On another of these whims of mine, I've decided to make a blog describing the Fundamentals of Love. I've got to lay it out there in the open, I friggin' love a good romance, to me, there's nothing more exciting than a solid, well-written romance story. So, with this in mind, I've read through several romances on this wikia; and to be fair, almost all of them are pretty shallow.
The general belief here seems to be one of two scenarios. The first being that to have a good romance you need for the male lead to want to protect the female lead, and that he goes to great lengths to save her from evil threats and the likes pursue the love in the classical but grossly clichè "save the princess" type of story. There are a few deviations from this cliche in the story, particularily in regards to the personality quirks of the characters. This is not enough to counteract the cliches though.
The second, and the one most commonly used is to have the character travel together and suddenly start developing feelings for one another, these feelings intensity, with both characters typically being too stubborn to admit that they're in love-love with one another, and that they're meant to be together, and they should be married in the morning and more blah! You know, classical disney love.
So, I'm gonna offer my own opinions on what makes a good fanfiction romance. I've got no clue on exactly how many fanfiction romances I've read through, but I can with certainty say that its well above three dozen. I'll list several examples to what I consider to be good and enjoyable romances. Obviously, due to my sexual orientation, all of these examples are gay romances, but this fact is mostly irrelevant, cause the same underlying fundamentals apply to all different romances. No matter the genders or orientation of the characters involved.
I'll list the main examples first, as it allows me to refer back to them as I continue onward with this particular blog of mine, I'll provide links too, incase someone would like to read them as well. I'll describe in length about each of these examples, and what I personally found to be enjoyable.
My first example is Grant My Wish, which tells the story of how a young pianist named Yusuke falls inlove with the unhappy and emotionally crippled boss of the resident Yakuza Family; Hikaru Fukami. Many of you have heard about stories where love conquers all, and broken souls are mended and they all live happily ever after.
Grant My Wish, is not one of these stories. The personality flaws of Fukami are treated as serious obstacles, and for the most part they're never truly overcome. Yusuke has to constantly find ways to work around them, in order to get even the slightest amount of response from Fukami. But when he gets a response, they're usually wildly unpredictable: tempered by chaotic mood swings and dangerous impulsiveness. Varying from random signs of affection, sultry suggestions and general friendliness to death threats, mockery and even physical assault. These things happen at all points in the storyline, no matter how far the two main characters have come in terms of their... associationship - which for the most part appears to be two steps forward, and three steps backwards, with the occassional random sprint offering the only amount of progress in the story.
As you might've guessed, what makes this a compelling romance is the fact that its a clash of two worlds, the young honest Pianist is suddenly thrown headfirst down into the heart of organized crime and forced to contend with dangerous people on a daily basis, simply because of the fact that he loves that one guy. The fact that it seems almost impossible, due to how broken a man Fukami actually is, makes it even more worthwhile, and makes every single step Yusuke makes, no matter how small or insignificant only serve to add to the evergrowing tension and suspense.
The second example is a Fanfic called Chrysalis, and this particular fanfic is pretty thematic; being a Bleach Fanfiction and all. Chrysalis takes place in an Alternate Universe where Shinigami don't exist, basically, the real world. Its a romance centered around Ichigo and Grimmjow. Now, there's a ton of IchiGrimm romances flood the net but most of them are pretty bland and simplistic, dealing with love at first sight, instant attraction and smutty scenes and what have you; basically the things that we don't want to mention.
Chrysalis doesn't do this, because it spends alot of time exploring the pasts of the main characters, they're given solid backstories which explain their emotions, their personalities and generally why they act like they do. The story focuses more closely on Grimmjow than Ichigo, primarily because by explaining his past, one can also explain the past of Ichigo. In this alternate universe, Grimmjow is the only child of an incredibly wealthy family of German-descent whom pride themselves in their high status, achievements and wealth. Due to how busy his family is, Grimmjow hardly never meets his parents and is largely watched over by his stern nanny and on top of this , he's constantly put under constant pressure by his hard working parents, who expect him to become just as successful as they are. As a contrast to Grimmjow we have Ichigo, a boy who lives with a loving family, has two siblings and whose parents are both caring and enthusiastic.
Grimmjow and Ichigo go to the same elementary, and Grimmjow, being wealthy and well-liked quickly get on the good sides of all his classmates and used that to his advantage, using his school as his personal playground to deal with his dysfunctional parents. Along comes Ichigo, whom reminds Grimmjow of everything he doesn't have, in particular in regards to Ichigo's mother, whom treats him with the tenderness and motherly love that Grimmjow's own mother doesn't - so he made it his mission to make Ichigo's life hell, with intense feelings of envy being the focus. This lasts for three years, and they don't see one another again before high school, at which point Grimmjow attembs to crush him once again - but finds that since Ichigo has gotten friends now, he can't hurt him anymore.
