Analysis

Six Stories With Weak Romantic Attraction

Seven giving Chatokay a perturbed look.

It takes several factors to make a compelling romance, but everything starts with attraction. This is what draws the lovebirds together in the first place. If there’s no attraction, then nothing else matters because the romance can’t even get started. That sounds simple, but many storytellers neglect attraction in their rush to get the characters dating. The result is invariably unsatisfying, as audiences can’t see why these two (or more) characters got together other than the author wanted them to.

1. Deep Space Nine

Ezri and Bashir kissing.

Romance has never been Star Trek’s strong suit, and while DS9 is generally ahead of the curve, it still has its clunkers. The most prominent such clunker is the unconvincing romance between Ezri Dax and Julian Bashir in season seven. From Bashir’s perspective, the entire attraction is based on Ezri carrying the memories of Jadzia Dax, whom he also had a crush on. Sigh. Writers, please. You made the right choice dropping the Jadzia/Bashir romance because it had no substance. It was a mild infatuation before both characters moved on to better things. I don’t know who thought reviving that relationship in the final season was a good idea.

Ezri’s part in this romance is far stranger. Before the two have done any flirting or even talked much, Ezri is captured by the Breen. It seems that Breen interrogation techniques make one hallucinate, and during these hallucinations, Ezri decides she’s way into Bashir. Bashir isn’t present for any of this – he’s not even on the same planet. For some reason, Ezri concludes that her hallucination crush is a good relationship to pursue. I guess she got a look at the upcoming episode scripts and wanted to be a team player.

From there, the only real sign of attraction on Ezri’s part is when she justifies her choice to Worf, which is a bit weird because Worf was married to Jadzia before she died. Whatever. The most Ezri can say in praise of Bashir is that he “knows how to have a good time.” This is in reference to Bashir’s historical wargaming hobby. Does Ezri think wargaming is a good time? If so, she never shows any interest, which is too bad because that could have been something for them to bond over.

After this, we have a few comedy sequences where Ezri and Bashir try to confess their feelings to each other but fail, until they finally succeed and go to make-out town. At this point, we still have no idea what is drawing them together other than Bashir’s lingering crush for a different woman and Ezri’s vague appreciation for historical minis, maybe. Both characters do mention how good-looking the other is, but this is a big-budget TV show; everyone is good-looking! You need to be more specific than that.

Then the finale arrives and the writers seem to have immediately lost interest in the romance, as Bashir’s main relationship drama isn’t with Ezri at all, but with O’Brien. It really feels like a last-minute urge to make sure as few of the main characters are single as possible, and the results are just as underwhelming as you’d expect.

2. The Wheel of Time

Cover art from The Shadow Rising.

Partway through Wheel of Time’s first book, protagonist Rand meets one of his main love interests: Princess Elayne of Andor.* It’s not a terrible meeting as these things go. While trying to avoid a crowd, Rand climbs a wall and stumbles into a suspiciously unguarded royal garden where Elayne just happens to be. Of course, the narration makes a big deal about how hot Elayne is, which would mean more if it didn’t describe nearly every female character in exactly the same way.

Despite that, Elayne is the princess of a great kingdom, so it’s believable that she’d stand out to a commoner like Rand. From Elayne’s perspective, Rand is a mysterious, handsome stranger who showed up in her garden one day, giving him an appealing mystique. It’s a decent start that could certainly blossom into something more as the two get to know each other… which is why they won’t see each other again for nearly three more books.

That’s right, the two go their separate ways for quite some time, each on their own adventure. During this time, Elayne learns a little more about Rand from his friends, and Rand sometimes daydreams about how hot Elayne is. Since their first meeting lasted all of five minutes, it’s already stretching belief that they’d maintain an interest in each other after each of them goes through several novels’ worth of life-threatening adventures.

They don’t reunite until the start of book four, at which point they’re effectively back to square one. It’s not super clear how much time passes in each WoT installment, but two and a half books certainly feels like a long time, especially for characters whose entire relationship is based on a brief chance encounter. Oh well, now there will be time to show what draws these two characters together, other than being exactly as hot as every other WoT protagonist, right?

