now spew nothing but hate. And if you want him back, you must do more than just love him despite his distaste—you must undergo terrible trials on the mere memory of love, battling both nature and the supernatural, all in an attempt to break the spell.
It is a hopeless battle—I mean, realistically, a farm girl should have no chance at defeating the Snow Queen and stealing back the man she loves. But in the case of bewitchment, rather than proving the lovers’ downfall, the love lost gives the hero the strength to survive terrible natural ordeals and to defeat an almost impossibly strong supernatural force.
Why It Works: As opposed to star-crossed lovers, or characters in a love triangle, when one character has been bewitched the other must pit her love against the supernatural hate of her beloved. The sheer scope of the sacrifice the one character makes, and the depth of her devotion in the face of harsh rejection and hopelessly supernatural strength, adds tremendous power to the love lost.
Next time you are writing a romance, think about the other relationships each character has and how they affect each character. How much would your character sacrifice of others to be with the one they love? The more passionate your characters are about things other than just each other, the more interesting their love affair will be.