Romance abounds in fiction — and science fiction and fantasy are full of epic romances too. But sometimes, it's just a bad idea. We see so many fictional couples that the writers clearly thought were a great idea, but are actually disasters. Here are the main signs that a fictional romance is a terrible, awful, bad idea.
Look, we all know that writing believable romance is hard. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to admit that not every story needs a relationship as it's A, B, or even C plot. A story without romance is better than one with a bad one. I'm so, so tired of thinking "Hey, these characters are solid, the story's fun – oh, oh no. Stop it. Where'd this relationship even come from?!"
These unconvincing relationships fall always seem to fall into the same patterns. Below are the ones to avoid, and the reasons they're just awful. When you see these happening, bail. And if it can go into more than one of these categories? Go directly to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
SPOILER WARNING: Since this discusses characters who end up together and characters who break up, there are spoilers. SPOILERS STARTING RIGHT NOW!
Pairing the Spares
I'm just going use the TV Tropes name for this one, because I always hear it in my head, just like Voldemort saying "Kill the spare." Because that's how bad this trope is.
Does everyone have to end up paired off for there to be a happy ending? Even Shakespeare occasionally left some people unmarried at the end of his plays. It's like people think romance is some sort of closed system, with no external matter allowed. There are other people in the world. We do not need to see them immediately paired up to believe they'll be okay.
Top honors in this category goes to Enchanted for Nancy and Edward, who stand as an example of the particularly egregious practice of pairing off the exes of the protagonists.
See also: Martha Jones and Mickey in Doctor Who; Twilight; Doggett and Reyes in The X-Files; Oliver and Chloe in Smallville
Oh, Shit, the Story's Ending. . . Um, I Guess They're a Pair Now
This is closely related to the above, although that version has a more intense need to make sure that everyone's paired off with each other. This one can be more isolated, and doesn't necessarily pair a regular character with another. Instead, it seems like, as the story winds down, the writer just thinks that a neglected character deserves a love interest. It's the lack of development that bugs me in this category. Although, the above-pictured couple hit the trifecta of last-minuteness, lack of chemistry, and just plain stupidity.
See also: The movie versions of Faramir and Éowyn in The Lord of the Rings; Leela and Andred from Doctor Who (ends her story); Pen and Cinnaminson from Terry Brooks' Shannara Series; Principal Wood and Faith, Buffy
Hi New Guy, Welcome to the Love Triangle
Congratulations! You've got two actors with great chemistry that the fans want to see together. But you can't them together yet, that'd bring the dreaded Moonlighting problem. And then, brilliance! Just give one (or more) of the pairing a different love interest.
Dear writers: Please stop doing this. Please stop introducing new characters with the sole personality trait of "obstruction to the couple everyone knows will end up together." Please stop telling us before they show up that you think we'll really like them. If you're right, you've got your protagonist breaking a perfectly good person's heart (See: Richard, Superman Returns) OR you end up committing character assassination in order to make that character bad and therefore absolve your protagonist of any blame. (See: Jason Teague in Smallville)
If you're wrong, you've got bland filler that's attracting all sorts of fan hate just through their existence. If they're lucky, the audience ends up forgetting they were ever even there. That's what happens when you write a plot point rather than a person.
Special shout-out to the comic-based media properties who have a tendency to give this character a well-known comics name, but none of their interesting comics personalities. Sorry, Spider-Man 2's John Jameson and The Incredible Hulk's Leonard Samson, you weren't quite well known enough to compensate for your on-screen blandness.
See also: Lauren Reed in Alias; Viktor Krum and Lavender Brown in Harry Potter; Groo in Angel; Atherton Wing and Tracey Smith in Firefly; Shakaar in Deep Space Nine; Asha Barlow in Dark Angel; Lou/Jill/Hannah/Shaw from Chuck; Kocoum in Pocahontas; Martouf in Stargate SG-1; Pete Shanahan in Stargate SG-1 (who, despite being engaged to Sam Carter, I only remembered as "that guy, you know, that one"); Smallville, just, Smallville all the time
What are you talking about? I've always been in love with *spins roulette wheel*
This is when two previously established characters end up together out of nowhere. It can be closely related to the above category, substituting an established character for a new character. At least in this case, the characters have already existed, so they're not starting as a plot point. On the other hand, using a character this way invites the same character-assassination-or-protagonist-heartbreaker conundrum as the new character. And when it's a character that hadn't previously shown any real interest in, or chemistry with, their new partner, chances are that there's some serious revamping of their character involved in making this work. Plus, there's a risk of turning a fan-favorite into someone whose death we're all suddenly rooting for.
And when two characters are just pushed together without any previous interaction, a writer is lucky if the audience is merely confused, rather than shocked and appalled. (Manfully restraining myself from re-using Seven of Nine and Chakotay's photo here.)
The later seasons of Battlestar Galactica were particularly prone to this trap. Dualla and Lee fall into the first category, and Tigh and Caprica 6 into the second.
See also: Lex Luthor and Lana Lang, Smallville; Harry and Ginny (for some) in Harry Potter; Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks, Harry Potter; Galen Tyrol and Cally Henderson in Battlestar Galactica; Worf and Deanna Troi, Star Trek: TNG
The Romance Kudzu
All you wanted to do was add a little romance to your story. Just for color. To make the world more believable. But suddenly, it's taken over everything. You can't beat it back. The original intention can't even be seen any more. Instead, the romance has overtaken everything, leaving the landscape unrecognizable. That's the Romance Kudzu, consuming everything it can.
The first Matrix movie had the opposite problem, putting a one-sided romance in at the end. The second and third? Hoo, boy. Back! Back, Romance Kudzu!
Minor variation: There's a romance for no reason, which is so distracting it detracts from everything. An out of place Romance Topiary, if you will. The bland dude/bland mermaid relationship in Pirates of the Caribbean 4, for example.
See also: Wheel of Time; We Can Build You by Phillip K. Dick; Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy (2005 movie); Farscape season 4
This isn't just a love triangle. Instead, this is when the writers aren't really sure where they want the characters to end up, so they keep all the balls in the air. Every pairing's a possibility! Everyone loves everyone! We'll just wait for the audience to tell us which ones they like. Or for the actors to develop chemistry. Or for the tea leaves to finish steeping. Just don't force us into a decision, we're not ready! Characters pair up, break up, form new pairings, break those up, go back to each other . . . eventually someone has to walk away, right? Or, in the alternative, no one ever gets together, they just all alternately stare longingly at some and glare jealously at others.
By all accounts, the new Tomorrow People's got this problem. Astrid and Stephen? Stephen and Cara? Cara and John? Cara and Stephen?
See also: The Vampire Diaries; Emma, Hook, and Neal in Once Upon a Time; Teen Wolf; Community
The Leads Have No Chemistry
Just give up.