Does Your Protagonist Have to Have a Love Interest?

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Recently, I was tossing around some ideas for a WIP, and when I went back and looked at the outline something dawned on me: the main character didn’t have a love interest. The main thread of the story was about the change that happens to this particular character as she searches for the identity of a killer. From beginning to end,  the search for the killer. And I wondered: how would readers react to this story if I didn’t give her a love interest?

I started thinking about some of my favorite novels. Even when the main story isn’t about the character finding love, the character is involved in some type of relationship. Maybe my memory fails me, but I can’t think of a single story I’ve read recently that didn’t involve people in the pursuit of love. Even people who have given up on love seem to find themselves in some sort of romantic situation.

Certainly, I can write the story and not have the character fall in love or even think about romantic relationships. But how would readers respond? Is there some part of a reader that expects every story to have a romance subplot?

So, I went back and reworked the story to include a love interest. I didn’t want it to seem superfluous so I really tried to make the love story integral to the plot. But it got me thinking: does the main character have to have a love interest? Can you think of any contemporary books where the main character didn’t? Am I driving myself crazy for nothing??? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

41 thoughts on “Does Your Protagonist Have to Have a Love Interest?

  1. I don’t think the main character has to have a love interest. For one thing, I’ve spent enough time on the internet to know that readers will see a potential relationship between just about any two characters, even if you didn’t intend it to be there at all. ^_^ And while I do think there’s always room for romance, I think the story as a whole is more important. If the romance doesn’t need to be there, then it shouldn’t be, and having it seem tacked-on is a real risk. I’d say, write it as you originally planned it, and if two characters seem to be hitting it off and a romance could happen, go with it. If not, don’t worry about it. What matters is that you tell your story the way you want to, not how anyone else would expect it.

    Now that I think about it, the only books I’ve read recently that had no romance whatsover are two by the same author, Brandon Sanderson – one has an arranged courtship that’s not romantic at all, and another has nothing relationship-based, despite being a YA story set largely at a school. Hrm.
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    • You make some great points. I think the only way to do it if it seems integral to the plot, otherwise, scrap it. I’ll see how this one turns out (fingers crossed).

  2. SUCH A GOOD QUESTION. I’ve noticed the same thing: it’s so rare to find a book that doesn’t have a love story in it somewhere. Sometimes, though, that really, really bugs me. You can tell when the author has stuck in the love story because he/she felt like it HAD to be there – but it does nothing to move the plot along or develop characters and I end up wishing it would just go away. I can’t even count the number of YA books that have the line “…and in the middle of all of this she’s falling for [insert name of cool distant guy]…” or something along those lines, in the blurb. I always want to be like, “Damn, can’t you let the poor girl chase demons/find the murderer/figure out her sexuality/come to terms with her father’s loss/learn magic WITHOUT putting a boy (or girl) in the way???

    But then of course there are the books where the love story is really important, and then I don’t even think about it and love it all.

    Don’t get me wrong: I love a good love story. I just don’t want it there if it doesn’t need to be. Y’know?

    I dunno. It makes me wonder if this is a marketing thing – do editors and agents tell authors to insert love stories? Do they think those sell? Why IS it so widespread? I wrote a novel that has no romantic interest whatsoever – but since it’s not published yet I can’t really say whether or not that was a good idea 😉

    So I’ll just give my personal opinion: if the story or the character needs a romance, definitely put it in. Otherwise, leave it out. That’s just my two cents!
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  3. I’m late to this conversation, but it’s a good point. My first novel was a suspense and there was no love for the protagonist. I toyed with adding it, but it didn’t fit the story. I think that’s what I like about “women’s fiction”–it’s usually about the growth and development of the character and that may or may not involve a romance.
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  4. I’ve read some really good points in the previous comments. Personally, I like a little romance in the stories I read. The key is knowing when it’s too much or not enough. A romance novel needs romance in it, but that isn’t the case for the other genres. But if you are going to include some romance or lust scenes, you have to make sure that they don’t overpower the main plot or you just threw it in there to pacify readers. A romance novel will require multiple love/sex scenes. For other genres, it can be hinted at with a glance, a blush, other physical/internal reactions to the crush/love interest, which can lead to some “romping.” Still that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to end up in that direction. In the end, your character knows best if they want romance or not. Or whether they’ll follow their heart or not. Like Ray Bradbury said, “Your intuition know what to write. So get out of the way.”
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  5. I love romance, so whatever book I’m writing whether it’s suspense or supernatural there’s always an element of romance and the protagonist has a love interest, but that’s just me. I don’t think it’s necessary, though. If you want to write a book where the main character doesn’t have a love interest then do it! I bet there’s a LOT of readers out there who would find that refreshing.
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  6. Your story does not have to have a love interest, unless your story demands it. I’m always of the opinion that you have to follow the story. If your protagonist needs some love to make it to their goal by the end, then add it in. If not, trust your gut and buck tradition!
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  7. No, I don’t think it is necessary, but it does depend on the novel and the genre. Having said that, I do think most novels have a whiff of romance in them. Even if only by mentioning a wife or a husband, there is the assumption that there certainly has been romance in the protagonists life.
    Since the human race would die out if there was no interaction of male and female, it shouldn’t surprise us that any story that deals with ordinary lives would likely include a reference to love, sex or romance.
    Of the four novels I have had published, only one could be remotely called a Romance; one is clearly not about romance, yet at least one of the characters is in a serious relationship; another is about friendship, but romance past and present is there too, and the fourth centres on a married woman, so there is romance in her backstory. With none of them did I set out to write a Romance.
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    • “Since the human race would die out if there was no interaction of male and female, it shouldn’t surprise us that any story that deals with ordinary lives would likely include a reference to love, sex or romance.” Makes perfect sense! And I also like what you say about a story only needing a whiff of romance. That’s a great way to think about it because sometimes plotting a full fledged romance subplot is exhausting.
      Quanie recently posted..Does Your Protagonist Have to Have a Love Interest?My Profile