Haha, no. Instead, they essentially fall in love offscreen. Elayne decides she needs to date Rand for… reasons, and then we get a highly summarized courtship for a few chapters before they split up again for separate adventures. The whole thing feels very contractually obligated, like the author promised someone these characters would get together but wasn’t actually interested in the relationship. Usually you don’t see this kind of rushed courtship until near the end of a series, but WoT isn’t even half over by this point.

The closest we get to an explanation is that Rand is “ta’veren,” meaning that fate and random chance conspire to get him where he needs to be.* WoT uses this excuse whenever something unlikely happens and the author doesn’t feel like explaining it. Pro tip: if you’re gonna have the author’s hand be a literal thing in the story, it should at least arrange some romances that are actually compelling.

3. Voyager

Seven and Chakotay dressed for a date.

You thought we were done giving Star Trek a hard time, but no, there’s more! This time, the problem couple is Commander Chakotay and Seven of Nine, who many of you may well have forgotten were a couple at all, since they spend almost no time together and barely interact. The romance technically “starts” late in the final season, when Seven is using a holoprogram to practice social skills in a low pressure environment. Extremely relatable, Seven.

During this simulation, she flirts a bit with the Chakotay hologram. There isn’t much attraction, but then again, there isn’t supposed to be. This is a simulation for practice, not a real relationship. But then the episode claims that Seven’s feelings are so intense that it causes one of her implants to malfunction, nearly killing her. Suuuuure. Anyway, Seven ends the program because she doesn’t want to risk death for a weekend holofling, and that seems to be that.

That is, until the finale. Then it’s revealed that Seven is now several dates into a relationship with the real Chakotay. Very clever, writers. No need to demonstrate any initial attraction if you have that part take place offscreen. It’s brilliant! Wait, no, it’s not. Actually it’s really unsatisfying because audiences expect to see a change that momentous as it’s happening, not hear about it afterward.

I can see their predicament though, as there is absolutely nothing drawing these characters together. Partly, that’s because Chakotay’s entire personality is either racist stereotypes or a handful of random interests that are mentioned once and then never brought up again. It’s hard to match him with anyone. But if there has to be a Chakotay romance, his most logical partner is Captain Janeway, as the two of them at least share a passion for leadership. Seven and Chakotay don’t even have a professional relationship.

Worse, this relationship doesn’t even have the actors’ help. A big advantage of live-action romance is that the professional actors are very good at portraying romantic interest, even if the script is weak. But in episodes leading up to the finale, Jeri Ryan and Robert Beltran were specifically told not to play up any romantic chemistry, including in an episode where their characters were trapped together on an alien world.

So why did this romance happen at all? Unlike DS9, I don’t think this was a case of needing to pair off some single characters at the end. Rather, it looks like a desperate attempt to find something for Seven and Chakotay to do in the finale, since most of the plot revolves around Captain Janeway and her time clone. You’ll have to decide for yourself if that explanation makes sense. But the answer is yes.

4. Magician: Apprentice

Cover art from Magician: Apprentice.

Moving back to novels, we have Magician: Apprentice,* which is approximately what you would get if you asked a machine-learning algorithm to distill the 1980s’ most conventional fantasy novels down into a single book. Our protagonist is a kitchen boy with the odd name Pug, and his love interest is Princess Carline. Their romance begins early in the book, and it does not get off to a great start.

First, I must give the book a tiny bit of credit: when it describes how hot Carline is, the author has enough restraint not to describe every other woman the same way. Granted, he barely describes any other women at all, at least in the first few chapters. They’re technically around, but the camera never focuses on any of them, creating the impression that blonde, blue-eyed Carline is standing in a sea of vague gray silhouettes. It’s not something I’d advise emulating, but it’s a little better than flooding the entire book with a sea of hotties and then expecting me to remember which one is supposed to be double hot or whatever.