The actual romance is very long, as it takes time for them to move past their past animosity to become friends, and even more time after that to become more than friends; and throughout the whole fanfic - Grimmjow's past actions come back to haunt him time and time again. Particularily in form of the fact that Grimmjow came in contact with the wrong people somewhere after elementary school, and that his past cruelties towards Ichigo still affects their relationship greatly.
My third example, and one of the most unique solutions to making a romance compelling is the Memories fanfic. This one is unique among its predecessors in that the romance has already taken place before the start of the actual story; wait.. what? Alright, I'll explain it - much like Chrysalis, Memories is based in the actual world and centers around Zoro and Sanji, whom met two years prior to the start of Memories and became a couple after a year or so.
When I mention tragedy in a romance I asumme you're thinking about some Romeo and Juliet-related stuff or whatever; this is not the kind of tragedy it is. Memories main plot is that Sanji was involved in a very serious car crash which sent Sanji into a year long coma, and that he wakes up in the first chapter - but that he suffers from an intense amnesia, which has effectively erased all his memories of the last two years and of Zoro.
This creates a very crappy situation, and I must admit a most interesting premise for the actual story. As now Zoro has to make Sanji fall inlove with him all over again, and more than that, inform him that they're in fact living together and that Sanji, whom have completely forgotten all about Zoro, is actually not straight. The degree of angst and suspense is huge, but even so - it doesn't weaken the central elements to the story at all.
What makes Memories a good romance is that its original and elaborate, with fleshed out side characters and a compelling storyline. Its also good because it has used exactly the right amount of angst, enough that the readers empathize with Zoro and his plight, but that we don't find him whiny or pathetic; and thus turn to admire him and his inner strength, that allows him to make the best of such a cruel turn of events.
My last example is Second Chances; and this story is one of my all time favorites to date, because it has such an unique and awesome setting - its based on Final Fantasy VIII, whom happens to be one of my favorite Final Fantasy games of all time and overall follows the story of the game. With one excellent plot twist - in the first chapter Seifer Almasy is sentenced to death and executed for his crimes and actions in the actual game; but some unknown entity gives him a second chance to right his mistakes. He takes it, and that is how the story begins.
Second Chances roughly follows the events and story of the actual game, but with the inclusion of Seifer as the main character and the inclusion of a new original character developed by the authors of the fanfic - a character who turns out to be surprisingly fleshed out and innovative. As probably any former player of the actual game should've assumed by now - the romance of the story is between Seifer and Squall Leonheart, The romance itself has alot of buildup and Seifer and Squall do infact have chemistry. A term I'll elaborate more on later.
The great thing with Second Chances is that beyond being a pretty good romance, is the fact that it has alot of action - as it takes place during the actual plot of the game, which leads to the male leads bonding in combat and makes for a very intriguing and elaborate plotline of its own. Its also interesting how Seifer uses his prior knowledge of how the story will unfold to effectively force change.
As for the romance itself, its much more simple than most, but its done so well and paced so effectively that it doesn't really matter; also with all that happens around the main characters it feels less like a common romance and more like a grand-scale adventure story with romance as an important subplot. Which I found that I enjoyed quite much.
I'm using Void's system for this one, please don't sue me pal! Anyway, the first fundamental part of any successful romance story is to keep in mind a characters various strengths and weaknesses; and as you've probably guessed by now, this has very little to do with how strong they are physically, or what kind of powers they have; unless of course those very same powers are how the romance was started in the first place, or if they have some significant bearing on the storyline and all. So, I'll list a collection of points here before I go on, in these points I will explain some of the classical mistakes made by users, especially in regards to female characters. These are archetypes you should make sure to stay away from with a girl, cause tell you what, most girls are hardly like this.
The Sweet Chick: Allow me to present to thee the most hated, most unrealistic and most boring archetype you can possibly include in your story. This is a character with zero personal drive, zero purpose without serving as the heart of a group; she's there to provide some redundant contrast to the hero, she'll eventually warm him up and they'll live happily ever after. This is just a load of bullshit if I'm gonna be entirely honest, anyone whom has ever met or been in a relationship with a woman, whether romantic or otherwise knows that they're nothing like this. Sure, they may pretend to be this - but all of them have some sort of distinct personality trait, and they do have alot of drive in general. Probably even more so than most of us guys, so why insult an entire gender by creating something like this - this is the kind of woman you'd expect in a 50's Romance Story, not in a fanstory written in 2012-2013! To provide a good example, Orihime fulfills this archetype down to the very last letter, and we all just adore her don't we: pssh, give me a break, most of us don't think she's worth shit The reason for this is that she's a very boring character, whose only saving grace is the fact she can heal injuries and make suggestive noises and poses all the time, and of course yell "K-Kurosaki-kun".
