"Is This A Kissing Book?"

Note: This post is *not* about romance novels or subgenres of romance (e.g. paranormal romance, romantic suspense, other genres containing the word romance). Romance, by definition, revolves around two characters getting a happily ever after. This post is about love interests in books that are *not* romance novels.

Despite being a romantic, I’m incredibly bored by actual romance. I don’t represent romance as a genre and it would be difficult to find a love story in books I represent that isn’t at least a little bit nontraditional. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of people who love cute, uncomplicated romances (and plenty of agents who represent them). I’m just not one of them. Why am I so heartless? 

Well, I’m not. I just need more convincing that these characters belong together. Romance readers (including the agents and editors who work with romance novels) have the ability to get swept up in the characters’ obvious devotion to each other. When we say “publishing is subjective” we mean it because the same way not everyone can suspend their disbelief for fantasy novels, I find it hard to suspend mine for romance. What I do love, though, is rooting for two characters to get together. Like tiny Fred Savage in The Princess Bride, I need to be tricked into liking romance. But once I’m hooked, I will shout for the main characters to just kiss already!

When I’m reading a novel and it’s clear love interests are starting to form, I prepare myself to ask the following questions:

1. Who are these characters outside of their attraction for each other? Do we see them do other things, have other friends, and have independent lives before the other person enters the picture?

2. Do they maintain that independent life even after the other person enters the picture?

3. Is the main plot of the novel (i.e. not their romance) strong enough to stand on its own?

4. Is it clear why they love each other? Is the writer showing me something deeper than an appreciation for good looks? 

5. Are the characters falling in love while they’re doing other things? Or do they just gaze at each other and call it love? (coughTwilightcoughcough)

Sorry I had something in my throat. Moving on.

If I can’t answer those questions then that type of romance is probably not for me. I don’t want to be happy the main characters got together because I was told I should be. I want to know it’s deserved and that they’ve both experienced life enough to make a real decision in the end. So that when Logan tells Veronica they should have been epic, I melt. Or when Jordan finally holds Angela’s hand, I feel her excitement. And while, yes, both of those scenes involve high school students, let’s not forget how we all feel right before a first kiss with a new person who just might be The Person. We’re all teenagers in that moment, and if you’re not you’re doing it wrong.

I’m a person who loves love, but I hate blind love. Give me two whole people coming together to share something because there’s no one else they can share it with, not because they need a second half. You characters deserve to find happiness on their own terms, and your readers deserve to feel satisfied by their decision.

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15 thoughts on “"Is This A Kissing Book?"

  1. Has anyone read the YA paranormal thriller THE BODY FINDER by Kimberly Derting? It was highly reviewed by Publishers Weekly, and others, and I wonder if it's because it meets the criterion laid out above. Love to hear your opinions.

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  2. The book I read recently that had the best love story that wasn't a love story was The Scorpio Races. I yearned for Sean and Puck to be together and you can't pay me to read a romance. Definitely an example of characters falling in love while something else is going on!

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  3. Thanks! I feel the same way. I love THE PRINCESS BRIDE and…definitely coughTWILIGHTcoughcough. Romance is awesome, but I find it rather boring to read about brainless characters with no other aspects to their lives other than finding that special person on whom they can become utterly dependent. Yawn. Or ick.

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  4. I really agree with you. I write historical fiction so I usually look at the whole person and the whole life of my characters. Love is a big part of the human condition and what makes us human but it is only a part. I stopped reading romance many years ago and now I know why. The characters in romance novels are usually 2 dimensional cardboard cut outs. Thanks for a well written and well defined blog.

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  5. As a a mostly-horror reader, I don't run into this often … in books. Movies on the other hand? All the time! There's no faster way to ruin a flick than to have a romantic subplot that makes me cringe. (And I can't think of one that doesn't.)

    Anyone have recommendations for entertaining films with believable love stories? In any genre? Does a decent rom-com exist?

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  6. Tnanks for the interesting and constructive post, Sarah. I just checked if my current novel answers your five questions. I found out that it does, except question four. I need to better explain why the two charatcers (three actually .. love triangle) are really in love with each other.

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  7. LOL @Lydia

    Nicely expressed, Sarah. I've never thought about this explicitly, just tried to make sure my characters were acting like real people. Turns out when characters act like real people, they follow your advice.

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  8. Agreed! I have so much trouble reading romance books–just the same as I have trouble watching romantic films. It's just…watching people fall in love in fiction, most of the time, is just kind of absolutely frustrating, because I just don't care, and I feel like there should be a plot worth caring somewhere, but there never is. There's just…two people…and they…do absolutely nothing extraordinary O_e

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  9. This is an excellent post, but all I can think is AHH MY SO-CALLED LIFE REFERENCE AHH.

    Also,

    ***VERONICA MARS SPOILERS***

    I used to not be a Logan fan (sacrilege, I know), but this week I rewatched The Wrath of Con (the Homecoming episode). Toward the end of Lilly Kane memorial video, Logan gives Veronica this look of pure adorable conspiratorialness and it won me over.

    Additionally, during the limo party whenever Duncan sprays champagne on Logan and he exclaims, “This my dad's tux,” he has a moment of pure horror before he chases Duncan onto the beach. Knowing what that look means….Heartwrenching.

    ***end fangirly spoilers***

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  10. About your #1 point, my biggest irritation is when the female MC has a best friend who only shows up whenever the MC is having love problems… proceeds to cheer her up, then essentially vanishes until the next time the MC needs to cry on someone. It's like the best friend character is only there to prove the MC isn't a friendless loser, and cheer her up. What kind of real friendship is that?!?! And usually the best friend has zero problem/character arc of their own.

    argh.

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  11. Oh I love this post! There's nothing that gets my eyes rolling more than a can of insta-love.
    I love reading about two characters that face struggles and hit every reason they shouldn't be together before it finally happens. I love it when characters are tested again and again before they get their happily ever after, which should occur at the end of the book.

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  12. We all have Twilight in our throats.

    I really like this post BECAUSE I FEEL THE EXACT SAME WAY. I'm writing an urban fantasy with elements of romance and what I'm working on right now, hard, is your number 1 point. So important, and my first few drafts did not have it.

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