When Carline is first introduced, the omniscient narrator tells us not only how hot she is, but how she likes to get up to mischief with the castle boys, of which Pug is one. There’s a strong “not like other girls” vibe here, but at least it gives us something she and Pug can bond over: a shared love of mischief.

But when the two of them finally meet, that’s not what happens. Instead, Carline is suddenly disrespectful and rude, finding the common born Pug not only beneath her but actively repulsive to be around. She’s a cartoonishly elitist aristocrat in a setting that otherwise seems to hold feudalism in high regard. This is not at all who the omniscient narrator described earlier, and Carline’s behavior only moderately improves after Pug saves her from some wandering monsters.

While you’re trying to figure out who this elitist jerk is and what she did with the mischief-loving scamp from earlier, Carline has yet another personality change. Now she’s a scheming manipulator who tricks boys into fighting over her affections. Presumably she does that in some way other than being openly antagonistic all the time. Through all of this, Pug’s affection for Carline remains strong, though he does eventually decide to finish his new wizard training before committing to a serious relationship.

The problem here is less a lack of attraction and more an anti-attraction. Carline is just a bad person, and her extreme hotness simply isn’t enough to justify Pug’s continued interest in her, unless this is a morality play about Pug being shallow. It’s hard to imagine why an author would do this, but my best guess is that there were a lot of sexist stereotypes to get through, and since Carline is the only woman with any screen time, she had to embody them all. First, she was not like other girls, then she was the snooty noblewoman who doesn’t appreciate the working man’s masculinity, and finally she became the evil temptress who uses love as a weapon. Oh boy.

5. Iron and Velvet

Cover art for Iron & Velvet

In this urban fantasy novel of mystery and romance, our lovebirds are private investigator Kate Kane and vampire sex queen Julian Saint-Germain. They first meet when Julian hires Kate to investigate a gruesome murder. There’s a bit of initial flirting, which makes sense as Julian seems to enjoy flirting with any woman who gets within shouting distance of her. Still, Julian is a vampire queen and Kate is a lowly PI, so it’ll take something pretty big to get these two together, right?

If you’re paying attention, then you won’t be surprised that the answer is no. Instead, after just one meeting, Julian is entirely devoted to Kate. First, she breaks into Kate’s house for a grand romantic gesture. When that doesn’t go over too well, she offers to take Kate out for dinner and dessert, promising to wait all night at the restaurant whether Kate shows up or not.

These actions can be read as harmless romantic antics or as major red flags depending on your mood, but the issue we’re concerned with is why. Specifically, why is Julian so infatuated with Kate? Kate’s good-looking, but as is becoming a theme, no more so than most of the people in this erotic urban fantasy paradise. Kate does have fey heritage, which adds a sense of danger Julian might appreciate, but as before, Julian is surrounded by sexily dangerous people all the time. Why would Kate, the hired help, draw so much of Julian’s devotion?

It’s difficult to tell if Julian’s attraction is supposed to be purely physical or involve deeper feelings. The sexiness is certainly turned up to 11, but the two of them are also bonding over their tragic backstories within about ten minutes, and it’s not long before they’re officially dating. Ironically, if it was supposed to be purely physical, or at least start off that way, the book has a much better example to draw from. In a different scene, Kate goes to a bar and nearly hooks up with a woman there, stopped only by a sudden attack of intense angst.

In that interaction, Kate and the other woman are on roughly the same level, and they’re both out looking for some sexy times. When Julian meets Kate, she’s hiring someone to solve a murder. Now, you could argue that Julian is always looking for sexy times, but that still doesn’t explain why she’d want Kate in particular, especially to the point of making grand gestures of devotion.

The bottom line is that this romance either needed more time or different starting positions. If Kate and Julian had worked together for a while before falling head over heels, that would have given them time to bond over mutual interests or shared adversity, the kind of thing that would make Kate special even to someone like Julian. Alternatively, the lovebirds could simply have been on more equal footing. If Kate were a world-renowned investigator, then it would make more sense for Julian to be so taken with her.

