Romance abounds in fiction—and science fiction and fantasy are full of epic romances, too. But sometimes a romance feels less like something that’s true to the characters and more like a plot device the writers threw in at the last moment. Here are eight kinds of romance that we don’t ever need to see again.
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 its A-, B-, or even C-plot. A story without romance is better than one with a bad one. It’s never good to have an audience 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!
1) 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 the characters immediately paired up with each other 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; Sawyer and Juliet in Lost.
2) Pairing Someone Off Just Because the Story’s Ending
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. And to be clear: this means when a character ends up with someone out of nowhere, not when too obvious love interests get together right before the end of a series.
This one can be more isolated, and doesn’t necessarily pair a regular character with another. Instead, as the story winds down, it seems like the writer just thinks that a neglected character deserves a love interest. It’s the lack of development that doesn’t work in this category. A last minute pairing feels as rushed. 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 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 in Buffy.
3) Putting the Romantic Leads Together Too Late
Here’s some advice: don’t rush romance, it always looks bad. This particular version is the one where we all know two characters are going to get together. It’s clearly the way the story is being told. But, instead of maturing the romance properly, the two are just slammed together when the story ends. This is especially a problem in television, when a show gets canceled, so the writers want everyone to end up in the right place, but don’t actually have the time to do it properly.
For a perfect aversion, David Eddings’ Belgariad gets Garion and Ce’Nedra married at roughly the midpoint of the series. It doesn’t ruin anything, it doesn’t drag out a revelation we all saw coming forever, and it provides a lot of fodder for the rest of the series. This is a well-planned, well-executed romance. On the other hand, Sabrina the Teenage Witch had Sabrina literally run out on her wedding to put her properly with Harvey. All because the show was suddenly ending.
See also: Simon and Kaylee in Serenity, having to wait for the movie to do this (not really the show’s fault, but still); Sam and Annie in Life on Mars; Ezri Dax and Julian Bashir in Deep Space Nine; Mulder and Scully and the X-Files had an interesting version where they thought the show was ending, but it didn’t. Had the show actually ended in season seven, it would have been textbook.
4) 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 put them together yet, as that’d bring the dreaded Moonlighting problem. And then, eureka! Just give one (or more) of the pair 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. Hmm. You know what? Don’t mess with Superman on this at all.)
If you’re wrong, you’ve got bland filler that’s attracting all sorts of fan hate just by existing. 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: Lowell in iZombie, 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.
5) “But I’ve Always Been in Love With—” *spins 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. But now it’s a character that you actually need around. Plus, there’s a risk of turning a fan-favorite into someone whose death we’re all suddenly rooting for.
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. 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 and Tigh and Caprica 6 being ones that were plot important and very, very weird.
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.
6) 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 anymore. 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, Lost.
7) Pairs Juggling
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 had this problem in spades. Astrid and Stephen? Stephen and Cara? Cara and John? Cara and Stephen?
See also: The Vampire Diaries; Once Upon a Time; Teen Wolf; Community.
8) The Leads Have No Chemistry
Just give up.
A version of this article appeared on io9 on February 14, 2013.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.