Romantic Theory in Fiction

I decided that since I am an aspiring writer, I should start writing a little bit about what I’ve been learning about writing. Sure the main purpose of my blog is reviewing the things that I read, but sometimes something comes to mind and I can’t help but write about it. In this case I was thinking about Nathan’s book, Paradise Seekers, and a suggestion I’d made to him. Basically I suggested that he work on the romance between the two main characters in the book. Excellent book, but since he was asking for what needs improving, the romance was what struck me as the biggest thing that needed fixing.

Surprising for those that know me, but I actually am a fan of romance in fiction. But only if it’s been done right. Thinking about Nathan’s book and my suggestion made me realize that I wasn’t quite clear about what makes good romance in fiction. So I sat down with my moleskine and jotted down ideas about romance in fiction, and eventually came up with what I’m thinking of calling Derek’s First Law of Romance in Fiction. Or something not so lame. Or, Derek’s Romantic Theory in Fiction.

According to this theory there are two types of romantic relationships in fiction. Type A, the goal driven type; and Type B, the interaction driven type.

Type A is the kind of relationship where character A is in love with character B and because we like character A we want to see them fulfill their goal. In other words, we want them to get character B to fall in love with them, but only if character B is a likable character. Every good character needs a goal, and often in fiction, especially romantic fiction, that goal is winning the love of the girl, or guy. An important factor of this type of romance is that generally character A needs an understandable reason for loving character B.

Type A Examples:

  • Every Disney Princess movie ever. Granted there are some exceptions, but generally these movies follow the basic plot of character A trying to win the love of character B. A good example of this is The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Sleeping Beauty.
  • Orihime –> Ichigo, from Bleach. Orihime is a good example of a character who is clearly in love with another character, and because both of them are likable, we want to see them together. While trying to win his love may not be her primary goal, her primary motivation to improve is so that she will not be a burden to him.
  • Naruto –> Sakura, from Naruto. Naruto’s goal is to gain the recognition of the village, and to get Sakura’s attention. The goal like nature of this relationship cause us to root for Naruto. However, some readers dislike Sakura and do not consider her a worthy goal. Hence…
  • Hinata –> Naruto. Hinata’s main motivation is to get Naruto to notice her. She is a likable character, Naruto is a likable character, and a good goal. It also helps that Hinata has a good, understandable reason for loving him.

Type B is the kind of relationship type where neither of the characters has a goal to win the love of the other character. Instead there is generally an unspoken attraction, and the entire appeal of the relationship is based on the interaction between the two characters. A quick way to remember this is, “B” for Bicker.

Type B Examples:

  • Inara and Mal from Firefly. The sexual tension between these two could be cut with a knife. Everyone knew they had the hots for each other, Inara knew but she never acted on it. Mal was especially dense about it, much to the annoyance of the viewers. Obviously neither had a specific goal to make the other fall in love with them. However not only was the sexual tension entertaining to watch, but their interaction that had them behaving like a married couple was incredibly entertaining. Hence the relationship worked.
  • Ichigo and Rukia from Bleach. Whether there an attraction between these two is debatable, personally I just don’t see it. However, those that support a romantic relationship between the two tend to do so because their bickering, and obvious friendship, makes for an entertaining read.
  • Luffy and Nami from One Piece. Again, these two are not actually romantically involved in the series’ canon. However for fans of this ship the draw is not only the entertaining between them, but the obvious friendship between the two.
  • Garion and Ce’Nedra from the Belgariad. From what I remember there wasn’t a clear cut example of either one of these two pursuing the other. Mostly the two bickered, and then were politically married. And it made for an entertaining read.
  • Pepper Potts and Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies. Their entire interaction was basically old husband and wife antics. The entire two movies through. And strangely enough, it was incredibly entertaining and somehow heart warming.

I’m noticing that I can think of more examples for the Type B category. This might just be my personal preference, but I think it works. Otherwise, why would we keep on using the stereotype?

A common theme for Type B is that a lot of the time the characters are either oblivious to each other, practically in a relationship, or already in a relationship. I don’t know why it’s such a popular theme. While on the other hand, Type A is usually exclusively used in a pre-relationship status between characters A and B.

For both Type A and B to work good characters are required. In other words, almost all problem in writing can be solved with good characters. Good characters, good plot, tension and conflict. These are the things required for good writing. Romance is the icing on the cake. All the previous elements are the filling elements and can be delicious without the frosting. Romance just makes a story that much sweeter. And really, at some level we all appreciate a good romance.


  1. I'm also a romance fan in fictional works as well. It's not just books. Movies, video games, plays, you name it. There's nothing wrong with a good pair in a series, the only thing wrong is if they have not been given enough time to work out or are just put into the scene and the audience is made to take it as it is. That kind really annoys me. I've had my fair share of it and never want to see that again. Romance IS icing on the cake. It's that sweet filling in sweets I just can't wait to get to.

  2. Nice analysis, Derek. Romance is tricky, because you don't want it to feel forced.
    If I were to pick a pet peeve though, it'd be when the two leads clearly hate each other the entire movie yet end up kissing just before the credits roll anyways. Boggles the mind sometimes. =P

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