6. Avatar: The Last Airbender

Black and white photo of Aang and Katara from Korra.

That’s right, it’s time for Mythcreants to officially weigh in on an Avatar shipping war, only about 15 years after it was relevant. Specifically, the relationship between Aang and Katara. This is a major case of one-sided attraction, as it’s obvious why Aang is into Katara. Beyond her looks, Katara is kind, supportive, and responsible. Some of the show’s coolest moments are when Katara keeps Team Avatar going despite everyone else being ready to give up. But why is Katara interested in Aang?

Over Avatar’s run, Katara has significant chemistry with three boys: Haru, Jet, and Zuko. Two of them are Earth Kingdom rebels against the Fire Nation, and one is an exiled Fire Nation prince, but they all have one thing in common: being dark and broody. Katara clearly has a type, and while that doesn’t mean she can only date broody boys, it does raise the bar for any would-be suitors who don’t fit the parameters. Aang’s not dark and broody, so what does he bring to the table that might interest Katara?

Honestly, not much. He’s the Avatar, which Katara certainly admires, but not in a particularly romantic way. Aang’s main personality traits are things like innocence, playfulness, and a fondness for jokes. Essentially, he’s a child, which makes sense since he’s 12 when the story starts. Katara is 14, though she’s written more like 15 or 16. The difference in their maturity makes it easy for Katara to act like a surrogate mother figure, but is pretty awkward when it comes to dating.

Rather than being attracted to Aang’s child-like demeanor, Katara is actively repelled by it on more than one occasion. This makes perfect sense with Katara being both older and more mature, but it makes a romance between them seem even less likely. Ironically, there is someone on team Avatar who’s about Aang’s age and shares his love of mischief: Toph. Their personalities certainly clash on more than one occasion, but they also have a lot in common. Unfortunately, outside of a short-lived crush on Sokka, the Avatar writers seem allergic to the idea of Toph and romance.

Toph-shipping aside, the end result of all this is that when Aang and Katara get together at the end, it feels less like a loving relationship and more like Aang is being rewarded with a hot girl. Unlike most stories with this trope, Aang’s not a bad character. He grows and matures over the course of the series, just not to the point where he seems like a desirable love interest for Katara. Whether any of Katara’s other ships would have been better is an open question, but this one just feels contrived.


Attraction isn’t the only important aspect of romance. You also need to show how the lovebirds are better together than apart, and then there’s the considerable difficulty of adding conflict to a romance. But attraction is the romance’s starting tone, the first step that sets up everything else. Get it right, and the audience will be prime for whatever comes next. Neglect it, and all you’ll have are some contrived make-out scenes.

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Comments

  1. Jeppsson

    The first time I re-watched Voyager, I noticed that when Seven is new, Chakotay stands up for her a number of times when other crew members are suspicious of her because she’s a borg. I thought “wow, this means that the Chakotay-Seven romance has more build-up and makes more sense than I remember!”.
    But then this becomes irrelevant when Seven is fully accepted in the crew, there’s zero follow-up, and so when their romance starts waaaaaay later, yeah, it still comes out of nowhere.

    Chakotay and Janeway did have a lot of shipping, and it felt (on watching the show for the first time) that the writers might have been building up to a romance between the two. There are no MAJOR signs, but still little things, plots where they end up alone together and then moments where they look into each others’ eyes a little longer than normal or touch hands. Like, really small things, but lots of fans on watching the show for the first time still thought it was a romance build-up.

  2. Jeppsson

    Every time me and Husband watch DS9 we ship Julian and Miles so hard, like we think if we just ship them hard enough in our hearts the show will end differently this time.

    Related to this, Miles and Keiko was SO weird. We first meet them when they’re about to get married, and Keiko regrets it and wants to cancel. The show treats this as if it’s normal to want to cancel your wedding the last minute – NO IT’S NOT! This is a serious sign that they probably shouldn’t go through with it!
    Next, when we see them as newly weds, they’re disgusted by their respective culture’s traditional food, but try to put a brave face on and be tolerant. WHY don’t you know about each others’ cultures? It seriously feels like watching one of those reality shows where they have two total strangers get married, and then try to make it work against all odds, for shits and giggles.
    It’s not that they ALWAYS seem miserable together, but they NEVER seem like they belong together.

