I had another topic planned for today, but instead I wanted to talk about reader expectations, reader interpretation, and “accidental romance.”
I wonder if, as readers, we’re hard-wired to look for romance in our stories, and perhaps to find them in places where the author never intended. If you read a book with a female protagonist and an attractive male character, do you automatically assume there’s a potential for romance?
Because that, I realize, bothers me. It’s sort of like buying into the idea that men and women can never truly be close friends because the potential for sexual involvement is always there. Believe me, I have a lot of male friends and I don’t think any of us have given that a single thought.
The whole notion of “accidental romance” came to me yesterday when reading a review of River Road.
It was a terrific review, and I was certainly pleased with it. But the reviewer talked about the merman Rene Delachaise as a new suitor for DJ, which kind of made me do a double-take. I’d never considered Rene in that light. (I mean, for God’s sake, DJ has WAY more suitors than she needs already and that number’s about to go down, not up.)
Rene and DJ do have an emotional journey in River Road. Their relationship starts out antagonistic, because mers, as a species, do not like wizards. DJ and Rene end up as good friends because of shared loss and a growth of mutual respect. But there are no benefits. If there were even hints at benefits, it wasn’t intentional. They don’t have any desire for benefits. There’s no serious flirting between them–they might joke or tease, but not with serious intent.
In fact, Rene’s bonking somebody else through most of the book.
So I started to wonder what I might have inadvertently done to make a reader think Rene was a potential love interest for DJ? Did making him attractive, as seen through DJ’s eyes, automatically translate to “love interest”? If he’d been unattractive, would he have been a love interest? If he’d been older? Less likable?
Or do readers just see attractive male character and attractive female character, both unattached, and automatically assume romance might be around the corner?
And, by the way, just for the record, to dispel that notion right off the bat: DJ’s neighbor Quince Randolph, who becomes a major series character in Elysian Fields, is extremely attractive. He’s interested in DJ. His interest is not returned. He is not a romantic interest, at least from DJ’s point of view, because he annoys the crap out of her and she doesn’t like him. So if you read EF and assume Rand is another potential suitor, that’s entirely on your head–LOL.
What do you think? If you read RR, did you consider Rene a potential suitor for DJ’s affections? What made you think so? Do you think we’re hardwired for romance?
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