Chapter 23: How to Create the Best Romantic Subplot

I want you to sit and be honest with yourself.  Whether a novel or a TV show, how important are the romantic subplots?  Personally when rereading or skimming back through a book I’ve already read, I find myself stopping at the scenes where the romantic interests finally kiss or some other big step in their relationship.  In shows like The 100, I know my best friend is invested in it purely to see Bellamy and Clarke finally get it on.  A romantic subplot can make or break your story, and you have to make sure that your readers are rooting for them to get together, not wondering why the two are even a thing.

The first question you have to answer is what trope you want the love interest (LI) to fall under in regards to your protagonist (MC) (or other character, if neither of the romantic parties are the main focus of the novel).  Do you want them to be ‘opposites attract’ in regards to one another?  ‘Tall, dark, and mysterious’?  ‘From friend zone to end zone’?  ‘Thin line between hate and love’?

Everyone has their preference, but quite honestly you can pick any as long as you do it right.  I’m going to go into more detail of each trope, but the first message I want to get across is the dos and don’ts in a more general setting.

Be careful not to make the romantic subplot line completely separate from the main plot.  Every scene in your book should be plot-driven, and your characters developing romantic feelings for one another shouldn’t push the brakes on what’s going on.  A good example of this is in The Agency series by Y.S. Lee.  Mary (MC) and James (LI) have different goals that lead them on the same path.  They’re constantly at conflict with one another, and eventually learn that it’s better to work together than getting in each other’s way.  This mutual respect mixed with attraction leads to the two’s eventual relationship.  It’s a slow and steady progression that doesn’t finally come together until several books in, but it’s the perfect example of the “OH COME ON JUST KISS HER” that keeps the readers wanting more.

My second piece of advice is to not lose one character into the other.  Unless it’s intentional and you want a character to come off as a weakling who’s entire being is dependent of the love interest, make sure that you keep clean separations in one from the other.  The best example of this going wrong is Twilight.  Bella had no personal interests, hobbies, anything that distinguished her.  She was shy and clumsy, but that’s as far as her dimensions went. This is brought to light even more in New Moon.  When he’s not there she become a non-functioning, suicidal human.  The book literally skips months and months because her story simply isn’t worth telling without him in it.  While it’s true that romance is a heavy, heavy theme in Twilight, so Meyer might’ve only wanted to focus on the two as a couple, it can also be said that there’s nothing she could’ve potentially written about to keep the readers hooked without Edward there.

Okay, so let’s delve into ‘opposites attract’.  The example I’m going to give for this is my very own Ethlynn and Nash from The Freedom Game. Ethlynn comes from a background of slavery, never speaks her mind out of fear, and almost always takes the time to think before she speaks.  Nash, on the other hand, was born into one of the most powerful families in the kingdom, makes sure everyone and everyone knows his opinion and expects them to take it as fact, and often has to backtrack to stay in the clear because his tongue is so much quicker than his mind.  The two make for an explosive combination.  For Ethlynn, Nash represents the very people who’ve kept her people so oppressed; for Nash, Ethlynn is supposed to be property more than human and to lose to her is to lose all respect from his fellow nobles.  They have the same goal: to gain Professor Maithe’s apprenticeship.  This causes their paths to intertwine and put them face to face more than either would like.  The more time they spend together, though, the more they can’t help but humanize one another.  With an ‘opposites attract’ dynamic, don’t be afraid of confrontation.  It’s what makes this trope so fun to read.  To keep the progression realistic, keep it slow.  Arguments that turn to debates that turn into challenging one another to look at a different perspective.  Give them at least some common morals or interests.  In order to make this combination work, they have to have a firm foundation that makes the other stuff just prat of the fun.

Tall, dark, and mysterious.  For this trope, I’m going to refer to my sister’s book: Clockmaker: A Gothic Steampunk Novel.  Lesauvage (LI) comes to Melek (MC) in need of help to transport a mysterious crate.  She doesn’t trust him and thinks him eccentric despite being attracted to him.  For this dynamic, the key is to be careful in building trust.  Often the ‘tall, dark, and mysterious’ character has trust issues because of their past, and the opposite doesn’t trust them purely based on how mysterious they are.  This makes sense.  Don’t just magically have them trust one another ‘just because’.  If they develop trust quickly, give reason to it.  Don’t make either character go against who they are just because of the other’s ‘dreamy eyes’ or other nonsense.  I’m not saying don’t have the characters get along.  They can be the exact same character type except we know more about one than the other.  Their similarities and differences are completely up to you.  Make it a journey to find more about the mysterious person.  Leave the reader wanting to know more.  Maybe some things happen where you have to question their integrity.  But when it comes to why you start to trust them, give concrete scenes and scenarios that give you a better understanding of why that person is the way they are.