    And then we have the romantic scene (one of several) between Miles and Julian, where Miles talk about his marriage woes, and is on the verge of saying that he wishes Keiko were more like Julian, although he stops himself right before “you”. Well, that’s because you and Keiko shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place!

  3. Arix

    “The whole thing feels very contractually obligated, like the author promised someone these characters would get together but wasn’t actually interested in the relationship.”

    I mean let’s be honest here, most bad romances are due to some sense of contractual obligation. Writers seem to think that romance is a vital part of storytelling, like their story will be incomplete without characters getting together, or at least spending a good chunk of time thinking about getting together.

  4. Cay Reet

    I think a big problem is when writers feel like they ought to have a romance in their story. It’s normally a subplot (since you don’t sit down to write a romance novel if you don’t want to have a romance front and centre) and often one the story could do without.

    It seems to be an obligation rather than something which really enriches the story and, perhaps, does something to further the main plot and you can see it. The writer chooses some characters (often the main character and some suitable side character of the opposite sex, because heaven forbid we had a gay romance) and simply makes them fall in love, despite them not having any chemistry and not showing any interest in that direction before at all. Madmartigan and Sorsha from “Willow” feel that way – since Willow himself is married, there needs to be another romance. Apart from acknowledging that not ever heroic journey does have to end with a love story, this is often rather counterproductive, because people ask ‘what the hell happened here? Why are they dating all in a sudden? Why are they in front of the wedding chapel?’

    For me, that is just as bad as the ‘will they, won’t they’ situation in a lot of series which play with a possible romance between two central characters for ages, even if the story as a such doesn’t support it. Personally, I let people fall in love and go with the relationship in later installments. Believe it or not, that makes for a nice counterpoint to all the rising tension (being cared for by the person you’re in love with and have been for a while) and can also help the character figure things out, because there’s someone with a distance to the situation close by who can chime in with new ideas. You get two roles filled for the price of one, which is awesome.

    • Esq

      Many writers feel obligated to put at least some romance and sex into their stories even if they are really bad at writing romance and sex because so much of the audience expects it. Certain genres of literature like fantasy seem especially prone to feeling that this is a requirement.

      • Cay Reet

        True. I remember reading S.S. van Dine’s rules for detective stories – it’s an essay he did at some point – and he especially says ‘no romance, because nothing is to distract from the case’ in them, it’s one of the rules. That one went out of the window fast, though, especially in cosy mysteries.

        I do think that it’s a much better idea not to have a romance if you’re not invested in it as a writer (because chances are you’ll handle it poorly in that case) or have an established relationship which helps with the actual plot (like exes being forced to work together and getting closer again, although that is a cliché, too). Too many authors also feel the need to put in sex scenes, even if they’re not good at writing them, just to shout at the audience ‘see how adult my story is?!’

  5. Star of Hope

    Oren, I don’t say this to be evil, but you are trying too hard to find faults in Avatar:

    For one, Katara’s bad boys betrayed many times her trust and in the case of Zuko, their personality immediately clashed, ensuring that there is no romantic tension, even when they were imprisoned together in the Earth Kingdom Catacombs.

    Haru had hardly much to do with Katara, so no romance.

    Aang was the only candidate fitting for her. She always wanted to marry a strong bender and who can be more powerful than the Avatar? Also she wanted someone who is kind and tall. Aang checks out the second box and the latter one much later in life as we see in Korra. Also she feels always a lot safer around Aang and actually does show attraction towards him throughout many episodes, one of which being the first episode of Book 2.

    Also Toph is the last partner I would ship with Aang because she is rude as hell towards him and started out to abusive as well, like with her overly harsh but stupid training regime.

