Resolving Sexual Tension in a Paranormal or Fantasy Romance Series

I’m having a dilemma at the moment. I’m working on a manuscript, and while I’m nearing the end of it, I can already see that it is too long. And not just a little too long. It’s more than 100,000 words too long. The prospect of editing it down to a reasonable size is nothing short of terrifying.

When I mentioned this to a friend they said, “why don’t you just make it two books?”

A valid point. That would mean finding an appropriate climactic point to end the first book on, but I think I’ve got one of those, and could edit things to make it work.

The big obstacle is this: the book is a romance. Sure, it’s also an epic fantasy, but it centres around a love story, and as happens in most love stories, the characters get together at the end. If I cut the book in half, I have a fantasy romance novel where the characters don’t actually get together.

I hate the idea of ending a book without the resolution of the romance, because I know as a reader that would annoy the hell out of me. The sexual tension builds, you get to the end and… nothing. The characters are still not together. Sometimes they haven’t even kissed.

But then I thought about it a little more, and I realised I have read romances where the characters take three books to get together. Was I annoyed? Yes. But did I buy the next books and read the whole series? Yes.

That unresolved romantic tension enticed me to read on.

As I see it, there are three types of first-in-a-series books when it comes to resolving sexual tension:

Resolved

The characters confess or show their love for one another in the end, kiss, and sleep together. Then it’s usually the break up of the relationship, or the threat of it, that keeps the tension high in the following novels (or a move to entirely new characters and a different romance within the same story world).

Novels I’d put in this category are: Shiver, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Graceling, Slave to Sensation, Outlander, Daughter of the Forest, These Broken Stars

Semi-resolved

The characters might kiss and become romantically involved, but they don’t actually have sex or confess full love and commitment. They might dream about sleeping together, or almost sleep together… but they don’t quite do it. Thus the sexual part of the tension still remains.

Novels I’d put in this category are: Twilight, Vampire Academy, Fallen

Unresolved

The characters don’t properly get together or confess their love, and perhaps don’t even kiss.

Novels I’d put in this category are: Daughter of the Blood, Assassin’s CurseAngelfall
(Angelfall is borderline semi-resolved, as they do kiss, but there is no sense that they are actually a proper couple so I’ve put it here)

Which is Best?

Needless to say, there are lot more first books that resolve the tension, or at least semi-resolve it, than first books that leave it unresolved.

And while I have continued on with the series and read the second book for many of the 1st and 2nd category types, I have also continued with those in the 3rd category. Furthermore, the ones in the last two categories hooked me in a way that made me want to read on straight away. In the 3rd category particularly, I had the distinct feeling the story wasn’t finished yet, and I needed to see it resolved.

I have always said I hated books where the characters don’t kiss/get together in the end and yet those are the ones that keep me reading, even if it is grudgingly.

Thus, I have a dilemma with my own book. Do I write a romance that doesn’t resolve in the first book, and risk annoying anyone who reads it? Or do I perform some serious surgery to wrestle my book down to size (cutting a lot of the story out, not just the chaff) to get the romance resolved, and just make it a one-book thing? I’m not really sure what would serve the story best, and I think it’ll take a lot of thinking and re-reading till I come to a decision.

Still, I am curious to hear what other people think about resolving sexual tension in the first book of a series. Do you hate books where the romance doesn’t resolve by the end of the book? Would you continue reading a series where this happens, or give up on it? Would you rate the book badly because the characters didn’t indulge in the magical kiss you were hoping for?

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15 thoughts on “Resolving Sexual Tension in a Paranormal or Fantasy Romance Series

  1. I think that as long as the relationship is secondary to the story itself, it can be left unresolved in the first book.

    If on the other hand, the main focus of the story is the romance then it might be a problem to keep it unresolved.

    Hope my amateur thoughts are helpful to u in some way 😦

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  2. I do agree with @movierob – otherwise it could be dragging out the book for no purpose. But, it doesn’t seem to me Nicola that you would write excessive words for no reason, so you I expect that’s not an issue.

    Another thought: perhaps a few more chapters, then you might even have 3 books… 🙂 Everyone loves a good series of books, because you don’t want it to end! So I think if the reader becomes engrossed in reading from the first book, they’ll keep reading, either in spite of unresolved elements or as a result of that.

    I’m actually more inclined to think unresolved is better – motivation to keep reading – within reason. I notice this in TV series especially that when tension is resolved, then the series is never as good after that.

    But I wonder too what others think, I’m not sure everyone necessarily agrees. I guess that’s the tough choices writers and editors like you have to end up making 🙂

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    • That TV comparison is really interesting – I have watched many series where they just keep dangling that romance and not resolving it (e.g. X-Files), and while I kind of hate them for it, the moment the characters finally do get together the series becomes less interesting, like you said. So I guess that’s why those books that don’t resolve things still have me reading on, even if I am a tad annoyed that they didn’t give me the resolution I wanted straight away 🙂

      Re. the trilogy idea, I’m not sure if I’d have enough story to divide it into three books (I think it might just feel like one long book chopped into three pieces) but who knows. I haven’t finished it yet, and I’ll need to have a good hard look at it once it’s done to see what editing and restructuring it needs – but always an option to keep in mind!

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  3. I like the earlier comparison to TV series, where the tension is maintained through not resolving the relationship. With a duology, I think you can plan ways to not make it just a flat disappointment. Also, if you self-publish, this will allow you to do a lot of stuff like coordinate covers and schedule release of the second volume after a satisfactory interval.