The Victim: This is another highly popular archetype, and like the former, this is almost always a girl, though it can also be a guy, depending on the tone of the story. I'm certain we're all familiar with the well-known cliche of love conquers all, right? This is such a case, the victim is a character who is emotionally broken, very damaged and often unpredictable. They've been abused alot in the past, went through hell numerous times and generally experienced alot of misfortunes and bad things, but then something happens a sudden light of love begins to illuminate their life! And poof, all those troubles are suddenly made secondary to the blossoming love and the fantastic joy it brings to their wonderful, merry and abruptly perfect life. I don't think I have to talk about what makes this utterly ridicolous. Psychological trauma is incredibly hard to deal with, as I'm sure many of us can sadly attest to as every single one of us has some heavy luggage. These characters are primarily of the "fix me" type, despite the fact that in many of these cases - they simple cannot be fixed; and should never be, provided they were realistically portrayed. If you want a character with a dark and brooding past, that's fine, just make sure to stick to it throughout the entire story and make sure it has some lasting impact on them one way or the other. This archetype can also apply to horrible newcomer characters whom are given a horrible past to ensure that people feel sorry for them and then automatically like them. I'll take this time to bitch abit about the Nozomi character presented in the Reigai Arc - she had some issues, but they were hardly ever taken seriously and simply presented a reason for her to be a bitch. This is especially important because in Nozomi's case, this behaviour kinda lead her into Mary Sue territory, with how everyone constantly tried to help and never gave up with her despite the fact that she physically abused Kon, was a cold-hearted slut to pretty much everyone else on the cast; yet Ichigo made it his life mission to help her out.. simply because.
The Damsel/Dude in Distress: This one is less used nowadays, because of how much of a fairy tale concept it is. At any rate, we all know the story about a beautiful princess being locked away in a tower, a castle or somewhere else and guarded by some terrible beast of some sort, an army, the law - whatever. So, why is this bad for a romance? Romance requires equality, both parts need to be just as good, to be just as vulnerable; after all, if one of them is a victim that means that they're not equal, it means that their roles are not equal and it means that the relationship ain't really equal either. There are ways to subvert this, such as when Tea was kidnapped in that fanfic Void mentioned, she didn't just sit back and whine and scream and beg for mercy; or was really that scared, no, she used cunning to break free from her bindings and thus saved herself, afterwards - she wound up saving Kaiba and the other ones whom had decided to show up to rescue her, this reversal of roles is the kind of nice twist which is important in romances. Have some dynamics, don't simply make use of the old boring cliche of: Boy meets girl, boy has supernatural powers, girl doesn't, and if she has, they're weaker than the boys own and is powered by love and support! Anyway, make sure they're equal - the other part doesn't need any supernatural powers of their own, they can simply be normal, simple people, but make sure they can take care of themselves one way or the other, we don't need more Orihimes who just stand around and do next to nothing, beyond looking sweet and whisper "<Insert male protagonist name here>-kun". Also, ask yourself, if some random stranger saved you from some danger, would you just immediately throw yourself around his/her neck and swear to love that person forever and ever? I most certainly would not - and I most likely wouldn't immediately fall in love with such a person either, even if I would be very grateful. Of course, Kubo adores this concept.. and he takes it much too far in that he made the most powerful female character, presumeably after Unohana into a damsel in distress. Cause lets be honest here, Tier Harribel as a helpless prisoner-woman needing to be saved... yeah, right.
By now, I'll assume most have figured out that the strength in regards to a romance has nothing at all to do with the powers of the characters themselves, unless of course as I briefly alluded to before, those very same powers are the reason they met in the first place. What I'm talking about is strength of personality - the stronger the personality of the characters, the better the romance is - there is a certain variety to this, but it only works one way.