From friend zone to end zone.  As the ever basic Harry Potter nerd, I have to refer to Hermione and Ron in this example.  In particular, I’d like to call out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as the crucial turning point in their relationship.  Up until that point there had been some serious hinting at the two eventually becoming an item, but this was the first time that their feelings (and jealousies) were actually vocalized, unless you count Ron being jealous of Hermione doodling little hearts in Lockhart’s lessons.  It’s important with this trope to not skip the friendship phase.  Show why they’re friends. Despite their differences, from the first book we saw that Hermione and Ron would support each other.  Just look to this quote from Sorcerer’s Stone:

“Yes – of course – but there’s no wood!” Hermione cried, wringing her hands.

“HAVE YOU GONE MAD?” Ron bellowed.  “ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?”

“Oh, right!”

It shows that even if he’s going to do it without directly complimenting her, Ron is going to believe in Hermione and push her to realize what she’s capable of.

Then, there’s the time in Prisoner of Azkaban where Ron stands up for her faults like when Snape deducts points from Gryffindor for “being an insufferable know-it-all”.  Book-Hermione is much more brash and gives off more of a stuck-up vibe than Movie-Hermione (which only makes her more three dimensional, not any less lovable).  Still, Ron stands up for her saying that Snape couldn’t ask the question if he doesn’t want to be told.  I could go on and on of more examples of the two’s developing friendship, but let your readers appreciate their friendship while desperately wanting them to get together before you finally give it to them.  This trop is especially tricky because it’s so common in real life.

Thin line between hate and love.  For this example I’m going to have to call out my favorite couple from the classic Pride & Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy.  As soon as they meet, Darcy insults Lizzie in front of all of her friends.  Just look at this quote from Elizabeth, “There are few people who I really love, and still fewer whom I think well.  The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it…”  Both of them are hard to please and have very different views from one another.  Darcy went so far as to propose, thinking that she wanted it, when she still hated him.  The two are hardly ever on the same page, and even when they are they don’t understand one another’s actions.  It isn’t until the letter where Darcy explains his thinking that Elizabeth begins to change her perception of him.  Sure, there are moments of attraction between the two before then, but Lizzie is so tight in her ways that she wouldn’t act on them when she believes herself to be so morally repulsed by him.  And, that is the key.  The only way to properly shift a ‘love to hate’ relationship to ‘hate to love’ is through experience.  Write scenes that characterize them to one another.  Give them no chance but to understand one another, even when they don’t agree.  Focus on their differences in the beginning and give way to their similarities when you need progression.  Elizabeth was not what Darcy expected from a wife, nor he what she expected out of a husband.  They learned to love one another, and that’s the biggest win to make this trope work.

Before I end this, I want to reiterate that all of these tropes should be written during plot-driven scenes.  First think of the MC and LI’s goals in the book, and figure out how they’re going to overlap one another.  Make them fall in love during the wild, crazy adventure that is your main plot, not off to the side doing whatever they want to lose your reader’s interest.  Doing this correctly can make your readers overly committed to finding out how the two’s love story ends, and doing it wrong can make the reader irritated enough to put the book back on the shelf.  Choose your trope wisely, and take the time to write it well!

Fantasy Cliches and How to Use Them by L.F. Oake

New races in fantasy books aren’t hard to find. It seems with every new series, there are new monsters or races included. Even I’ve done it with my high fantasy series, The Chronicles of Jaydür. Why? Because creating a whole world is not complete without creating new races to be a part of that world. You don’t want to be stuck using fantasy cliches. At least, not done the same way they have been done already.

The great thing about fantasy is that there are no real limitations. Whether your main character is a granite-laden gargoyle or a green-skinned elephant unicorn, anything is possible in the genre. One of my favorite things to do, though, is play with what your average fantasy reader already knows.

Take pixies, for example.

Some know them as the troublesome pests in some old Celtic myths. Others know them as just being another type of faerie. But who knows them as the dark, hairless, carnivorous creatures who are taken over by blood-lust at the scent of it? No one! Because they’re not commonly done that way–if ever done that way. But in my world of Jaydür, this is what they are. I’ve taken a perfectly recognized creature and twisted it this way and that until I had something familiar enough, but different enough to stand out.See

The killer pixies of Jaydür are now pretty well-known among my reader-base, and the focus of my most popular scene in Nahtaia: A Jaydürian Adventure.

