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Throwdown: Do the rules of romance apply in supernatural fiction?

Stephanie and I need you to weigh in on an ongoing debate we are having.  Simply stated our question is this: do real world rules of romance apply in the world of supernatural fiction?  But let’s back up and get some background info, shall we?

It began simply enough yesterday when I tweeted that I was upset about something I read in a teen fiction book and asked: What’s the deal with our female protagonists falling for a guy who is clearly a jerk?  People weighed in and the general consensus was that this happens in real life and they wish that they had this type of fiction when they were teens because it would clearly have saved them a lot of heart ache.

Then I asked: What type of responsibility do you think teen fiction has to make sure teens understand that the relationship being depicted is not a healthy relationship?  Of course an author should be true to the story, and not overly preachy, but the general consensus was that teens tended to get the message.  Then I brought up the whole Edward and Bella thing from Twilight.  There are numerous online articles you can read (just google it) about the fact that Edward portrays a number of traits found in abusive relationships.  I mean, he apparently falls in love with her because she smells delic and at one points he tampers with her vehicle to stop her from going someplace that he doesn’t want her to go.  In the end, Bella ends up isolated from her family and friends and literally becomes a monster in order to be with him.  None of these are the hallmarks of a healthy relationship.  As a librarian who works with teenage girls, as a mom to two little girls, I ponder these things.

Then today I posted about the book Embrace by Jessica Shirvington and how I was deeply concerned because an episode of what happens in the book can basically be construed as rape and that maybe perhaps we should be talking about that.  And this was Stephanie’s response:

You know that I find it hard to have a logical discussion about any certain issue when it occurs in a paranormal novel. I haven’t read Embrace but like we discussed about Twilight, I wouldn’t say that Bella and Edward have an unhealthy relationship because it is a relationship between a vampire and a teen girl. What is normal?

I think that the paranormal aspect allows the reader to suspend belief of the world around them and the same things that would be considered violations of morality in the real world, don’t necessarily equate in the supernatural.

Now I also see the problem brewing of if that makes it okay if it’s supernatural. I think that it all depends on how you look at it. I could pull many instances out of supernatural type books that could be considered rape, abuse, and even sorcery (such as using a potion to make someone fall in love with you…also against their will). When you pull them out of context, of course it will look back.

But I think, that as a reader, you just see it as a fantasy world and the same rules that apply in our world need not apply in theirs.

But I maintain, part of the value of genre reading is that it helps us to view real world problems through a slightly refracted lens and gain perspective.  For me, part of the value of Science Fiction is that we can discuss things like racism and environmentalism in the abstract and then apply it to the real world.  And I would maintain that certain truths are just universal truths: like the fact that people deserve to be treated in certain ways and that there are hallmarks of good, healthy relationships.  Just because you can manipulate my mind doesn’t make it okay for you to do so.

So, please, weigh in . . . do real world rules of romance apply to supernatural fiction?  Discuss now in the comments. Go.

Join us Wednesday, May 16th as we have our first ever TLT Trend Chat and expand our discussion of Romance in Teen Fiction.  Love triangles, insta love and more.  We’re talking trends.  (TLT Trend Chat: Romance in Teen Fiction May 16th at 3:00 PM Eastern, on Twitter #tltchat)

Please know, I love Stephanie as a friend, respect her as a librarian and value her as a blog partner.  I think we all can learn from each other and there is great value in healthy debate and discussion.


  1. I'd argue that the rules of romance should apply to paranormal romances more than not. I actually have a hard time with the Edward/Bella relationship because it's so obsessive and there are shades of abusive/controlling behavior. The rules can stretch–for example, I don't mind Edward as way older than Bella, but if he were a 50-year-old mortal guy it would be creepy. But I have a hard time with any relationship that looks harmful to one participant. It's a really interesting question though.

  2. I saw this tweet yesterday, but didn't answer it. I think like a lot of people said: It's in fiction novels because that's how real life is. Teenage guys are just awful sometimes. Even some grown men I've dated are still jerks. So I think it's necessary that it is in fiction novels. However, I agree that these guys shouldn't be portrayed as 100% desirable. We are then teaching the youth to overlook a guy who does something ridiculous like take the engine out of your car because he's jealous of your guy friend. I understand that since Edward said he was scared for her safety you might think that's a valid reason, but what he's really saying is “you like Jacob and I don't think you two should be friends anymore”–which is something you might see on a hallmark movie about an abusive relationship–. I love the twilight series (It was my first vampire series ever), but seriously Bella needed to put on her big girl panties and defend herself.