    If you want to find a bad romance, then look no further than LoK, there are a lot of these bad romantic plot lines like Korra and Mako or Bolin and Eska or whoever thought that Varrick was worthy to live through the second season.

    OK, now the comments perfect, now I can rest well.

    • Cay Reet

      My problem with Aang/Katara is that there is no suggestion beforehand that they are really interested in each other. For one thing, Katara is a good deal older than Aang, given they’re both relatively young. She has gone through quite a bit of mental development already which Aang hasn’t even started. There are some little suggestions that Aang might be interested, but I can’t say that Katara ever seemed to see him as a romantic partner. A friend, certainly, but a lover? Not really.

      I don’t think Katara and Zuko would have matched up well, because their worlds are too different (and Zuko needs a wife who can keep an eye on him as he rebuilds the fire nation). He’s much better off with Mai with whom he actually had prior interactions that suggest romantic interest on both sides.

      Why did Aang and Katara have to end up with someone at all, though? They’re both still pretty young, there was no reason to pair them off with anyone romantically.

      • Star of Hope

        Are you talking about them getting together at the end of the show or any of the romantic feelings they had beforehand, because there are a lot of hints that Katara is the right person for him. The episode with the Oracle, their time together in the Cave of lovers, Pathik’s lesson about the heart chakra, Aang and Katara dancing, and the two kissing just before the invasion of the Fire Nation Capital that is nameless somehow. Also they are around the same age group, it would be problematic if they were 4 or 6 years apart as children and teenagers, but 2 is not too much.

        Uly made a good point, but then again romance in children’s cartoons are bare-bones, so we never will get any time soon a good romance in this medium. I would rather look at more mature shows.

        • Cay Reet

          Which means that there shouldn’t be a romance in Avatar at all – at least not for Aang. As mentioned below, since Zuko is a older than the rest, he might have a romance, but even he has other things on his plate now.

          If Katara and Aang were the same age or Aang were a little older than Katara, I’d be more prepared to agree to their romance, but girls usually mature faster than boys and Katara has matured especially fast after the death of her mother, so she’s far ahead of Aang on that curve and it just doesn’t feel right to me – I also really can’t see that there’s a real draw between them. Aang’s kiss of Katara before the invasion feels more like one-sided wish fulfilment to me.

          • Star of Hope

            However often it’s better to get something you want that is not good rather than never. That’s why we had token characters and the burying of guys, because they were the only way to allow marginalized characters to appear in stories and now we no longer need that. Same with romance in cartoons, they get better as seen with Kipo.

            So it’s ok when an older boy gets a younger girlfriend, but the reverse is awful? Isn’t this a double-standart? Also Katara can be very childish and is still not above being a teenager, hence why her thinking was clouded through hot boys like Jet.

            Well the it’s fine if you don’t, because I do think that they could have developed their romance more, but it’s much more believable than Korrasami, because there was nothing to hint at that.

          • Cay Reet

            It just seems weird that a girl who is much older and more mature would want to be with Aang. He does mature in the story, but not to that extend and women usually look for at least an equal – emotionally and from his maturity, Aang isn’t that for Katara.

            I’m generally not a fan of relationships where one person is a lot older than the other, no matter whether the man or the woman are older (or one man or one woman, of course).

            If their romantic relationship had been developed more, I might see things differently, but it was very much pulled out of the hat at the end.

    • Uly

      Crazy idea – maybe, they’re all kids, and therefore should not have been choosing their life partners at this stage.

      Maybe, just maybe, it’s usually a bad idea to get hitched to your childhood crush.

      • Cay Reet

        It’s a good point.

        I’d say Zuko (who must be 17/18 or older by the end) might consider choosing someone, but even he should wait a few more years before getting into a serious relationship – especially given he’s got a lot on his plate with becoming the Fire Lord.