Its possible to have one character be alot more complicated than the other character, and make it work - but this requires that the complicated character is the secondary character, in essence the other part of the story and not the main character him/herself. This is the approach employed in Grant My Wish - Fukami is the character who has the great personality and past; Yusuke, the main character is actually more of a normal everyday person, in many stories this would make him boring. But as far as this romance goes, it works very well, he doesn't have that big of a personality on his own; but the interaction between these two people whom essentially come from two entirely different worlds is just breathtaking. That is what I'm talking about, as Void pointed out in the comments, romance is not about the final result, its about the journey itself - how they got there, the interactions between the characters, the difficulties and challenges their romance faces and et cetera, et cetera.
I'll continue talking about strength of personality now, and I'm gonna do this by talking about the appeal of certain fanon pairings or "ships" as they're most commonly called, what kind of values people see in those characters and why they're likeable and why people make fanfiction depicting them. My first order of business is to talk about the characters presented in various Bleach fanfiction romances, in essence some popular shipping options. I'm gonna try to analyze their characters from a romantic point of view, to find out what kind of appeal they hold for the readers, figure out how they'd flow in the story and why some is prefered over others.
Orihime: I'll start with Hime, I feel that alot of the appeal that this girl has comes from the fact that she, like Ichigo is kinda relateable to alot of teenager girls, just like Ichigo is for boys. She's that shy, kindhearted girl at the back of the class, whom longs for the more popular guy whom, while being generally nice to her never really seems to notice her feelings. For several girls, her agreeable personality kinda allows them to insert themselves in her place, they want to experience the world of Bleach through her eyes and use that to learn something, she's sorta Kubo's take on a Shojo heroine, seen from the perspective of Kubo, which is obviously rather biased and misplaced. I'll say right now that part of the reason I dislike Orihime is a combination of several factors, the first in line among these is that during the first part of the series, up until just after the Soul Society Arc. Orihime was actually a likeable character, I might not agree with how Kubo portrayed her but I could at the very least get invested in her and kinda see how the whole IchiHime thing could work out.
Orihime started out as a simple soft-spoken girl, that, while she had a crush on Ichigo was actually rather likeable in her own way, even though she doesn't fight at all and is pretty much the healbot of the entire show; I didn't mind that as much in the begining, because her pacifism actually had some correlation to her backstory, which appearantly includes severe parental abuse. But beyond this, she had courage and determination in her - she shielded Ichigo, with her own body no less, from being killed by Acidwire. I found that to be very impressive, Acidwire is a Hollow, she would be powerless if her brother hadn't still existed somewhere inside him? When she was revealed to expert hand-to-hand capabilities and used them to take down two Shinigami, that was also kind of nice, it proved that she was actually helpful beyond merely looking cute and having healing powers; and that is a trait I believe to be of absolute neccessity in a love interest, he/she should in some way or manner be important to the story.
Of course, while she started out decently, as time went by and we reached the Arrancar arc she just seemed kinda useless all of a sudden; she had become the damsel in distress, and unlike Rukia - that became all she was, she didn't have any other defining traits at that point, and for a time I hoped she would use her unique powers to destroy or erase the Houkyoku; but even that was a false lead, she spent the entirety of that arc being thrown around like an unwanted present and moaning "K-Kurosaki-kun" over and over, and of course make erotic noises... that kinda sounds like she's constantly in the process of being violated by a broomstick?
Conclusion, if you want an example of a good female romance character, Orihime is probably not a good role model at all, she's far too lenient, has no goals of her own, has always had little to no actual personality and her past matters less and less, and above all else: She doesn't love Ichigo, if she truly did - then Tsukishima could never have managed to control her mind like he did, she didn't believe Ichigo a single moment and had resolved to fight him, without even caring about her own memories of him. She's a terrible friend, and would've made a horrible romance option for him. I remember in the fanfic Memories that I talked about before, Sanji, even after having lost two full years of his life; still remembered Zoro, even though he had no memories of him, he still felt oddly at ease being around him and they instantly reconnected, simply by the bond of Sanji's powerful emotions - of course, the latter had to get to know Zoro anew but the connection was still there, the strength of his emotion eventually allowed him to reconcile with his past and accept that his emotions hadn't forgotten, even if his mind had.
Rukia: This short woman is probably one of the best female side characters in the history of Shonen manga, she's tomboyish, is highly interesting and she's among the few female characters whom have actually done something over the course of the story. Much like Orihime, Rukia seemed like a pretty interesting character right off the bat, and she was - she had an amusing personality, she drew the attenton of the reader and she was rather important to the actual story. However, unlike Orihime, Rukia didn't only stay interesting over the course of the entire story - but she even grew more powerful, enough so that she later fought and defeated a wide variety of powerful enemies; Rukia's skills and strengths as a character has always been far greater than that of most other supporting characters in Ichigo's group, she's always been dependable, she's always been interesting and she's always had something to offer to the team as a whole; and unlike most, she has more than a single thing that she's good at.