    Frankly, it bothers me more when characters immediately hop into the sack and then have lots of quarrels because — duh — they hardly know each other. I am not typically a romance reader, however.

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    • Yes, I think if the romance is too rushed and packed into one short book so it can sometimes seem a bit implausible, particularly if it’s portrayed as the kind of perfect “fate-ordained” stars-align type romance. I think that’s probably why my romance story takes so long to resolve – there are too many hurdles for them to just hop in the sack together after a few pages!

      I hadn’t even considered a duology. I guess I always tend to think that series need to be in trilogies or longer, but I suppose there’s no rule that says that. In fact, the novel I just finished reading is actually a part of a duology.

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  4. I’ve read some great series where all sorts of things are left unresolved at the end of the first book. Personally, if the storytelling is great, and I understand going into the first book that it’s the beginning of a series, I don’t mind if tons of things are still unresolved at the end, and rather expect it, because I know there is more of the story to come.

    I know some authors who write series think that each book in the series should be a standalone book, but I’m just old-school and don’t need to be pandered to like that. As long as you the author tell me the reader up front that I’m about to read the first book of a duology or trilogy or a longer series, if you are a good storyteller, I’ll let you wait until the last book in the series to resolve anything you want to wait to resolve.

    Do other readers really want every book in a series tied up in a neat little package, or is that just what authors think they want? Who knows? If I were you, I’d stay true to the storyline you already have and not manufacture some resolution or semi-resolution in the middle. Manufacturing a resolution for the sake of adhering to some structure is as likely to put off some readers as anything else you might be worried about.

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    • That’s interesting that you don’t mind waiting till later in the series for resolutions – great to get another perspective! I guess if the series is great and I love the storytelling, I will also continue reading without qualms, though I do find it annoying if the book doesn’t have a strong enough climax/resolution (even if it still leaves a lot unresolved). So perhaps I am too worried readers want resolutions that they don’t actually want! Still, I will have to consider what is best for the story itself, like you said… I can’t just chop it in half and manufacture a resolution and hope for the best. It’d have to be a significant restructure and re-write I think. Guess I’ll have to mull it over a bit more!

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  5. Lots of interesting replies here!
    My feeling is that if the romance has been dangled in front of me for a significant part of the story I’d feel a bit cheated if that story didn’t get there in some fashion. I also feel like I would see the hand of the author above the page, changing the story for technical or financial reasons rather than for the sake of the story. I can see that a resolved love story isn’t perhaps the best option here, but rather than leaving it with two lovers who just haven’t quite managed to say the right thing yet I’d feel more accepting of a cliffhanger if their relationship was blown out of the water a bit, with some kind of perceived betrayal or accident or something.

    Then again you could also play with the reader’s expectations and resolve the love story in this book only to break it down in the next, paving the way for an unseen romance to blossom!

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    • Haha, the old bait-and-switch: entice with one romance and then throw in an entirely new one! I must admit I haven’t ever seen that one done before in a series, but would be interesting to see if it’d work. Unfortunately I think if you spend the first book building up a romance with one character, it might be hard to get them invested in one with another…

      That’s a good point about having a big accident or betrayal – I guess if something dramatic like that blows the characters apart you don’t expect them to get together till the next book/s. Not sure if that will work for my current manuscript… but certainly something to consider!

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  6. That’s defiantly a problem in a romance novel. If the romance is the great majority of the book than I would agree that something should be resolved by the ending of the story. The problem is in a series. You have to leave the reader hooked to want to continue. However, if the sequel isn’t written yet… OUCH! That just sucks. I can see the frustration.

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    • Yes, fortunately I am a often so slow with getting around to reading new books that by the time I do the sequels are already out 🙂 But on the rare occasion when I can’t get the sequel and they haven’t resolved things I get very annoyed!

      I actually know some people who refuse to start reading a series until it’s finished… Perhaps it’s that fear of being left hanging.

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      • I work for the Zharmae Publishing Press and they say that all the time. Most new authors who write a series won’t see success until the series is complete.
        Honestly, I shouldn’t talk. I’m an author and my first book has been published with Dragonwell Publishing, but it’s the first of a series of four and there is stuff I had to save and spread out throughout the books. And I’m the reader that gets annoyed with that lol

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  7. Being one of the readers that hates to be left hanging, I often don’t start a series until it’s all available. When I first saw ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ – yes, when it was first released, a long time ago – I was furious that Han Solo was left encased in carbonite for years until ‘iReturn of the Jedi’ came out. That being said, not everything has to be resolved at the end of each book in a series. There is the overarching series arc, then there’s the story arc of each book. Whether the series has two books or ten, the stakes for each successive book has to increase on the one before it, and has to further the overall series arc. As long as a book doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger (which I personally think should be reserved for the end of chapters) then readers won’t get annoyed, providing they know they were buying the first of n-number of books.
    All that to say, (in my opinion) – it really depends on whether the romance is the main focus of the story. Is there enough in the story apart from the romance that you can you provide some type of resolution at the end of the first book? If yes, then think not resolving the romance, or only providing teases, would work fine and would encourage readers to get the next book. If not, then it would be obvious that it was just a very big romance book split in two. I suspect with that number of words, there has to be a substantial story apart from the romance.

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