Shop Talk: New Heroes, Old Heroes

Welcome to Shop Talk, the Wednesday feature where we chat about book stuff. Today, I want to steal a page from the latest issue of RT Book Reviews and talk about couples. You know, heroes and heroines.

Urban fantasy and paranormal romance tend to take different views on couplehood, as a general rule. Even though the two genres share a lot of DNA (no pun intended), they really are quite different to write, and one of the ways in which they differ is the way romantic interests are handled.

In most urban fantasies, it’t not only the external plot that carries over from book to book in a series. There’s usually a single central character, and the romantic entanglements of that character tend to be an ongoing subplot. Think of poor Rachel Morgan’s seriously bad love life throughout Kim Harrison’s Hollows series (Nick….I mean, Rache, what were you thinking?!). Harry Dresden pretty much has no love life, probably wise considering whoever gets close to him usually ends up in a world of danger. Mercy Thompson and Adam Hauptman are, along with Cat and Bones and Charles and Anna (from Patricia Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series), probably the most stable, long-running couples in the genre. Kitty Norville’s another fairly stable one, although I’m a few books behind with that series.

I’m also a few books behind on the Sookie series…is she still with Eric? As opposed to Bill, Alcide, Quinn, or…who else has she dawdled with over the years? Sigh. I love Eric. I did like Quinn, but Eric…

In paranormal romance, the modern pattern is to take a unit of guys, with each book in the series featuring a different hero and his love interest. There is an expectation of, if not a happily-ever-after, at least a happily-for-now. Think Black Dagger Brotherhood, where each book features a different one of the brothers. I love this model, and used it for my Penton Legacy series, with each book featuring a different hero and heroine, but an overarching storyline tying the books together.

My Sentinels books are following the urban fantasy model, and I’m already thinking that if DJ commits herself to one of the guys in her life…what do I do with the others? And how does one keep an ongoing couple interesting and growing? The break up/get back together/break up pattern doesn’t do it for me.

So what do you like? The ongoing, stable couples whose relationships keep growing and changing? Or changing heroes and heroines with each series book to keep the point of view fresh?

As always, one Shop Talk commenter will win a $10 gift card to Amazon, B-and-N, or an equivalent book from the Book Depository if international. Let’s chat!

47 thoughts on “Shop Talk: New Heroes, Old Heroes

  1. I love series with stable, long-term couples like Mercy and Adam, Anna and Charles, Kate and Curran, Toby and Tybalt, etc… Watching a relationship grow over the course of more than one book is so satisfying. I also like series where each book features a different couple but still has an ongoing story — you can get feature a lot of different characters this way. The Psy/Changeling series is probably my favorite example of that style.

    A little will they/won’t they is fine, but if you stretch it out too far and turn it into a continual “get together and break up and get together” situation or one where the heroine never picks a guy and just keeps everyone on the hook then that will make me drop a series. If you invest yourself that much in a series you expect a bit of emotional payoff.

  2. I think I like both the Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance formats. Have enjoyed both styles with the Sentinels and Penton series. Although DJ still needs to make up her mind. Easy if the series is a trilogy but can be aggravating when a series is into 12 or 13 books with no HEA.

  3. After five or six books, I get kind of annoyed with a heroine or hero who can’t make up their mind about who they’re going to HEA with…I mean, I’ve even lost faith in Stephanie Plum, and who wouldn’t love trying to decide between Joe and Ranger? I know, that’s not UF, but same concept.
    I guess that’s why I prefer PNR to UF…you have the same kind of world continuity, but with different people going through “things”. And if someone needs to have a breakup or something, they can get bumped back into the POV rotation…
    Granted, there are a lot more major life issues that a protag can face along the way…death of a loved one, parenthood, addiction, and so on, which can be interesting in the context of a character in a relationship or out of one…
    Okay, enough from me, I have to go find out Layla’s prognosis…

    • Ack. I gave up on the Stephanie Plum series for that very reason. The book that ended with her deciding who she was finally going to choose, opening the door….and the ending? I was livid!

      I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I haven’t bought Lover At Last yet. I’m now THREE books behind on that series…and Dresden…and Mercy. Sigh.

  4. I like both but I prefer long term relationships where the couple changes and grows with time and experiences the usual issues that go with being a couple. Especially in a long series a love triangle can get to be annoying.

  5. Hi Suzanne,

    I like reading both genres, though not having written them, I had never analyzed the coupling the way you have here. Makes sense!

