Disclaimer: I do not own LotR
The Abridged Guide to Romance In Middle Earth
It is indisputable that romance is a prominent genre in Lord of the Rings Fanfiction. In fact, I've done my research, and as of writing this, on , there are thirteen-thousand, one-hundred and forty-eight romance stories out of forty-seven thousand, four hundred and seventy stories. That means that almost twenty-eight percent of stories list romance as a genre on this site, topped only by stories in the "general" genre (note: these stats do not include overlapping genre's).
Those are some pretty big numbers, and they don't include stories that don't list a genre, or that have major romantic plots but are not, technically, "romances".
It's safe to say that most fanfic authors are younger women, and at a time in their lives when it's being shoved down their throats that thy need to find a boyfriend. Let's face it; most fanfic authors (not excluding myself) have boys on the brain. And lo and behold; here we have a fandom full of good-looking, noble men ripe for the picking. It's no wonder so many people write romances; all of the ingredients for sexual frustration are there.
As a romance author myself, I have often had to get up in arms and defend my genre to people who looked down on it or saw it as less worthwhile then dramas, angst fics, or epic histories. And true, it may not allow for some of the insights other genre's offer, but it does allow for a new, interesting perspective of Middle-Earth not always explored by canon. Trust me, after years and various accounts, I am sick and tired of justifying myself to people who simply dislike my gene, and sometimes have nothing against any other aspect of my writing.
What I'm getting at is this; I support anyone who wants to write a romance, but make it good, because when you write bad romance, everyone else has to deal with the stigma.
That being said, I have come across few truly excellent romances, and many, many bad ones. Even highly reviewed and praised stories often bug me. So I set out to create an easy guide to help avoid some major pitfalls of the Lord of the Rings romance genre.
The Very Basics; Chemistry
It doesn't matter if you're writing an epic romance about the inevitable disintegration of love between an elf and a mortal, or just mindless smut, if your characters have no chemistry, no one will care about them.
It's hard to define chemistry; it's more than just a couple saying the right things or having complimentary traits or loving each-other. When a couple has chemistry, they just work. The audience roots for them, and that's what is really needed to make romance work.
I've seen far to many romances devoid of any chemistry; where the author is clearly enamored with the pair, but their scenes read like a driving manual. Since there's no set of rules that inevitably lead to good chemistry, all I can give you are things that detract from chemistry;
Ridiculous Age Gaps
let me say this; I have nothing against an eighteen year old noblewoman being married off to a thirty-something year old lord and falling for him. Nor do I oppose the inevitable age gap that will come when a mature elf and a mortal of the equivalent age fall in love. The main problem with age gaps is when one of the partners is not a mature adult and the other is.
Let me state this clearly; there is nothing romantic about a thirteen year old falling in love with a two-thousand year old elf. Nothing.
For a pair with an age gap to be convincing, both partners should be equal footing as far as development goes. Once you reach a certain age physical development slows and people mature mentally. Once this point is reached by both members of the pairing, I find it is not disturbing. Keep in mind, however, many people are bothered by any sort of significant age gap.
No Similar Interests
When dialogue consists only of mushy phrases plagiarized from movies starring Drew Barrymore, I automatically click away. This relates to showing instead of telling. I can say Boromir and Seraphina are great together and spout poetic verses declaring their love, but if I don't show them bonding emotionally, no one buys it.
Have your characters talk about their lives, hobbies, and interests. Have them do something fun together or teach each other new skills. Make us believe them as people who genuinely get along and have common goals. This is not to say you can't have a love/hate relationship, but eventually, there needs to be some element of the 'love' part that goes beyond pure lust.
No Development of the Relationship
If you start out with a happy couple and end that way, with sixty shades of vanilla between, as a reader I feel a little empty inside.
Think about that natural progressing of a real relationship; from the first meeting to building trust to getting together to the first fight, a relationship must evolve and change or it gets boring. Readers enjoy seeing the couple go through good and bad times, because it makes the characters relatable.
Your Main Couple; Species
In Middle Earth, there are four races. This leads to endless possibilities with romance, and people often charge ahead with an idea that does not comply with the race. I've covered some important information for the most common ones.
Elf and Elf
One of the more common pairings, most issues with this arise when the author doesn't understand anything about elvish concepts of marriage. But it boils down to this: To elves, sex is marriage.
Elves do not sleep around. They do not have one night stands. They do not have divorces. They sleep with one person and are married to them, forever, like it or not.
Also, once elves have children, they lose interest in sex. This means that all elven couples have more in common than just sex; they enjoy each others presence.
Elf and Man
There are exactly four known elf-man relationships. First is Beren and Luthien, and Luthien became mortal and was separated from her family, forever. Tuor and Idril had a different fate; he is the ONLY man to ever be granted immortality (note the caps, bold, underline, and italics). These couples descendants are Arwen (about five generations) and Aragorn (a lot more than five generations), another couple that ended with Arwen giving up immortality and being forever severed from her family. Finally, there is the little known pairing of Aegnor and Andreth, the only instance of a male elf falling in love with a mortal woman. They love each other but never hooked up, as he had the pressing issue of defeating the guy who was basically Satan and neither wanted him to have to watch her grown old and die. Ironically, he died first in a war and they are separated forever.
