My female protagonist begins the story choosing to leave a small, known world for larger adventure. The action begins when she helps a politician’s adult son escape a coup. Now I’m struggling to divert the characters from a cliched love story subplot - I worry that she won’t be strong enough if her emotions focus on this male character. Is there a way to keep her focused AND explore a romance, or is it wiser to drop the possible relationship and keep the plot entirely about her personal journey?
It is entirely up to you. If you want to write a story without romance, there will certainly be people who will enjoy reading it. If you feel these two characters have a natural chemistry and you want to explore that, that’s absolutely fine. :)
Here’s the thing… there’s absolutely nothing wrong with romance. Romance doesn’t make a character weak, and it doesn’t automatically undermine the strength of a female character. There are many wonderful female characters who are in no way diminished because they are in love.
If you want to write a romantic sub-plot into your story, do it! There are things you can do to keep it from diminishing your protagonist’s strength:
1) Make sure she can stand on her own two feet. In other words, she doesn’t run to her love interest (or someone else in general) every time she has a problem. While it’s fine to seek help from others when necessary, she shouldn’t depend on the help of others.
2) Avoid “damsel in distress” syndrome. It’s fine for your character to be rescued by her love interest once in awhile, but has to rescue herself sometimes, too, and it wouldn’t hurt if she rescues him every now and then. In other words, it should be more or less equal: her saving herself, her saving him, him saving her, other people saving them both. Just not always him saving her.
3) Avoid “I’ll have to ask my boyfriend” syndrome. This is when the character is unable to make any decision without first considering her love interest or putting her love interest’s needs before her own. Now, there are times when it makes sense for your character to consider other people in her decision making process–that’s just life–but the reader needs to see that she’s not going to sacrifice her own important goals for the sake of love.
4) Avoid over-the-top gushing. When people are in love, they tend to gush a bit about their new love interest, but it can get old really fast in fiction. With a romantic sub-plot, especially, you want to go for something a bit more subtle. It’s okay for your character to think about their love interest from time-to-time, of course, but there doesn’t need to be paragraphs long soliloquies wherein your character divests every single thought and feeling about the person. There also doesn’t need to be an excessive amount of eyeballing muscles, pearly white teeth, great hair, etc. It’s okay for the character to notice and mention these things occasionally, but it can damage your character’s credibility if it seems to be all they think about.
For more help, read the following posts:
How to Avoid Forced Romantic Sub-Plot
Avoiding the Plot Dominating Romance
Love at First Sight and the Stages of Love
Using Timelines to Pace Romantic Relationships
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