Romantic subplots and why they’re starting to bother me.

It’s been a little while since I’ve had much to write about here. I’ve be caught up reading Pierce Brown’s Golden Son and Morning Star—which are really great, but I don’t seem to read them as quickly as I do other books. (If you’re looking for something good to read, I definitely recommend these books, but start with Red Rising, which is the first book in the trilogy.) I’ve also been brainstorming things to post here that aren’t book reviews. There have been a lot of those lately, and while I enjoy writing them, I want there to be other things here. In that vein, here is something I was thinking about recently.

Rachel Aaron posted to her blog in early February about subplots and why they’re important, which of course got me thinking about my own experience with them—be it in my own writing, or in other people’s stories in both books and TV. My boyfriend almost always has the TV on when he’s at home because having the background noise helps him relax. In the last few months he’s gotten through all 12 seasons of NCIS and five seasons of Hawaii Five-0 on Netflix. Which means that I end up watching some of these episodes as well, and even though I’m not really watching the show, some things filter through. In particular, I seem to be aware of the romantic subplots and their particular brand of tension. Which has made me wonder.

We root for the characters we like. We want them to do good, be happy, be loved. By themselves, these things don’t always make for a very interesting story, but that can usually be fixed by making the main plot tense and fraught and thoroughly frustrating to the characters. After all, plot is the problems in a characters life and how they solve them. If the story doesn’t revolve around the characters’ personal lives—for instance, this theory probably wouldn’t work for a romance novel where the characters’ love lives is the plot—then why does everything in their life have to kick them in the teeth?

There are a few examples this brings immediately to mind. If you’re at all familiar with them, you’ll know that Bones and Castle are both TV shows with two main characters whose romantic tension played huge roles in the early seasons. But in more recent seasons of both shows (spoilers coming), those two main characters got together. In both shows they even got married. And, in both shows (I assume; full disclosure, I stopped watching Bones about three seasons ago), those relationships are still undergoing a fair amount of turmoil and providing the show with dramatic tension. I understand that this is a great opportunity for character development and the like. But—and I don’t know about you—I’m over it.

I want the characters to be happy. They have enough tension in their work lives (both of these shows are basically police procedurals and are pretty much about solving murders) that I want them to have someone to come home to after all that work is done. Which brings me to my next examples. Mercy and Adam in Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series and Toby and Tybalt in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series. While both of these examples have had their fair amount of tension and drama in the early days of these relationships, in the most recent books they’re fairly stable. Adam and Tybalt are always there when Mercy and Toby need them, always stand with their women through whatever mystery or problem their authors throw at them, and—barring future drama or trauma—aren’t going anywhere.

I love that. I love that some things are reliable in the hectic and chaotic lives of these characters. It provides comfort to the characters—and to me. I’m not afraid that any new thing will end the relationship, I’m not afraid that one or the other person will leave. There’s a larger message in that, too: love can be quiet and persistent and just always there for you. Isn’t that how we all want it anyway?


About Sky

I'm a: 20-something, fantasy writer, deep thought thinker, sometime knitter, bookstore browser, amateur cook, journaler, cat owner, cheap wine connoisseur, ancient and medieval history lover, occasional philosopher, avid reader, museum wanderer.
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