I've had the pleasure of meeting Erin M. Evans several times and we will be reading together at the University Bookstore in November. She is here to tell you how to do romance in Forgotten Realms—epic style. FIRE IN THE BLOOD comes out on Oct 14th and is available for pre-order.
Love is a many-splendored thing. Except when it’s messy. Or boring. Or downright frustrating. Or heart-breaking. All the highs and all the lows, the swamp of emotions and risk-reward assessment. Love is a fractured, fractious thing and who and what we choose to share our lives with is one of the greatest decisions in a person’s life. But it doesn’t always get that kind of respect in fantasy.
Oh, I don’t mean paranormal romance, stories where the romance is the driving force. I mean the vaunted “romantic subplot” you’ll find in every subgenre, in nearly every classic. Too often it’s treated as “Here is your partner, a reward for successful heroing.” When you don’t have both parties points-of-view in play, it’s an easy route to take, and even when you do, it can be tempting to mold one party into a gift of sorts for the other.
When you’re a woman writing fantasy—even blood-and-guts sword and sorcery—your romantic subplots get an extra special scrutiny. After all, romance is What Women Write. Make romantic relationships 10% of your book, and you’ll find folks talking like it’s all bedroom eyes and unfortunate misunderstandings, Moonlighting-style arguments and sexy makings up. I’ll admit it, I took this a little personally. So I decided why not unleash the kraken? Why not write a Forgotten Realms story about romances?
Of course, it’s a story about romantic relationships when the one you choose might determine the future of a kingdom at war, or the success of the god of sin, or whether you’re assassinated by the shadowy empire to the north. It’s about realizing love is not a panacea and the good doesn’t always make up for the bad. It’s about people dealing with life and this big, messy series of decisions that hinge on your life continuing on, while the world seems to be trying to end it. (In other words, a fantasy novel.)
Delving into matters of the heart—really diving in, looking at it from the perspective of an individual character—can add dimension and tension and realness to a story about wizards and ancient kingdoms and looming empires of shadow. But I think it’s critical that you really rip into it. No easy answers. No “rewards for heroing.” Consequences, choices, pushing yourself to do the right thing—realizing you don’t want all that heartache or realizing it’s all worth it. Fire in the Blood begins with a love triangle of sorts—Brin loves Havilar, but is engaged to Raedra. There’s a well-worn formula here—Havilar is the true love, and Raedra is the mistake, the one who exists to make you see how loveable Havilar is—but it doesn’t work for me. Raedra’s only engaged to Brin because it helps keep her country stable—did I mention she’s a princess? Did I mention the kingdom is really her truest love? We decide who or what we share our lives with, and sometimes it’s not a person at all. So why demonize her? Readers can handle a little complexity, after all. It’s part of being human.
Romance may not be the first thing you think of when you hear Forgotten Realms or sword & sorcery or even fantasy, but when we’re talking about crafting characters for readers to fall for? It’s worth all the frustrations and heartache (and occasional miscommunications) to make it work.
ERIN M. EVANS got a degree in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis–and promptly stuck it in a box. Nowadays she uses that knowledge of bones, mythology, and social constructions to flesh out fantasy worlds. She is the author of The God Catcher, and she lives in Washington State.