    In paranormal fiction there are different circumstances. Edward is 108 so he shouldn't be held to the same standards as a 17 yr old. (Which makes his actions even more ridiculous.) But romance is romance no matter what genre and the basic rules should apply. If a guy does something wrong in a relationship he should be held accountable. I don't care if you sparkle, that gives you no right to treat a girl like an object. Basically, I agree with you haha.

  3. This is a great question, and I'm not sure which side of the fence I come down on. There are lots of behaviors in books I wouldn't approve in real life, but are interesting/desirable/fascinating in fictional characters. Maybe this spurs discussion among teens about how those things are usually harmful in real life? I don't know, but a lot of ADULTS have the problem of separating fact from fiction as well. I do think the author's responsibility is to write the book and characters as they see it, and it's up to US to discuss it afterwords, the good and the bad parts.

  4. It's hard for me to give a concrete yes or no answer on this topic of discussion. There are just too many gray areas. I believe any book, whether it's realistic fiction or high fantasy has the ability to connect with a teen, regardless of it's genre.

    When it comes to romance, I think yes – to some extent – real world rules of romance apply. I mean, if the dude has fangs and drinks blood, that still doesn't make it OK for him to be a total a-hole to his significant other. I don't care what planet or specimen you come from. It's called respect. However, some books purposely portray a character as someone… without respect, and they do this on purpose. As I said on twitter yesterday, life is not sunshine & roses. Life is messy. I think a YA book can give more to the reader when they are honest, and open. Whether that comes from a supernatural character or the boy next door – bring it.

  5. I think that when we attempt to place too much emphasis on the issue rather than the story being told, then we do a disservice to the author. Not all authors are trying to write issue novels. Some of them are only showing you a vignette into a the life of a character and not all snapshots are crystal clear or perfect.

    When dealing with any type of genre or book, I think that there are authors that blatantly attack issues, such as Jennifer Brown does in Bitter End or Laurie Halse Anderson in Wintergirls, and there are some who are just wanting to write a story, however that may pan out.

    If we are always questioning a characters actions, the story will change and all books will end with a turning point and a happy ending…and that just isn't plausible.

  6. I have no problems with creepy guys and unhealthy relationships being in the story. And I don't want the books to be didactic (do I get bonus points for using that word?) I just want, at the end of the day, for the girl to have that moment where she says you know, you are an evil, unhealthy person and to walk away. Or for some other character in the story to say, hey – um, do you think maybe Edward is a creppy stalker guy. Take, for example, the works of Sarah Dessen – particularly Dreamland. Here is an unhealthy relationship personified. It is a beautifully written book and in no way does the main character end the tale healthy and whole, but there is some recognition of the fact that this relationship was no bueno. I don't even have problems with girls being attracted to layered, complicated bad guys with a rough, gritty exterior that is hiding a heart of gold. What I have problems with is these relationships that adults read and think, well that is clearly unhealthy, but the characters in the story never do and I worry that teens – who are still forming their opinions about relationships and don't have maybe enough real world experience to suss out the nuance of the story – may not fully understand that these are not traits you really want to look for in a guy. And just to reveal how ultra geeky I am, I am going to refer to a classic episode of Star Trek the Next Generation. In this episode, a new Q is found (basically a god-like character) and she falls in love with Commander Riker. At one point another character looks at her and says basically, “well, it's not like you can make him love you.” Which, technically she can and she users her god-like power and does. But it is completely unsatisfying to her because she knows in her heart of hearts that his love is not real but a product of her manipulation. This was a completely fleshed out concept presented well in a satisfying story. I think there can be more of that in all paranormal/supernatural romances. Or maybe an end note that says “if a boy treats you like Edward treats Bella in real life please be aware that these are signs of domestic violence and you may want to talk to someone about that.” Not just for teens, adult women too. Sometimes can't the good guy just win!

  7. I would have finished reading your comment but I stopped at Star Trek. ::snicker::

  8. For the record, I just had a patron come in and she agrees with me. I swear. I would have taken a picture but that's against library policy.

  9. Sure . . .

  10. Okay, in all seriousness, I agree with some of your points. Yes, teens are just starting to form an opinion and we don't want them to think that if it's okay in a book it is okay in real life.