  6. Eddddd

    I didn’t have strong feelings for katara/aang ship in the original, (although I Really Strongly dislike zuko/katara) however, I so much liked their family and Tophs family in Korra that i have a hard time separating their lifelong marriage from their somewhat lackluster chemistry in the original series

    • Star of Hope

      Why do you hate Zutara? I ask you because this is a popular ship and someone like you is definitely worth listening too, if they dislike this badly thought-out ship, of course.

      • Eddddd

        Well, mostly I just don’t tend to like antagonistic ships very much! (Like Draco/Harry etc) – generally i prefer BFF-type ships, like in Good Omens, or Harry/Hermione. (For example
        I wasn’t a big fan of buffy/spike until they started actually being friends)

        But I think my feelings on this one are somewhat tainted by the fandom- in the show katara did forgive zuko after he earned it, but stood up for herself first. However so much fanfic or fanart is like… “zutara arranged marriage! Can she reform him?” or “zuko is Sad and Brooding he needs a Kind Gentle Girlfriend”. But that’s not inherent in the ship, it’s a fandom issue

  7. Eli

    The only romance I remember being compelling in a story is Luz x Amity in the Owl House. It hasn’t even really taken off yet but the creator wants it to happen and had to fight disney for it. Anyway that’s how you show someone growing attracted to another character: over time and character development. Great show btw, highly reccomend. (lgbtq rep in there too)

  8. Darian

    I Alexis Hall of course, but I do mostly agree with you about this particular issue. I was not really feeling that relationship either. Normally Hall writes romance novels, and they are are usually excellent, but Kate Kane isn't really a romance novel/series so perhaps it's more difficult to make the romance convincing.

    Regarding this particular story, Hall seems to be going for urban fantasy trope subversion in some areas while playing it "straight" in others except very queer. Because of the tropes he's working with, we have to have the vampire-werewolf-heroine love triangle (are those ever convincing? I read a bunch of Laurell K. Hamilton in my teens, but not Twilight, and I didn't really feel Anita's romances either).

    So anyway, as Cay Reet says, it's something of a "required" romance, in that it's between two character archetypes and it might be leaning on the trope to justify it in the beginning instead of laying a proper foundation of mutual attraction. At this point I have no idea how the romantic part of the story is going to turn out for Kate (or the rest of the plot either); the published series is only up to 4 out of 5 books and things change abruptly in book 3.

    As to that foundation: my guess is that Julian enjoys a challenge, she finds Kate challenging and/or different enough from her other prospects to interest her, and Julian's personality causes her to be very intense when she gets into a relationship, for however long it lasts. In one of the later books, there's a bit more explanation about vampires, especially how aspects of vampires' human personalities tend to become exaggerated and solidified, after they're turned. So Julian's psychology isn't like a human's and she doesn't always act like a human would, and she's getting close to a thousand years old which makes her outlook a bit different, especially when it comes to mortals. And we're in Kate's POV, so for the most part we only know what she does, and if she doesn't examine Julian's motivations closely enough because of her own personal issues, the reader might not get that information either.

    So, I wonder: does it justify a lack of believable attraction in book 1, if the author is going for a subversion of some kind later, or doesn't mean it to last, or is crafting a more complicated romantic arc than usual? Is it ok to not explain the love interest's motivation plausibly for the reader, because the POV character doesn't know or understand that information? Or does it still need to be… if not a romance for the ages, at least more believable than this one was?

    • Cay Reet

      If you want to subvert a trope or use it later, it’s always a good idea to give a foreshadowing, be it a little scene that suggests what might happen or some seemingly throwaway lines that will make things look differently later. Twists and changes should never come completely out of the blue as if the author just thought them up while writing (even if they do). A lack of believable attraction is never justified, no matter what happens later. In case of one person having a justified reason for being attracted, but the story being from the other person’s persepective, you might have to switch POV for a scene to put it in or find another way to explain to the audience where they’re coming from.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I’m not sure what Halls does with this romance in later books, but in general, you don’t want to sacrifice the current story’s quality for a payoff later. At best, some of your readers won’t ever make it to your later twist. At worst, the twist will feel like you’re making excuses for an earlier mistake.