  8. I’m sure I read stories which didn’t involved love interests, and still I can’t think to a single one now.

    As others said, it depends on the story. Gina made a good point: if she’s chasing down a serial killer, maybe she has other things on her mind. Maybe she even has a love interest, but that part of her life never enters the story. So I think it also depends on how you’re playing the story itself. I suppose if it’s an adventure-driven story, you probably don’t need a love interest in there. If it’s more of a inner journey, you may be better off with a love interest.

    Personally, I don’t neccessarily expect a romance to be in a story. If the story is strong and interesting and involving I’ll enjoy it with or without romance 🙂
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  9. To be engrossing, a story has to be about change. Adding relationships ups the ante. Adding romantic relationships makes it even more interesting. Even the hint of a romance automatically and significantly widens the appeal of the story. It does not necessarily make the story better, but much more saleable.

    In 1st-world country culture, we have just about everything else, so a soul mate is the most universally desirable goal—after a car, big screen tv and Playstation, of course. Even married people are interested in soul mates, as the divorce stats indicate that most do not marry one. Our closest relationships are the number one place where we get validation and a feeling of support. Sadly, the number 2 place, is probably Facebook.

    I have read several great stories where there is no real love interest: The Road, The Help and The Kite Runner come immediately to mind.
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  10. Not always – although there is usually the potential for a relationship. Dick Frances was good at this – many of his characters meet a gal – she may only appear 3 or 4 times in the book – but there is the anticipation that after the book, they’ll get to know each other better.

    I think most novels have at least a hint of a couples relationship – not always love mind you.

    I put a pinch of romance in my mysteries usually…. sometimes it is secondary characters. It is a great way to have a plot thread to weave into the story and give the protagonist a break from the fast paced action of the main plot line.
    Mahrie G. Reid recently posted..Christmas in the old westMy Profile

  11. Nah, not necessary – or a given, for that matter. Unless you feel it adds to your story or your character fell in love behind your back, it could seem superfluous. I had someone say she wished the poor guy could’ve fallen in love. My response was “How do you know he won’t?” to which she exclaimed “Oh! There’s another one coming?!” You betcha! 😉
    Another compelling post, Quanie! Thanks!

  12. I don’t think it’s mandatory. It all depends on your story.
    My first published novel is about a woman who searches for what happened to her mother twenty years ago. She doesn’t have a love interest and readers enjoyed the novel.

  13. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I’d certainly be interested in reading one without it. Might make me feel better since I’m currently single! OAN: I can see your point in that it might be difficult to market without a romantic interest. It just makes a character seem more well rounded. It’s rare for a healthy person who’s not a senior citizen to be totally content without romance. Either they’re in one, just coming out of one, or looking for one…it’s just human nature.
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  14. I’ve never really thought about this before, Quanie! But I guess it all depends on how strong your story is and whether or not a love interest actually ties into the plot. If your protagonist is searching for a serial killer, does she really need to find love along the way? We would like to think so but depending on how you’ve created her, maybe she has other things on her mind. This one is tough because I can’t really think of any books without some sort of romantic pursuit or element!
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  15. wow I honestly can’t think of one! The one I’m reading now, the MC is already married with her kid (it’s the 7th in a series) so romance isn’t big in it at all but that doesn’t count–every book I’ve currently read included finding love. I would totally read a book without it though!

  16. Good one! I also can’t think of a story where there was not a least a crush or a “friend with benefits” or someone that was pining away for the protagonist…but I don’t think its a must have. I say if your character tells you “I don’t need a man.” dont force it. But, if it’s working, it’s working.

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