See? It is totally possible to take something old and recognized and make it new and exhilarating for your readers!

We’ve seen it done to other familiar fantasy creatures like trolls in Shannara, or on a more extreme level, the oliphaunts in The Lord of the Rings. Seriously, how many people stop to think, “Well, gee golly. I’m going to take a random animal like an elephant and make it six times the size and throw it into war scenes. Why? Because, why the heck not? Elephants, man!” And it worked! In The Return of the King, at the battle of the Pelennor Fields, the oliphaunts were a huge deal and by far one of the most memorable scenes among movie-watchers.

Come on. You saw Legolas take that thing down by himself. It was impressive. Don’t even pretend it wasn’t.

Another way to use fantasy cliche’s in writing is what Stephenie Meyer did with vampires in Twilight. Sure, it’s not the most popular example–I know there are a few readers still irked by the whole sparkling vampire thing–but the fact is that Meyer found major success through playing with common tropes of vampires and werewolves.

Writers need to stop listening to all the “rules” thrown out into the interwebs. There is always something that one person finds annoying while another adores it!

This also opens the doors of opportunity to new readers who are trying to read fantasy for the first time in their lives. They’re the readers who don’t want their book to be saturated in new creatures and unknown concepts that a well-seasoned fantasy reader may be looking for.

Anything that’s been done before can be done again, differently, and find success. And there are still things that haven’t been done in the first place! The human mind holds insane power of imagination and we would be crazy not to use it!

So whether you’re thinking of writing the next serial killing unicorn, or sweet and cuddly zombie panda, just go for it. See what you can come up with. Let your mind play!

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More about L.F. Oake:

L.F Oake (AKA Lilian Oake) is an international bestselling author of teen and adult fantasy. She is best known for Nahtaia: A Jaydürian Adventure, which boasts a whopping 3.7 million online hits. Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, she moved to North Carolina where she writes full time and is hard at work on her next book. When she is not writing, she is educating her horde of goblins in the ways of Middle Earth and Narnia with the help of her husband.

You can find Lilian on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. She manages her personal website at www.lfoake.com and co-owns The Book Tavern at www.thebooktavern.com.

Her newest release is The Lost Voice, the first book in The Chronicles of Jaydür.

Chapter 22: Rebellion’s Song

It’s here y’all!  “You just published a book,” you’re thinking.  And you are correct!  On May 23rd I introduced you to Ethlynn, and I invite you to continue her journey on August 22nd with Rebellion’s Song.

Without spoiling too much, here are some things I’m excited to show in this story:

  1. MERMAIDS
  2. Werewolf Alpha
  3. Across the sea to Seinako
  4. MERMAIDS
  5. Wystan learning more about being a Causspri
  6. Nash and Ethlynn = the feels
  7. MERMAIDS

….

The rebellion is over. The real fight has just begun…

Recently victorious in her rebellion against the crown, Ethlynn must now keep her newly freed people alive.  Though they won their first battle, they have no functioning government or trained army, and Ethlynn’s magic alone won’t be enough to protect them.  Desperate to never wear a slave collar again, she resolves to travel with her brother Kemp to the neighboring country of Seinako to negotiate an alliance.

Flying on the back of a dragon and swimming to the ocean’s darkest depths to make deals with mermaids, Ethlynn realizes the world is far bigger than she could have ever imaged – and infinitely more dangerous.

The sorcerers of the crown are furious at her betrayal and enlist the Alpha of Esper’s deadliest werewolf pack to find her, and the huntsman doesn’t plan to bring her back alive.  It’s not enough to survive. She must win over Seinako before the new world she created comes crumbling down.  Even if that means she must become the cold-blooded killer the crown once groomed her to be…

Chapter 21: Why You Should Have a Map, Even if Your Readers Don’t

I’ve shared this map before, and I’ll do it again.  Why?  Because what you see here is the only reason I have a handle on where my series is going.  The definition of epic fantasy means that you have to create a world.  It’s some authors’ strength, and others’ weakness.  Either way, it’s necessary.

If you only have one nation that your book focuses on, you can get deluded into thinking you don’t need a map.  But, here’s the thing… your world simply won’t real the readers in.  When I mention different cities in the real world, readers instantly can picture something.  If they’re unfamiliar with the city, it’s pictures they’ve seen online.  If they’ve been there, they can even imagine the city’s smells, humidity, and general ‘feel’ that is hard to convey in writing.