    BUT, a side note at the end of Twilight? Totally not necessary. And to be honest, I adored Edward and found it to be a healthy relationship because despite what you consider 'stalkerish' behaviour, Edward is very strict with his morality and urges Bella to be herself first and foremost. Bella is the one with the clingy issues. Edward tries many times to get rid of her so if anyone is all stalky and depressingly annoying, it would be Bella.

  11. Would this face lie? O_o

  12. Things I think are never okay no matter what universe you live in:
    Manipulating the thoughts, feelings or memories of another person;
    Manipulating the will of another person;
    Controlling another individual through supernatural or normal means;
    Belittling, bullying, tormenting another person;
    Doing bodily harm unto another indivdiual;
    Doing emotional damage to another person

    I am sure there are more, but I think the ones above apply to what we have been talking about. Just because you are a fallen angel with the power to influence other people's emotions doesn't mean it is okay and that is true in any and all universes. (And yes, that is the most bizarre statement I have ever typed).

  13. I understand that not every book is going to be the same- it would be boring if they were. And not every single character (or person) is going to make good choices 100% of the time. However, this trend is really starting to get to me. Twilight, Hush Hush, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and many other books show the female character falling for a male character who acts like a jerk and treats them poorly.

    I would hate to think of teens or anyone else reading these books and thinking it's an acceptable relationship. Can the authors not add at least one character who says “hey, your relationship is unhealthy”?

  14. I have a feeling that I'm going to explain myself badly, but bear with me.

    I agree in that I don't normally write with a moral or theme in mind. BUT anyone who makes art (whether it's paint or clay or music or writing) has a responsibility to recognize how people will interpret it.

    For example, someone can put a nude scene in a movie, and then say all they want about how it isn't meant to objectify women, and it symbolizes this or that.

    But no matter how much you rant about your good intentions, the fact remains that someone out there will still see it as erotic or eye candy. The woman will still be objectified in someone's eyes, whether you want her to be or not.

    It's the director's responsibility to recognize that fact and either accept that it will happen or change the presentation. Ignoring a problem just because you didn't intend it to be there doesn't make the problem go away.

    I feel the same way about book authors. No matter what your intention is, it's still your responsibility to realize that people will take messages from your writing, whether you intend them to or not.

  15. The main problem that I had with the Bella/Edward thing wasn't as much the clingy emo-ness (although that was weird) as the fact that it wasn't based on anything.

    They didn't do anything together ever. Except sit in meadows and smell each other. (I don't want my future relationship to consist of nothing but smelling each other.)

    The one time they watched a movie together, it was Romeo and Juliet, and they ended up talking about how nice suicide would be.

    Basically, I'd have been okay with most of the other stuff if they had just DONE SOMETHING. Monopoly. Kite-flying. Cow-tipping. Something.

  16. I agree with @HarleyBearBooks. Pretend I wrote that comment too. 🙂

    Also, “For me, part of the value of Science Fiction is that we can discuss things like racism and environmentalism in the abstract and then apply it to the real world.”

    Yes. This. (See my reply comment earlier, about movies.)

  17. Just wanted to let you know I featured this post in my first edition of my blog's newspaper.
    The Harley Bear Post

  18. Thank you!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Bella Swann does not own Big Girl panties.

  20. I think any writer worth their salt – especially when they write for young people – has an obligation to consider the impact that their writing will have on their audience.

    No, you don’t want/need to be didactic. At the same time, however, if you can be enlightened by a book you can be blinded by it as well (or any form of media for that matter). And since the teenage brain is still developing, authors need to at least be aware of the messages their books are delivering (intentionally or otherwise).

    I was one of those young, naive girls who thought the behavior of characters like Edward in Twilight was romantic. It was a message I absorbed from stories my entire life (Beauty & the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, etc.)

    It is any surprise that, after a lifetime of these messages, the first guy I truly fell for was a domestic abuser? I didn’t recognize that what was happening to me was abnormal. According to everything I’d learned, it was “sexy.”

    Sorry, but abuse isn’t sexy. Stalking isn’t sexy. Controlling where you go, what you do, who you speak do, and otherwise eliminating any sense of agency you have in the name of “protecting” you isn’t sexy.

    Ergo, books like Twilight, Hush, Hush, Sisters Red, etc., will always be on my “hell no” list. Any fantasy, when repeated and ingrained enough, can be echoed in reality. I’m a living example of that. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says:

      I am so heartbroken to hear about your experience with a violent relationship. Thank you for sharing your story with us and reminding us all that what we read can help inform our ideals and that it does matter.


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