I enjoy a lot of different types of romances, but I confess I particularly like it when the author lets me know that hero and heroine are soul mates. Maybe it's because I'm a diehard romantic who believes that there's someone out there that we resonate with more closely than we do with anyone else. Or maybe it has to do with the idea of belonging to someone in a special way. I'm not really certain of the whys, I just know I love reading those types of stories.
In the last year or so, though, I've been seeing readers on bulletin boards and blogs commenting in a negative way about the idea of soul mates in romance fiction. The reason seems to be universal--they feel the author is taking a shortcut because there's no building of the relationship.
Recently, I wrote my own version of a soul mate romance--Through a Crimson Veil--and saw comments about how I didn't "cheat." And the people who said that seemed surprised, which surprised me.
My take on soul mates isn't that the hero and heroine catch one glimpse of each other and fall instantly in love. It doesn't matter if they've loved this other soul in life after life, when they meet in this life neither the hero nor the heroine are a blank slate. They've lived, they've had childhoods and survived adolescence and young adulthood, that means they have baggage just like every other human being. It means they're going to share the same fear of falling in love that almost every other human being has. That this other person is a soul mate doesn't mitigate how scary it can be to feel something as deep as love.
Being soul mates is also no guarantee that a couple will choose to be together. Being half of a pair of soul mates doesn't negate free will. Of course, since this is romance we're writing, there will be a happy ending, but because I believe in torturing my characters, they're not necessarily going to reach it easily. :-)
In Crimson Veil, I even used the heroine's anticipation of instant rapport as a plot point. Mika knows Conor is her soul mate before they meet, so she expects him to realize immediately that she's The One even if he doesn't understand why. She quickly learns, however, that she's going to have to get to know him, and they're both going to have overcome their pasts if they want a future. No easy task because their respective lives have left them very different from each other in their views and their behavior.
Soul mates are probably a big enough topic for one blog posting, but I'm going to bring reincarnation into it too since, for me at least, they are permanently linked.
I love reincarnation romance, but it's so seldom handled well. Sometimes I wonder what kind of research the author has done because so little of it matches anything I've read on the topic, and believe me, I've read a lot! But when it's done well, the story becomes extra special. Linda Howard's "Lake of Dreams" in the Everlasting anthology might be the best reincarnation romance ever. IMO, of course.
Since the hero and heroine usually have had at least one past life together, this fits in with the soul mate idea, but the extra component I like is that not only are the hero and heroine dealing with their baggage from this life, in reincarnation romance they're also dealing with something from a past life as well.
In "Lake of Dreams," the heroine has seen how she's died in many lives, and from what she's dreamed, it always seems to be at the hero's hands. Now she's met him again, she's fallen for him, and she's trying to beat what seems to be the fated conclusion of their incarnations. The suspense is whether or not she'll be successful and they'll have their happy ending in this life at last. If you haven't read this novella, I highly recommend it. Along with being a fabulous reincarnation romance, I also believe it might be the best anthology story ever. That short format is tough!
Do I need to mention that I've always wanted to write a reincarnation romance? :-) I did it too and I used this past life to cause conflict between my hero and heroine. If Mika and Conor thought being soul mates was difficult, they got off easy compared to Kendall and Wyatt. :-) In Eternal Nights not only are the hero and heroine dealing with Kendall's baggage from a nomadic childhood where she was forced to be the adult instead of her mother, but they're also dealing with things held over from a past life. Wyatt remembers this life, but Kendall doesn't know why she's attracted to the temple or why Wyatt hates that damn pyramid. And as the story progresses, this thread becomes a bigger issue.
Are the leftovers from their past life the main conflict? No, there's plenty of this life issues to play that role, but it's a nice secondary conflict and one I like to think adds to what they're already dealing with.
Reincarnation and soul mates can make for a very compelling theme in any romance story, but writers need to do their research. Check out the New Age section at the bookstore or check out the metaphysical section at the library and read a few books on the subject if you want to use this idea. It's interesting reading and might just spark some unexpected plot threads. And if you do use it, don't forget your characters still need to work for their happy ending. Readers shouldn't feel as if they missed the "good stuff."
So no shortcuts, no love at first sight. To quote Wyatt, "more like intrigued at first sight."
Eternal Nights - August 2006