For example, Hero Status by Kristen Brand takes place in Miami.  Instantly, she’s already half way through her description simply by telling you the city.  Palm trees, salty air from the ocean, sweat-inducing humidity, sun so bright you’re still squinting with sunglasses on.  Then there’s the fact that her protagonist Dave is Hispanic, so you get glimpses into the predominating culture of the area.

Now, if I mention Mereu… nothing comes to your mind.  Why?  Because it’s a city in my world for this series.  You have no predispositions about it.  I have to describe everything from the ground up.  That city is very important for one of my minor characters, Rutley, and I know that he’ll be spending more time there as the series goes on.  It shapes him.

Where your characters come from, where they would go if the chaos of your plot didn’t get in the way… all of that is important.  Even if not all of the information comes up, you should have your map written down.  Before I had it professionally created, I had a rough sketch that I used as I was writing.  It reminded me of all the possibilities of where my characters could go.

With every book in my series, a new country (sometimes more than one) is added into the thick of the plot.  I already know everything about the culture of every place I will ever mention.  Why is this important?  Foreshadowing.

I feel like I’m rambling, even though this blog post isn’t that long yet.  I just want to leave you with this message: in this world, you can type into the GPS of your phone and go wherever you want.  In the fictional world you create, it’s up to you to make that a journey for your reader rather than a ‘trip from Point A to Point B’ (aka your plot points).  Take the time.  Build your world.  It’ll help built your characters and your plot.

Write Perspective: The Scorpion Rules

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Book Description:

Greta is a Duchess and a Crown Princess. She is also a Child of Peace, a hostage held by the de facto ruler of the world, the great Artificial Intelligence, Talis. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Start a war and your hostage dies.

The system has worked for centuries. Parents don’t want to see their children murdered.

Greta will be free if she can make it to her eighteenth birthday. Until then she is prepared to die with dignity, if necessary. But everything changes when Elian arrives at the Precepture. He’s a hostage from a new American alliance, and he defies the machines that control every part of their lives—and is severely punished for it. His rebellion opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the rules they live under, and to the subtle resistance of her companions. And Greta discovers her own quiet power.

Then Elian’s country declares war on Greta’s and invades the prefecture, taking the hostages hostage. Now the great Talis is furious, and coming himself to deliver punishment. Which surely means that Greta and Elian will be killed…unless Greta can think of a way to break all the rules.

Good for people who enjoy: post-apocalyptic, LGBT protagonist, strong female lead, robot versus human

Review: What strikes me about this book is that I didn’t want to like it.  Erin Bow has a unique writing style that at first I didn’t care for, but now it’s one of my favorite things about the book.  Bow writes from the first person and very informally.  I thought it was strange, but every time I put the book down I’d pick it back up five minutes later.  Why?  The book got me thinking.

The main character Greta is someone I truly enjoyed reading about.  She’s a duchess and Crown Princess so she’s strong, but she’s also a Child of Peace and therefore weak.  She’s complex and intelligent and very diplomatic.  Throughout the book you see the world she thinks she knows shattered in front of her all because of a boy, but the way Bow goes about it is so unconventional that you’re on the edge of your seat.

Perhaps one of my favorite exchanges between Greta and the all-powerful robot overload is when she tells him that no, she’s not doing this for the boy she loves – in fact, she’s falling in love with her (female) best friend, Li Da-Xia or “Xie”, the Daughter of the Heavenly Throne. The boy Elian changed her life, not by coming in on a horse to save her, but by coming in shackled in chains to doom her.

The world Bow creates in clear cut and no-nonsense.  If her people go into war, Greta will die.  Her only concern is to do so gracefully and with honor.  In fact, the entire novel starts with one of her lifelong friends being brought to his own death.  Her thoughts?  At least he’d be proud his nation won.  When I think to Greta of that scene, and then the Greta at the end of my book, I’m so overwhelmingly impressed by such a drastic growth arc that felt so natural when reading.

I was brought very quickly into this world ruled by Artificial Intelligence.  It’s the kind of world where when you’re back brought into this one, the ‘real world’, you start thinking.  This world feels a little less real because your mind is so deeply invested in this one created by Bow.

This review is unique in that I don’t want to go more into the book, because somehow I feel like anything I can say would be a spoiler.  All I can say is that I read this book from the library, and it’s so good that I’m now buying the hardcover so that I can read it whenever I like, and you should do the same.

PURCHASE HERE TODAY!