    • Darian

      Hmm, the twist was a bit surprising but made sense when I read it, given the character’s behaviour to that point. Of course, as a reader, if I am extremely into a pairing in a story and it doesn’t work out, then I get upset, so maybe it’s supposed to feel slightly off, as a warning? Like, she doesn’t seem to have a strong reason to be attracted, so maybe she isn’t as committed as one might like.

      Maybe the problem in this case is not severe enough to ruin the story unless someone’s reading it primarily for the romance? But for those people, yeah, they’ll probably not bother to finish or continue the series unless desperate for lesbian urban fantasy of any caliber. Which isn’t the attitude the author wants to inspire. And the overarching plot isn’t clear in volume 1 — the dangerous problem seems mostly resolved at the end (and the book ends on a romance note as well). So if there isn’t a compelling romance, nor a fantasy-plot hook for the next volume, people might only feel like picking up the next book if they liked the writing style. I guess it was only his second published novel, so not the most polished. Still fun though.

  9. Liu

    If you think Carline and Pug are terrible, wait til you meet Pug’s wife! She made me miss Carline.

  10. mocktest727

    I’m not really sure why people think Kataang is weak romance when it was obvious from the start that they would end up together. They talk things through like they’ve been together for a long time and Katara does show hints that she also likes Aang, including being jealous of other girls around him, particularly in 1×04 and 3×02 (and their whole dancing scene). Plus, 2×02, where Katara suggest they should kiss.

    Yes, Katara has been attracted to other boys (Jet and Haru). But you can have feelings for someone and still find other people attractive. Finally, she has never been attracted to Zuko. I get it, the concept is compelling, but they never see each other in a romantic light because both are pretty much sorting out their own things and then Zuko starts dating Mai.

    I feel like the mistake people make when analyzing Kataang is expecting tension and chemistry, but it’s not like this because they are still in their early teens. And I think the creators’ take in love and relationships is more focused on communication and being there for each other rather than tension. Take Makorra and Korrasami, for example.

    • Cay Reet

      If they’re still in their early teens, then, perhaps, there shouldn’t be romance.

  11. Adam Reynolds

    I wonder if the Aang/Katara romance would have been better if they’d simply used a fairly significant time skip for the last scene, so that the characters are all older and it thus doesn’t feel as odd for the two of them to get together. The idea of them spending a few years sort of going different directions before Aang and Katara get together properly would have probably worked better.

    Though this actually gets to the bottom of what I think is actually the real flaw here, which is that Aang is too young in general and even Katara is borderline. The show wanted to have their cake and eat it too, in which they wanted Aang to be twelve for the sake of the tragedy of him losing his childhood, but they also needed him to be mature enough to be a proper hero despite the fact that this is impossible for a twelve year old. It is also a straight up war crime for mentor characters to be encouraging kids this young to fight in a war, but the show wouldn’t work if this was acknowledged.

    The Legend of Korra has plenty of flaws of its own, but at least Korra and her Team Avatar are mostly adults before they fight a war. Tenzin’s kids are still an example, but at least they aren’t generally the focus of direct combat in the same way that Aang and company were. Most of the time they wind up fighting it is only because they were attacked. The one time they are intentionally sent on a mission doesn’t really involve violence.

    • Cay Reet

      That would definitely have worked better, yes. If there were a time skip and we see them a few years later, now together, it would have made much more sense. They’d have matured off-screen, have spent time together not in life-threatening situations or on the run, and could easily have grown into a romantic relationship. Personally, I don’t really believe in it from the series so far (relationships can change, but for me, Aang/Katara was very forced) and I find that both, but especially Aang, are still too young for a romantic relationship at the end of the series.

      The age is also where the comparisons to Legend of Korra fail for me: Korra and the others are much older, which not only makes it more realistic that they would get into serious fights, it also makes it more realistic for romance to develop between them.

  12. Jibek Mechler

    Why did Katara fall in love with Aang? Because he’s the main character of course!
    I don’t ship Zutara or Aang and Toph, but Kataang feels really forced.

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