Basically, elf-mortal pairings are EXTREMELY rare and almost always end with some form of tragedy.
Now, I am not one of those readers who sees the pairing is elf-mortal and immediately assumes it's bad; but I am one of the readers who is going to try to make sure you do it right.
These relationships are tragic. There is no avoiding it- mortality was not handed out freely, it was mans gift and elves can't have it. Luthien and Arwen are exceptions, Luthien because she had a super pretty voice (paraphrasing here) and Arwen because she is half-elf. In the same vein, Immortality was no given out willy-nilly. If it was, Numenor wouldn't have done that whole turn-to-the-dark-side thing.
Essentially, wither the couple will be split up or you'd better have a really, really good reason for them to be together. And "they're just so in love the Valar felt pity" doesn't count.
While these are, on the surface, easy to write, but the author must understand that Men's societies in Middle Earth were, essentially, medieval. Women got little say in who they married and often were wedded to older men simply for political or economic reasons; marriage for love was a thing for the poor.
Now, that is not to say that marrying the person you love was unheard of if you were upper-class. Many a couple fell in love and the parents simply consented; but this was generally for people of the same rank, socially and economically.
Personally, I don't mind these rules being broken, so long as it is addressed and properly dealt with in the story. For example, if a woman and man marry without her parents consent, this should be treated as it would in real life; the man would be in trouble and the woman returned home, unless they eloped, in which case that plot should be addressed.
To be honest, I find this to be a little squick-y. I mean, hobbits are short and have hairy feat. They don't look like Elijah Wood, at least not if you writing in book verse.
So a normal human would not be attracted to a hobbit. But if you wan to write it anyways, make sure it's their personality that connects them, not Frodo's beautiful, blue eyes.
Your Main Couple; Heterosexual Couples: the Woman
If you're going to write a romance with a woman, chances are she's an OC. I already wrote a guide about those, so I won't be going into that extensively, But I will mention them.
The Elf Maiden OC
If you are going to make an OC who's an elf, please, please, please understand the way elven culture functions. While elves recognized differences between the sexes, they did not class them. They were not misogynistic or unfair towards women. But men and women had different roles in society, which you have to look into and understand to craft a believable elf romance.
The Girl in Middle Earth OC
The main problem with this type of romance is that the aspect of a girl being stranded in Middle Earth is butchered for the sake of romance. Cultural issues, language barriers, and the plot are all thrown out the window for the sake of mushy moments and romantic scenes.
If you are writing a GiME story, please remember to keep the romance on the back burner when important things (such as a war to decide the fate of the world) are going on.
The Spunky Spitfire Girl OC
There are not words to describe how much I hate any character describes as a spunky spitfire, when they are in LotR fiction. Generally, this is because A) they act more immature than spunky, B) no character calls them out on this behavior, and C) they piss on the rules of the universe, acting as if all men are evil sexists or rapists, and ignoring that most women who acted as bratty as they did would be disliked and disapproved of.
But if you can somehow avoid those tropes, go ahead and write.
The Canon Sue
this is when a canon character is turned into a Sue. It doesn't happen often with more developed characters, such as Éowyn (though it still does happen), but it happens a lot with characters who are technically canon, but not really.
Lothíriel, for example, is often given this treatment. People assume that since she is a canon character, she can't be a Sue, forgetting that all that's canon about her is her name and family, and her character is written entirely by the author. So she often becomes a huge M-Sue.
Just keep in mind that even characters whose names are in the book are liable to be Sues.
Your Main Couple; Heterosexual Couples: The Man
I think it's safe to say that most male love interests are canon characters. And yet, aside from Faramir, they are rarely paired up with their canon love interests. Here are some specifics
Oh, Legolas, with your blond hair and blue eyes and archery skills and complete lack of personality in the movies...
By far the most paired up character; five thousand, one hundred, and thirty-seven of those romance stories are dedicated to him. As in thirty-nine percent.
But here's the thing; Legolas, in canon, never gets hitched. He fights in the war, then spend a couple hundred years traveling with Gimli, then they sail off to Valinor together. His story is one of friendship, not love.
Now, I am not opposed to Legomances. I just think it's important that A) canon be acknowledged, and B) he be as developed a character as his partner. As in, very developed.
Personally, I will not read an Aragorn romance unless it's with Arwen. As I said before, their relationship is tragic and meaningful. And most authors who attempt to pair Aragorn up with an OC don't understand what makes Aragorn's relationship with Arwen important; hint, it motivated him to fight in the war and become King of Gondor.
