The Pitfalls of Writing Romance

So recently, Lauren Zuke, one of the writers of Steven Universe, made this statement on their Tumblr:

I can’t speak for any other writers or artists, or the show’s intention, none but my own– but lapis and peridot, I wanted to create the experience of a growing queer relationship. Again- this is only my intention. Can’t speak for anyone else! Many people are writing those episodes. But. I don’t want to have people have to sit down and put together puzzle pieces to see if they were represented. Not in this day and age. That game is so tiring. As for amethyst and peridot, again, this is only my writing intention, I wanted the feeling of a “first time crush” that you go on to then be close intimate friends. Anyone who wants to see the narrative they want is completely, 100% allowed to.

But I wanted to close the book on this- I am queer, and intend fully to write queer characters when I do.

And it raises a lot of alarms.

For starters, it’s pretty clear that the writers are not unified or have cohesive communication AT ALL, and gives the implication that the show is being written on the fly. Shouldn’t the entire crew be on board on what relationships to develop? What if another writer wanted to make another pairing canon? That’s not good.

Secondly, while it is commendable to want more LGBT relationships, and I’m so glad that Zuke is proud of being queer, why not just settle with Peridot and Amethyst? They had good chemistry and interactions, it seems kind of pointless to build it up only to diffuse it later. And I don’t see how you can call them ‘close intimate friends’ since they barely interact anymore.

And lastly, and I’m sorry, but Lapis and Peridot are NOT a growing relationship. At all. Literally after an episode of hostility they’re immediately besties. Whenever they’re onscreen it’s just fluffy domestic interactions.

And the worst part is? The pairing is seriously harming both characters.

Who is Lapis? Why was she in the middle of a battlefield? What’s her connection to Blue Diamond? What did she mean when she said “do you even know who I used to be”? Who cares! She’s just Peridot’s love interest now. Peridot has been sucked of all charm and likable mischievousness so she can be all cutesy with Lapis. In other words, they’ve been bowdlerized in order to make them an appealing, inoffensive pairing.

This kind of plugs into a bigger problem with media as a whole: how romantic relationships are often forced to fit the writer’s preferred couples (even if it contradicts canon), and/or how one character’s only purpose is to become a love interest.

This happens a lot in animation. While Disney movies generally do a good job establishing well rounded characters with believable romantic chemistry (even if they do get together quickly), a lot of Disney knockoff films would force in a romantic pairing between the main two characters because why the shit not. Who cares if the characters don’t really get along or barely get any relationship development, kids love romance and Disney always has a couple, so our movie will be a hit!

Animated shows often have a lot of trouble with canon couples, mainly because they go on for a long time and have multiple writers. A great example would be Avatar: The Last Airbender. The creators of the show, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, wanted Aang and Katara to be together since the very beginning, which is fine, but they made Katara very mature and motherly and for most of the series she never really reciprocates Aang’s feelings for her. Meanwhile, other members of the creative team (mainly writers/producers Aaron and Elizabeth Welch Ehasz) developed Katara and Zuko’s relationship more, to the point where DiMartino and Konietzko allegedly pestered them to make the two’s relationship more toxic. You can see that this raises some red flags. Later, the creators would go on to make Legend of Korra, and while I think they tried to throw Zutara shippers a bone with the Mako/Korra pairing, it backfired seriously as their relationship ended up being EXTREMELY toxic and forced. While the show still had other pairing problems (don’t get me started on Bolin’s multiple girlfriends), thankfully the show ended with Korra and Asami together. Now THAT is a good example of a ‘growing queer relationship’. They spend four seasons together and gradually go from acquaintances to close friends to lovers, AND they don’t get reduced to just love interests. (My only complaint is that I wish the relationship was more explicit.)

There’s also an unfortunate trend of giving a major character a WOC love interest as a way to prop up a relationship with a white woman. Harry Potter initially had a budding relationship with Cho Chang, but that was quickly thrown out in favor of Harry getting together with Ginny. I haven’t watched Danny Phantom, but from what I know of it, Valerie Grey, a black girl, was a potential love interest for Danny but he got together with Sam (a white girl). In Justice League Unlimited, after a blossoming romance with Hawkgirl fell apart, Green Lantern was suddenly in a relationship with Vixen, and throughout the entire show he doesn’t seem fully comfortable being around her and is always thinking about Hawkgirl. Vixen herself mostly exists in her relationship to Green Lantern. It’s strongly implied that Green Lantern and Hawkgirl get back together (and if you consider follow up comics canon, they did…after Vixen was brutally murdered. Nice.)

There’s a TV Tropes page called ‘Strangled By the Red String” which details a lot of pairings that often come across as extremely forced. One series that is extremely guilty of bad relationship writing is Naruto. The author teased multiple ships, but it was pretty clear that Sasuke and Sakura had an incredibly abusive and unhealthy relationship, Naruto and Hinata had potential but hardly got any development (apparently Neji needed to die in order for Naruto to interact with Hinata again), and Naruto and Sasuke had a LOT of chemistry that could’ve easily passed for love but never fell through. In the end, Naruto becomes a shell of his former self, Sasuke is never with his family, and Sakura is depressed. Yikes.

 

The key to writing GOOD relationships is to a) have the characters and their relationships progress naturally and without contradicting established canon b) not rely on racist, sexist, or homophobic tropes, and c) don’t throw in a pairing because you cave into the fanbase or you felt like a couple HAD to be included. The characters need to have SOMETHING that would bring them together (such as surviving multiple adventures together, mutual pining, or a shared interest or value) to make it believable.

And if you’re not really good at writing romances, just don’t bother. We can handle stories without romance. We can’t really handle the reinforcement that romance (especially heterosexual ones) are the most and only  important thing.

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Author: Laura Alexander

Hello! Laura here. I am autistic and I love animation. My fave movies are "Big Hero 6" and "Wreck-It Ralph". This is where I'll talk about my thoughts and feelings on animated shows and movies, among other things.

2 thoughts on “The Pitfalls of Writing Romance”

  1. Great post. Have you read Mr. Peter Paltridge’s essay “Love is Hard” on why most tv romances are bad? It’s on his website Platypus Comix and it gives some insightful details such as how writers often make the mistake of pairing up their characters early before they know who they really are just because they think they can control everything. I’d think you’d like it.

    http://www.platypuscomix.net/hollywood/loveishard.html

    Like

    1. Thank you so much! I just checked out the post now (thanks for linking it) and he is absolutely RIGHT by pointing out how pre-determined romances can hurt the writing and characters. Sometimes they can work, but only when the writers actually develop them and focus on them. Unfortunately a lot of the time they’re just forced.

      Like

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