    I prefer the paranormal romance approach, with each book having closure. That said, the ongoing couple I can’t get enough of are Roarke and Eve Dallas in J D Robb’s series. Neither of these two genres, but I love the way they support each other totally and yet each grows and evolves as an individual. Also, since the books are mysteries, each has a sense of closure.

    I also like the way the couples continue in the Penton Legacy series. As a reader, I always wonder what happens after the wedding, and in your books, we get to find out!

    Thanks for a fresh take on coupledom!


    • Thanks, Carole! I think the issue applies to any brand of romance or romantic elements. I haven’t read the JD Robb series, but mysteries lend themselves to ongoing relationships for the same reason urban fantasies do–the overarching plot or case is usually tied up to some degree at the end of the book.

  6. I agree that I prefer that UF couples be a long term, stable couple to the will-she, won’t-she type of story arc. Frankly, that’s why I stopped reading the Sookie books. I like Patricia Briggs and Ilona Andrews style of books.

    I do like the PNR style of having one couple at the end of each book as well, though. That said, I’ve kind of given up on BDB, because the growing cast of characters was driving me insane. When I found myself skipping entire passages, I said enough.

    • Yep, see earlier note on Sookie. I accepted going from Bill to Eric because, well, so would I–LOL. But then there was Alcide…then Quinn…it got a bit much. I LOVED those characters, just not the relationship-hopping.

    • Oh, and about BDB. Those first five or six books will always be my favorites and I admit I read the newer books as much to see what’s happening with the original Brothers as for the new characters.

  7. i like both genre but it’s true that in urban fantasy i prefer stable, long term couple like mercy thomspon & Adam, cat and bones or kate daniels and curran. It’s great to see how they react to what they are confronted to and to see their relationship’s evolution

    in paranormak romance we get a new cpulpke each time idon’t mind as long as in tehs ame series we still learn what happen from teh ones we saw in precedent books

    • Totally agree–I think in the ensemble books with shifting couples, it’s important to keep readers plugged in to what the previous couples are doing.

  8. I tend to favor the on-going stable couples. I enjoy seeing them grow and change over time. Some of my favorite series ever feature longterm couples. I don’t mind if a secondary couple is introduced but I definitely want to see more of the same one.

    • Yes, I kind of like what both Patricia Briggs and Jeaniene Frost have done, taking secondary characters and creating new, loosely related series with them. It’s always fun to see when Charles and Anna’s story intersects with Mercy and Adam’s.

  9. It depends on my mood if I like to read UF or PNR.

    I must say that in UF I prefer a stable couple or a couple that hasn’t gotten together yet, but you know/hope they will eventually. I don’t like man-hopping heroines and on/off relationships. I tend to mostly like the guy who in the end doesn’t get the girl when it comes to love triangles so that might explain why I don’t like the man-hopping and such.

    And yes: I’m still annoyed at Sookie for how she treated Quinn, I quit reading the books after that.

    • I kept reading a bit after that but Quinn was kind of my breaking point too…because I LOVED me some Quinn 🙂 The last book I read (can’t remember if it was one back or two), the Quinn storyline seemed to come to an end and I thought it felt hasty. Again, because I wanted him to get a better resolution.

  10. I prefer seeing the same stable couple because as you mention I like seeing the relationship grow over time for example Kate and Curran from the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews.

    As for series with changing hero/heroines every book, I tend to avoid those series usually. The only time I’d make an exception is if I’ve read a series for a long time, and the author decides to do a spinoff series with secondary characters, then I’d read it (example: Jeanine Frost, Patricia Briggs and Ilona Andrews).

    Great topic!

    • I really like both kinds, depending on whether it’s UF (same couple) or PNR (shifting couples). They’re both fun to write. With the PNR model, it’s fun to get in the heads of new characters and find their strengths and weaknesses and emotional journeys. With continuing couples, it’s more challenging because you don’t want them always having problems but also don’t want them to get boring!

    • I never knew that there were different types of structure for UF and PNR until I read this post! Very interesting. I agree on both what you said about the two different types of couples…new versus continuing.

      Do you see yourself writing a PNR Suzanne?

    • Actually, I do write a PNR series under the name Susannah Sandlin. It’s called the Penton Legacy (book titles are Redemption, Absolution, and Omega)–I had to use the different name for contract reasons. So I have a foot firmly in both urban fantasy and PNR!