Also annoying is that most authors simply pretend Arwen never existed, ship her to Valinor, or just kill her off. I will say this once and only once, RANDOMLY GETTING RID OF A CHARACTER WITH NO REAL EXPLANATION AS TO WHAT HAPPENED IS NOT GOOD WRITING. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOUR PAIR MOR BELIEVABLE.
Now that that's out of my system, we can move on.
Since I don't read Aragorn/OCs, I can't really give much advice on them.
When he isn't a rapist, he's a love interest.
Now, while its implied Boromir didn't have a girl back home and stated that he wasn't married, we can always pretend there was someone in his past. The problem arises when that someone turns up, saves his life, and has his children, preventing Faramir from being the heir and giving Aragorn the right to rule Gondor. Yeah, not so great.
Good romances keep canon intact, so if Boromir is saved, there had better be a very good reason and consequences.
I despise Elrond/OCs. Go read about his wife, then tell me you still want to pair him up with a twelve-year old goth from our world.
There are two main issues with these that tend to crop up in fanfiction, so I can tackles this section pretty quickly.
-Elladan and Elrohir are described as grim. They are not the Weasley twins of Arda. They spend their spare time getting revenge on the Orcs who tortured their mother. So please, do not write about them pulling pranks.
-Like Arwen, they have a choice to be Mortal or Immortal. We never know what they end up choosing, but whoever they love is going to factor in. that choice cannot be ignored.
Glorfindel/Erestor/Thranduil/Haldir/Orophin/Rumil/Any other relatively minor elf character
The same thing that goes for canon-Sues goes here; they need to be developed fully as characters!
Your Main Couple; Slash
I don't really read slash, so I can't give you much advice on it. I will say this; unless you are writing mindless smut, you need to address to realities of what would happened in two men or women fell in love in the middle-ages. Hint; it would not be pretty.
Chemistry between two characters in not a plot. There needs to be a story line to tie everything together. But most of the time, these stories are clichéd.
The Tenth Walker Romance
Trust me, hiking around with no regular baths and eight other stinky people besides you and your beau is not romantic. Authors need to remember that the quest wasn't the Bachelorette, it wasn't about will Esperanza Shadow-feather find her true love among these nine handsome companions, it was about saving the world.
So romance in this situation is unlikely.
The Spontaneous Love Triangle
Love triangles are, in my humble opinion, not a good plot device. Especially when an OC is in the middle. But if you do chose to go with this plot point anyways, here are some tips:
-Make both love interest intriguing in their own way; give them different connection's to the protagonist, different voices and personalities.
-Give them each a reason to fight for the protagonist. It's hard to believe one sexy elf falling for an innocent mortal, let alone two. So they'd better have a damned good reason.
-Don't make one "safe" and one "risky". For one thing, it's obvious they'll go with the risky choice. And to clarify, "risky" means "not safe", not just a bad boy. So if a mortal must choose between an elf and another mortal, the elf is the "risky" choice
-Don't have one "good" love interest and one "bad" one. A love interest who we find out halfway through has some major, never-before-mentioned flaw, its clunky writing and excuse making, a way to keep from forcing the protagonist to woman up and make a choice.
The Arranged Marriage Plot
Unless you're dealing with two nobles, this plot makes no sense. Elves don't have arranged marriages, ever. And most poor people could pick their own partners because they rarely had much to gain.
That being said, I enjoy seeing this trope portrayed realistically. As in, the woman really has no choice and is upset about it, and the relationship develops realistically.
The There-Is-No-Plot-Here plot
Look, even romance needs a conflict; the plot is how they overcome it and get their happy ending. No conflict means no interest, and that is not a good thing.
Sexism In Romance
Just because you are a girl, it does not mean you cannot unintentionally wright misogynist fiction. Romance writers in particular tend to fall into this trap, which is ironic, as many authors accuse Tolkien of Sexism (a rant for anther time). Here are some things you should avoid
-Happiness dependent on a man. This implies that without a man, women cannot be happy.
-The Man constantly saving the woman. It may seem romantic in theory, but this is like saying "women can never save themselves. They need men for that"
-Possessiveness. Again, in theory its romantic, but it can come off as quite creepy. And no, being 'owned' by a man is not sexy. It is objectifying.
-Having the woman be flighty and overly emotional. Enforcement of stereotypes.
-Having the woman know next to nothing about sex, while the man knows all. While this is realistic, you should not play it up. It's like saying a woman's goodness lies in her purity.
-Portraying other women as 'bad' to elevate your character. This pits women against each other, with one 'type' of woman coming out on top.
-Having your characters entire motivation be men. This goes back to the idea that woman's world revolves around men.
The Bedroom Business
Unless you're writing smut, there is no need to get super detailed. But if you want to, please, please, please know what you're talking about. That's really all I can say on that.
Please understand that what you write sets up a stigma for all fanfiction authors. And not always a good one. Our genre is under enough attack as it is, so try not to fuel the fire.
For everyone's sake.