Maybe it’s because I cut my writing teeth in Hollywood, where no movie is complete without a dollop of “boy meets girl,” but there is always a love interest in my stories. Even in my Warhammer books, where the testosterone levels were so high that I had to shave twice as often while writing them, I still slipped in a little romance. Yes, even in a world of gore-caked battle axes and deathless demons of destruction, love blossoms.
Or maybe it is because romance is the greatest conflict generator of all time. A feud between two rival families in Italy? Boring. But what if a boy from one family and a girl from another love each other? Instant intrigue. A princess has second thoughts about assuming her throne? Dull. But if she meets an American reporter in Rome and has to chose between him and her crown? All at once we want to know what happens.
Romance adds human emotion to any situation, and therefore human interest. The tug between love and honour, love and duty, love and loyalty, love and cultural mores, has been grist for conflict since the days of Greek drama, and since fantasy fiction is already a very romantic genre, a genre about the triumph of spirit and emotion, about irrational hope winning out over cold reality just because it should, Romance with a capital R is a perfect fit. It gives heroes a reason to fight and strive. It gives villians a reason to be jealous. It makes tragedies deeper and happy endings more joyful.
It also works very well to personalize a broader conflict. Last year’s prize for best journalistic photograph went to a picture of a mother holding her wounded son after a battle. Why is this more powerful than a photo of a hundred wounded men laid out side by side? Because it shows love. It allows the viewer to identify with the pain of the mother who does not know if her son will live or die. Do you want your reader to feel the conflict you have created? Don’t tell them about the movements of armies. Tell them about a wife searching for her husband amongst the stream of refugees fleeing a battle. Tell them about the soldier forced to go to war against his lover’s country. Tell them about a pair of lovers who steal money to buy passage out of the warzone and end up jailed seperately.
Some may deride romance as cheap melodrama, but I say if it was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me. It is one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s toolbox. Learn to use it well, and you will live – or at least write – happily ever after.