Cecilia Tan: Multiple Partners, Multiplying Plots
I think it’s wonderful that “menage” and other forms of multiple-partner relationships are finally gaining some acceptance within romance. The realization that true love doesn’t only have to come in a two-pack is one I’ve experienced in real life and truly enjoy reading in fiction. What makes fiction exciting is the conflicts and unexpected twists. Realizing that there are various ways things could go and that it’s not a given who ends up with whom in exactly what configuration in the happy ending adds some of both!
Since I enjoy multiple-partner relationships, love triangles that become triads, pairs that meet to become quads, and maybe even—as I joked on Twitter with Holly Black and Sarah Rees Brennan the other day—the love trapezoid, it only made sense for me to start writing them as well. In the Magic University series, our hero arrives at Harvard to his own “Harry Potter” moment—the shocking news that he is magical, and will actually be attending Veritas, the hidden university of arcane arts on the campus.
Thus begins a fantasy epic, but since it is paranormal romance, rather than a quest to defeat evil, I have turned the series into a quest for true love. I already knew at the outset that our hero would have a different love interest in each book of the series. In THE SIREN AND THE SWORD, the very first girl he meets seems absolutely perfect for him, and he spends much of the book trying to be perfect for her. But you know a quest doesn’t just end in the first book. By book two, THE TOWER AND THE TEARS, his search needs to move on.
Originally I had planned for Kyle to just have one partner per book, but he has not been very good at doing what I want. He was supposed to start dating a girl named Marjory in book two, but before the second chapter was out, he was making a date with a girl named Ciara from his sex magic class! Marjory was not to be denied, though. As a tutor in sex magic (known in academic circles as the “Esoteric Arts), Marjory gets involved with both Kyle and Ciara, both sexually and emotionally. At one point they even have a foursome with Kyle’s best friend, over the holidays when all four of them live together off campus.
This may sound like all fun and games, but it actually becomes a challenge to give each of the important characters enough “screen time.” In a typical fantasy, the camera is nearly always on the protagonist. But in a romance we are already doubling the difficulty, as modern romance readers want to know what is going on in both the hero and the heroine’s heads. Now add a third or a fourth character to the love mix, and you have a whole additional layer or two of backstory to be told, and limited pages within which to win over the reader with a new person.
To succeed, each character must have an emotional arc that carries them in the story from one place to another. If characters do not grow or change, they are more like scenery than people. The larger the cast becomes, the more difficult it is to make them anything more than spear carriers. The reader wants to go on an emotional journey while reading a romance. They become invested in the characters, and the writer wants to give them good return on that investment!
This is probably why each of the Magic University books has been longer than the previous. In THE SIREN AND THE SWORD there was just one major love relationship to explore. In THE TOWER AND THE TEARS, it evolves into a threesome. In book three, THE INCUBUS AND THE ANGEL, things are complicated further as Kyle is essentially in a love triangle, but when he discovers lucid dreaming, he ends up carrying on the equivalent of four relationships, not two, as each has a waking and a sleeping version.
I’m writing book four now. Maybe this one will end up with a love trapezoid. We’ll see.
About the Author: Cecilia Tan is a writer, editor, and the founder of Circlet Press. She is the author of many books, including Mind Games, The Hot Streak, White Flames, Edge Plays, Black Feathers, The Velderet, and Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords, as well as the Magic University series of paranormal erotic romances, and the currently ongoing web serials The Prince’s Boy and Daron’s Guitar Chronicles. She has the distinction of being perhaps the only writer to have erotic fiction published in both Penthouse and Ms. magazines, as well as in scores of other magazines and anthologies including Asimov’s, Best American Erotica, and Nerve. Learn more at http://blog.ceciliatan.com.
The Magic University Series: Info page http://blog.ceciliatan.com/?page_id=318
Print Book buy links:
The Siren and the Sword: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/159003208X
The Tower and the Tears: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/159003211X
Ebook buy links:
The Siren and the Sword: http://www.ravenousromance.com/fantastica/magic-university-book-one-the-siren-and-the-sword.php
The Tower and the Tears: http://www.ravenousromance.com/fantastica/magic-university-the-tower-and-the-tears.php
The Incubus and the Angel: http://www.ravenousromance.com/fantastica/magic-university-the-incubus-and-the-angel.php