An action-adventure story has a lot of important elements you have to put in — fights, chases, cliffhangers, megalomaniacal villains, etc.
Sure, there’s usually a girl (or, in some of the more modern action-adventure stories, a guy) to rescue/fall for/team up with. But a love story is the stuff of romance novels and chick lit, isn’t it? You don’t find that sort of thing in action tales.
I tried to think about some of the biggest adventure stories in recent Western culture/literature for examples of love in the action genre. In Die Hard, John McClane’s estranged wife Holly is in Nakatomi Tower while he battles the terrorists, and he’s clearly in love with her.
But Holly Ginero is really just a variation on the damsel in distress. Die Hard isn’t a love story.
In the Star Wars trilogy, Princess Leia is much more than a beautiful woman who needs to be rescued. Once she’s out of her cell, she’s in charge. But none of those films is a love story in any meaningful way. Princess Leia is a supporting character to the epic of Luke Skywalker’s maturation into a redeemer.
In the first movie-and-a-half, she is Luke’s love interest. In the second movie-and-a-half, she becomes Han Solo’s. By the time she turns to Han, Luke is already emotionally gone. He’s on the path to becoming a Jedi, and the love triangle, such as it is, is conveniently broken by the retroactive revelation that Leia is Luke’s sister, so it wouldn’t work out anyway.
The only modern action-adventure story I could think of that really has love as a central theme was Ladyhawke. The largely forgotten 1985 Richard Donner film starring Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Matthew Broderick tells the story of two cursed lovers. She spends every day as a hawk; he spends every night as a wolf. While one is in animal form, the other is human. They are eternally together but forever apart. The action of the film may be Hauer’s quest for revenge against the bishop that cursed them, but it is the love affair between he and Pfeiffer that drives the story.
So, when I sat down to pen Red Dragon Five, I knew I wanted it to be a love story, but I didn’t have a lot of models to work from. How does one write an action-adventure novel that is also a love story without slipping into the realm of romance fiction but still creating an authentic tale about two people in love?
The funny thing is, despite there not being a lot of fiction to model my story on, I didn’t worry overly much about getting it right. I just wrote. Wolf and May are in love. Like any other two people, that is integral to whom they are. It also doesn’t mean they don’t have jobs with concerns independent of their relationship. Wolf is an Urlish Shadow. May is Captain of the Elite Guard. During the day they do what their governments need. At night, they come together and share their lives. I just wrote them that way.
It helped a bit for finding the balance that the lovers are apart for much of the novel. