I started out a genre writer of speculative fiction, with a specialty in urban fantasy. OneÂ of the things I had to negotiate early on was how to differentiate between a romanceÂ story with an urban fantasy subplot, such as a shifter romance, and the straight-upÂ fantasy stories I wrote before, which might have romance subplots but tend to have anÂ entirely different focus.
What it boils down to for me, besides the use of various romanticÂ tropes in the plotlines, is threefold: where the focus of the story is, how muchÂ prominence romance has in the charactersâ€™ lives, and what kind of power their romanceÂ has to change their circumstances.
In my new bear shifter series The Hunting Club, the theme of the â€œfated mateâ€ getsÂ tackled head-on, as characters start to question whether the instinctive draw to aÂ specific human is entirely positive or romantic. Yet the central romance between JakeÂ and Anna grows stronger over time not because of this instinct, but rather because ofÂ the choices they make to trust in and support each other, to love and be loved, and toÂ accept the bond instead of rejecting it or losing it with one memberâ€™s death. Because ofÂ this, they can endure when powerful forces are striving very hard to tear them apart.
Yes, thereâ€™s a survival horror plot going on the whole time too, but ultimately it serves asÂ a backdrop for a story where love may not conquer all, but it has tremendous power toÂ heal us and shore us up.
The redemptive-love theme runs through the series as planned. Certain characters,Â such as the embittered hunter Mark, and even the misbegotten Graypaw, will findÂ themselves touched by this in their lives, as romance allows them to regain, or gain forÂ the first time, a greater grasp on their humanity. The trappings of their urban-fantasyÂ world and circumstances are less important than this central theme, and that more thanÂ anything shows the difference between a romance subgenre and the genre it drawsÂ from.
Finally, I have noticed that all in all, even when dealing with dark themes, romancesÂ tend to be optimistic. Even if the world itself is crapsack, the existence of a strong loveÂ relationship gives the central characters something to live, strive and hope for. This is aÂ strong contrast to much speculative fiction, where there is less social contract with theÂ reader, and less reason to provide any kind of feel-good closure. Ultimately this is oneÂ reason I have chosen to focus on romance as my central genre right now. I may engageÂ in character torture as much as any author (aside from George R. R. Martin), but itâ€™sÂ good to have something joyous and healing for the poor characters to go home toÂ eventually.