  11. I actually really like both kinds but when I read Urban Fantasy it is more for the world that has been created and the action rather than the romance since that isn’t the main focus of the story. A lot of my favorite series focus on a different person each book though so I guess I lean towards that a little more.

    • I tend to read about half and half. I think romance series almost have to switch couples each book so that the book can end with that HEA or “the expectation of an HEA,” as RWA says in its guidelines. Whereas UF is just the opposite–the specific plot tends to wrap up in each book, with the relationships ongoing from book to book. It’s actually one of the criteria I use in deciding if something’s UF or PNR.

  12. I’m all about the stable couples. It’s fun to watch them both mature and grow. Learn how to compromise and seeing their love mature… some one else mentioned all my favs: Mercy and Adam; Anna and Charles; Kate and Curran; Toby and Tybalt; Roarke and Eve

  13. I tend to read both depending on my mood. I love to see relationships develop over time. Kate and Curran and Roarke and Eve are great examples. However, I love BDB, so seeing new couples develop with glimpses of the other couples is fun too! I really hope that Rachel Morgan and Harry Dresden will eventually get their HEA. They deserve it!

    • Seriously–Rachel and Harry really do need an HEA. I still have hopes for Rachel and Trent, but Harry might be hopeless unless Karin gives him a shot.

  14. Most of the books I read seem to have one couple that grows, or a love triangle. And I do enjoy that.

    But I have read some books where each book focuses on one character (and their love interest/s). And this can keep the series very fresh.

    • As I’ve been reading the comments today, I think it really breaks down along genre lines. I can’t think of a PNR that has a longstanding couple–those all seem to be in UF. Although I do think Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series straddles that UF/PNR line more than any other series I’ve read.

  15. Like different heroes/heroines in every book because I want to read an HEA in one book without waiting for it to happen over a lot of books

  16. I second everyone who has mentioned giving up Stephanie Plum because of the endless debate between the two guys. That is my go-to example series for what I can’t stand.

    • Yeah, it was fun for a few books because there was all that sexual tension, plus the books are just laugh-out-loud funny. But the Joe-Ranger-Joe-Ranger-Joe…just got tired for me. They’re still selling big, though, as far as I know, so not everyone agrees with us!

  17. I actually like ongoing, stable couples whose relationships keep growing and changing- it makes me more connected to them as characters. It just needs to be done right, with the right amount of tension to keep things interesting. 😉

    • Yes, I think those types of relationships are more challenge for authors (well, for me, anyway). Once I have DJ make a commitment, how do I keep the sizzle and tension in the relationship? It’s an issue I’m thinking about now as I ponder where her relationships might go next.

  18. I like the first kind. I think the most important is that the relationship needs to grow organically and that the characters are true to who they are and are not simply vehicles for the author to do his / her bidding.

    • True, the plot needs to move with the characters, and not vice-versa. The slow relationships do work better in UF than in PNR, though, because of the pacing.

  19. I actually like both. I like seeing steady couples and I like it when things change. The main point is that they need to be challenged, their love needs to be challenged and they should over come whatever difficulties they are facing. I even love reading about a different couple with each book cause its a new love story all over again while being in the comfort of the same world.

    • Very well said–it depends on the couple and how they react to their circumstances. The long-term couples in UF are more challenging to an author, I think, because whatever challenges the couple face have to work with the plot and not be separate.

  20. I love both! I love seeing new and different couples find love and I also like sticking with a certain character as they navigate their life. A good example is Jocelynn Drakes Dark Day’s series, and Adrian Phoenix Maker song series. These were both my first introduction to Urban Fantasy and also hooked me to this genre. I loved being able to see the relationships blossom and having it plotted out over several books, just hooked me more with how much more in depth it was and how much more you rooted for them to finally get together

    • Yes, I tend to like my long-term relationships in UF and the shifting couples in PNRs. I thought the Dark Days series did that well (unfortunately, I haven’t read the Adrian Phoenix series).

  21. For UF I like reading the same couple and watching how their relationship changes and grows.I haven’t read any UF with different couples in each book as yet but I’m sure i’ll enjoy it since I love stories that end with a HEA

    • You know, since we started this discussion, I’ve realized that there AREN’T any urban fantasies with shifting heroes, at least not that I’ve seen. There’s always a central character–male or female–that’s followed throughout the series. (Unless, like Sookie, the heroine sleeps around a bit.) So I guess that’s a real way to tell the difference between an urban fantasy and a paranormal romance!