Most fiction readers separate into two camps. Some want or at least don’t mind love stories or sexual situations in the books that they reads. Others really don’t want sexual tension or issues in their stories. As a reader and an author, I fall into the first camp. Although not all stories need or can tolerate a love interest, I generally like love or lust in fiction.
Big stories sometimes call for big relationships
Epic tales that involve young heroes and heroines and with narrative arcs that span years would seem quite lacking if no one ever had relationships. The passionate details of a character’s personal life can inject more emotion and tension into a story. The stakes are high on the front lines and on the home front. Will he get killed? Will she get caught?
Fictional characters with sex lives come across as realistic
Critics might argue that using romance to heighten the emotional stakes detracts from an otherwise gripping narrative or that the romance is used to hide a lackluster story. I’m not sure how an affair, fling, intense romance, or even marriage would detract from a good story. Giving characters sex lives, or at least the desire for sex or love, increases the depth of a character. Realistically, most people are involved in a relationship or at least vaguely interested in having one if the opportunity presents itself.
Bad choices for flawed heroes
Love affairs in stories can also be used to make a hero flawed. This can be dangerous territory as an author because I want to create someone you want to root for and then give him some disappointing traits. I might infuriate a reader. I might lose a reader, or a reader might soldier on alongside a character after coming to forgive him or her. Either way, I’ll at least know that I provoked emotion within a reader, and for that I can be proud.
Authors making readers angry
Trust me, I know how hard it can be to have a beloved character commit adultery. The Poldark Series written by Winston Graham and adapted for British Television (spoiler alert if you keep reading) took a devastating turn when Ross cheated on Demelza with Elizabeth. I stopped the series for a few weeks because I just couldn’t stand what had happened. Eventually, I had to go back to the series. The whole story had made the encounter between Ross and Elizabeth inevitable. Now I had to go back and find out how things worked out with Demelza, who was truly the love of Ross’s life.
I know from my own writing, that I made choices for characters in the Rys Rising series that caused readers difficulty. My young hero Cruce, who is age 18 to 21 in the saga, becomes involved with a married woman. He remains involved with her even after he tries to forget his feelings for her and gets married. So his continued dalliances are doubly adulterous.
I cast his moral failures against the setting of terrible war and calamity for his people. He fights valiantly to defend his people and he is openly regarded as a hero by the public. Although readers might be quick to judge him for being a terrible boyfriend/husband, I wrote him from the perspective of a young man under pressure who might not be making good choices.
I think it’s entirely realistic that a 20-year-old would cheat on a lover.
Also, as the Rys Rising series progresses, Cruce is suffering from cumulative trauma from the war. He soothes himself with sex and drinking.
As an author, my ultimate goal is to make readers feel at least something and hopefully many things. I want you to be happy, sad, angry, offended, and begging for more.
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Excerpt from New Religion: Rys Rising Book III
Outside the walls, Ajel stopped while other men and women streamed past her. The approaching militiamen were staggering with exhaustion. She guessed at the horrible trials they had gone through to reach her remote home. Desperately she scanned their haggard faces and sighed with relief when she finally spotted Cruce.
Grizzled and with dark circles around his eyes, he looked older. She noted too the foreign armor. The blood and mud spattered on it created a jarring contrast to its striking beauty. With a strange sword swinging from his hip with every stride, he looked the quintessential warrior with the gore of his enemies fresh upon his powerful body. He embodied all that was strong and fierce in men, projecting the horror of violence and the sad necessity of it.
When their eyes finally met, relief quivered on his face. To see his raw concern for her and Brayten beckoned her as a woman. Her attraction for him had always been undeniable, and now she feared that it was enduring.
Cruce stopped and they gazed at each other. People crossed between them but their connection did not break. Ajel finally looked away from the open doorway of his passion.