A little more than 40,000 words into my very first novel, I realized that I was trapped in a genre love triangle of doom that looks something like this:
I didn’t mean to get here. In fact, I purposely worked hard to avoid this situation. Yet here I am and now I’ve gotta’ get myself untangled before my book goes the way of the dodo.
To explain how this love triangle of doom was born, let me start at the very beginning (it’s a very good place to start).
A few years ago, I had an idea for a science fiction novel. It was set 300 years in the future, a time when genetic engineering had reached the point that all sorts of fantastical creatures such as centaurs, merfolk, pixies, elves, dwarves and more could be brought to life.
I wasn’t sure what to do with this idea until I started reading regency romances with my wife. You see, I’ve always been a sci-fi/fantasy reader so my introduction to this new genre hit my brain like a 10 ton near-Earth object.
My imagination was on fire as the novel idea morphed into a science-fiction romance. Everything fell into place and I began writing like a madman.
Fast forward to today and I’m trapped in the genre love triangle of doom. Here’s the 411:
The romance element of the book has been the hardest part for me to write. That’s not because I’m a guy and it’s not because I don’t enjoy romances – I simply have so much more experience (as a reader) with science fiction and fantasy (45 years vs. 2 for romance). One thing I do know however, is that a romance needs to have an actual romance at the center of the story. If the romance doesn’t play the main role, the book is not a romance; it’s a different genre with a dab of romance in it.
The science fiction element keeps trying to steal the show. You see, I had decided at the beginning of the book that I wanted the science to be a backdrop, a supporting player for romance. Unfortunately, I forgot one important fact – science fiction takes a back seat to no genre.
Science fiction is all about the details – how things work and how they got that way. Science fiction readers look for holes not only in your plot but in your speculative vision of science as well. If something doesn’t hang together, and you have no reason for that fact, they’ll call you out on that faster than a simile at a tongue-twister contest. They pride themselves on this fact so writers need to detail their futuristic science as tightly as they can and all that “side stuff” detracts from the romance.
The genre that blindsided me was fantasy. I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised. I mean, I’ve got a futuristic world full of fantastical creatures (never mind the fact that they were brought into being by genetic engineering) and all of a sudden I’m agonizing over how much I need to focus on these mythical beings. While they’re nothing more than bio-engineered humans, some can fly and others can breath underwater and my readers are going to want to learn more about them. Unfortunately, focusing on their forms and habits also started detracting from the hero and heroine, neither of whom are one of these creatures.
One of these things is not like the others…
The truly interesting part of all this is what I’ve learned about the dynamics between the three different genres. Summed up in a nutshell:
Science Fiction + Fantasy = Good
Romance + Fantasy = Good
Romance + Science Fiction = Bad
I know this isn’t the case all the time – I’ve read science fiction romances that I’ve enjoyed a lot, however, fantasy and romance just seem to mesh better than science fiction and romance. Interestingly, science fiction also meshes well with fantasy leading me to conclude that fantasy is better at taking a back-seat role than either of the other two.
My top theory so far is this: fantasy is softer around the edges. Science fiction requires you to add clear details. Romance does the same because romance readers are voyeurs (in a good way) who like to see the every detail of the relationship develop.
Fantasy however, is pure imagination. As long as you’re consistent, you can change any rule and leave the real world of science and relationships behind. A lot of fantasy is also built upon long-standing myths and legends. People know how fantastical creatures act and, even if you change things around, at least they have a starting point.
For example, telling your readers that a character is a vampire instantly gives context and depth to that character. You can mix it up, but they start with a basic vampire.
Where do I go from here?
That’s a pretty good question. I’ve actually put the book aside to work on a series of short novellas that are straight urban fantasy with a slight dollop of science fiction and it’s flowing fast and furiously (my critters love it so far!).
Is that the cowards way out? Perhaps, but sometimes distance makes the heart grow fonder. Before I jump back into the genre love triangle of doom, I’ll need to fall back in love with all three elements of my story while showing them how to love each other as well.