I write dystopian novels. I write dystopian novels with romance. Does that make you cringe or make you smile? I’ve heard a million opinions on the matter, some who say dystopian novels should be completely free of romance, because “Who’s thinking about love when the world is crumbling around them?” Others say romance is important in all settings: it’s what gives people hope, something to live for, and perhaps something to die for.
In the explosion of dystopian novels, we’ve seen all kinds of romance. Some series, like Chaos Walking and Gone, have just a touch of romance set amongst harsh worlds where people do terrible things. But romance is far from the focal point. Others, like Delirium and Matched, put romance and love triangles at the forefront of the story, making it every bit as important and captivating as the plot and world building. All four of these series are popular. So which authors made the right decisions? Or did they all choose right, in their own way?
Well, I’m sort of in the middle, which I’ve tried to reflect in my combined Dwellers/Country Saga (7 books, starting with The Moon Dwellers and Fire Country in each series). I personally believe that humans will find a way to love, even in the darkest, most corrupt worlds, but that doesn’t mean they’ll obsess over “the way the sun hits Simon’s sparkling blue eyes even as he swings his sword at the demon-zombie.” I believe there has to be a balance and that the “romance” needs to take a back seat to the more important aspects of dystopian novels.
So what are those aspects? In my opinion, dystopia should be more focused on 1) world building, 2) plot, 3) character development (villains in particular), and 4) twists. Those are the elements, which, if done well, make for a good dystopian novel. So that’s what I focus on in my dystopian novels. However, I do include a touch of romance in each of my novels, because, well, because my characters are only human and they have the need to be close to others, to care, to grab hold of their feelings and clutch them to their chests and never—not ever—let go. They fight for those they love. Love gives them purpose, gives them strength, and sometimes, gives them terrible sorrow.
For me the key is realism. The love should feel real, natural, not forced, not included just for the sake of including romance. That either means it needs to develop slowly over time, or be there from the start because the characters have a long and powerful history. In Fire Country, for example, the protagonist, Siena, and her best friend, Circ, have known each other their whole lives. Although they haven’t been romantically involved at the beginning of the novel, their bond and connection has been growing for years. It’s time to take the next step…but only after they go through the harsh trials that their world requires. But…and this is a big BUT…the romance NEVER gets in the way of the story, never BECOMES the story, never takes precedent over building the world. It simply exists amongst the threads of the story’s fabric. And for me that’s what makes it real.
Am I right? Am I wrong? Probably neither. I’m just one opinion amongst thousands. So what’s your opinion? Do you love romance in dystopian novels? Hate it? Are you indifferent? I’d love to hear your thoughts by commenting below, and I hope you enjoy my dystopian novels as much as your other favorites!
David Estes was born in El Paso, Texas but moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when he was very young. David grew up in Pittsburgh and then went to Penn State for college. Eventually he moved to Sydney, Australia where he met his wife. A reader all his life, he began writing novels for the children’s and YA markets in 2010, and started writing full time in June 2012. Now he travels the world writing with his wife, Adele. David’s a writer with OCD, a love of dancing and singing (but only when no one is looking or listening), a mad-skilled ping-pong player, and prefers writing at the swimming pool to writing at a table.