March 29, 2015

Talking Shop: Revisiting "Mates" ~ A Paranormal Romance Cheat

This "Talking Shop" article originally went live in February of last year. It's one of my favorite subjects and hopefully it will get more PNR authors thinking more about one of the genre's most overused tropes.


I'll be the first to admit that I can be an Overly-Analytic Bitch when it comes to the stories I read and write.  However, I also feel the genre of erotic romance, and especially paranormal erotic romance, gets a bad rap in "mainstream" circles. As erotica continues to gain more legitimacy, authors in the market must strive to keep the genre fresh, original and dynamic. To do that, we need to get away from cheats, tropes, and cliches.

One of my least favorite overused tropes in paranormal romance is the concept of "mates".

I'm challenging a sacredly-held tenet of paranormal romance, but "mates" is a lazy, overused concept.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a brief rundown:

For paranormal characters -- most specifically werewolves, but it's been used across the spectrum -- there exists a predestined bond between mates. In most cases, this bond is elevated to the bond of soul-mates, unshakeable and unbreakable, decreed by fate and destiny rather than having anything to do with the choice of the partners.

Kresley Cole provides a good example of this. In her Immortals After Dark series, these bonds form the crux of her plots for paranormal couples.  Vampires have "brides", the one woman in the world who can bring their cold bodies to life again; Lycans have "mates", the one lover they are meant to be with, whom they know by scent; Demons find their one true love, to be bound to forever, when in the throes of passion--they just know.

However, though I quite enjoy the Immortals After Dark, I find the "mates" trope to be a frustrating cliche. Introducing it into your paranormal romance is a cheat. Why?  Because it removes the foreplay, the buildup, the conflict.  In most of these stories, the paranormal creature just "knows" their love interest belongs to them. Even if there's an "odd couple" quality to the match, or if the chosen mate resists... there's always that permanent, destined bond that ultimately tells the reader, "no matter what, these two will be together". But ultimately, it's not because of any emotional journey or personal choice. Even if the author can make it look that way, as long as they've invoked the sacred concept of "mates", the love connection can be put down to a case of "as it is written, so it must be".

There's really nothing terribly wrong with this, I suppose... I simply find it rather overused lately, and unfortunately lazy.  I think in some ways it's become a staple of the genre, and my suggestion to other erotic authors is:  lose it.

There's nothing wrong with paranormal creatures finding themselves a mate. It's the "ultimate, destined, star-foretold and unbreakable" manner of the mate bond that I find questionable. If you fall back on that, you're protecting yourself and your characters from conflict. Why be afraid of that conflict, though? Why put off such things as the very real possibility that one lover might not choose the other? Or--even harsher--that one might unforgivably betray?

All I'm saying to erotic authors is, don't rob yourself of true conflict. Don't rob your characters of truly earning their happy ending. Paranormal world or no, genre fiction thrives better with a foundation of reality and detail: and love relationships are more worthy when, as in real life, they must contend with the reality of  uncertainty that relationships deal with.

So if you write erotica, don't let your "mates" cheat.  Make them work, make them grow, make them earn what you want them to have. Don't be afraid to let them face uncertainty. But give them better than a 'destiny' that makes their struggle superfluous and their actions less than meaningful.


Always remember:



No comments:

Post a Comment

What do you think?