Lets look back to the first few chapters, Rukia gave almost all of her powers to Ichigo and was placed in a Gigai by Urahara. But despite the fact that she had given away so much of her powers that she was largely incapable of maintaining a coherrent spiritual form, she was still far from useless. Her superiour intelligence and knowledge of Hollows, Zanjutsu and other elements of Shinigami combat proved to aid Ichigo greatly, and if not those things were enough? She had the power to inflict some serious damage and perform a wide array of different tasks through the use of her prowess with Kido. A fact that made her irreplaceably useful to Ichigo, had it not been for her magic he wouldn't have been capable of doing most of what he did. Rukia thus served as a guide of sorts, both to Ichigo but perhaps first and foremost to us, the actual readers of the story. Ichigo didn't have to come and save her constantly, like how he sometimes needed to take care of Orihime, no, Rukia was perfectly capable of taking care of herself at all times and I think this is one of the many reasons that alot of people ship IchiRuki. Rukia isn't merely a pretty face, she's a clever young woman, an equal if you will - a woman you can trust and rely on in a relationship.
So, I'll analyze what I think people find appealing with Rukia, as I mentioned before, Rukia - unlike her ditzy counterpart Orihime is both competent, interesting and highly useful as an ally. She's so useful in fact, that if she hadn't given all her powers to Ichigo during the first few chapters, she would've easily destroyed any opponent Ichigo faced in battle, without question. Her first action upon fully recovering her powers, was to easily dispatch an Adjuchas-level Arrancar, without breaking a sweat - while Ichigo was preoccupied being sexually assaulted and manhandled by the great.. evil... cruel and oddly crazy Chappy the Bunny! Anyway, Rukia is wise, intelligent, charming and has excellent chemistry with Ichigo for the most part. People always enjoy her and she, unlike Orihime actually does something, which is empowered by the fact that when she was brought to Soul Society I actually hoped Ichigo would save her, because I had come to appreciate her as a character, but later, when the same thing happened to Orihime.. I felt nothing at all.
So, what does this all mean?
It means that to have a good romance, one of the first things you've gotta have in order is the characters and their specific background and personalities. However, if you're lazy and just want to write a random sweet deviation to your normally action-filled storyline and all, here's my response to you:
Alright, so some users think that they need to add a random romance into their story to make it more interesting and all, and to be fair, that's a good idea in theory. But, while a romance can serve to spice up the story quite abit, and serve to add some extra oomph to the story, many writers, especially young amateur ones quite like ourselves tend to vastly understimate the difficulty of creating a good romance, while they grossly overstimate their own story-telling capabilities.
This usually results in a dramatically weakened storyline, whose purpose remains largely indiscernible. They add alot of random plot elements, a half-assed love interest with a personality about as engrossing and facinating as a billboard and poorly constructed last-minute fight scenes and villains and they somehow expect it to work out? So, what is my point, beyond insulting pretty much every single storyline written over the course of TBF or BFF of course... meh, you'll see in a moment.
As a general rule, anything that can aid a story also has the potential to weaken it, or perhaps even ouright ruin it if handled poorly; a bad romance can accomplish this faster than pretty much any other element. They're characterized by a wide variety of differing factors, the most common one include overwhelming sappyness, below I'll include a quote of a conversation I overheard a few years ago while roleplaying in WoW. This is roughly how it was.
"....If you're gonna break up with me then you might as well kill me now, cause I can't even hope to go on without you.. so, please kill me... my only love.. or take me back in your arms and hold me again"
...Yeah, I'm not kidding you at all, that was precisely what I overheard those two lesbians talking about; this is a classical attempt at trying to make something sound romantic and failing miserably, honestly - not even Twilight would have a character talk like that, its just that sappy and lame. Anyhow, I'm certain I don't have to explain why this is bad - cause unless the character herself was incredibly needy and/or psychotic, stupid and likely deaf, there would be no way in hell that she would say such a thing. Not to mention the overwhelming likelihood that the only real 'romance' that occured between the two girls were randomly meeting and screwing their brains out; and that the next meeting one of the girls falls out she's in love-love with the gal she's known for a whole 2 hours!
Granted... I'm guilty of this myself, I'll post a quote with me being sappy in a roleplay on WoW - it was my character towards a female character. I should've suspected I was gay at that point, cause quite frankly its obvious I didn't give a crap.
""...You know, Chela.. I think the stars and the moon are jealous of your beauty"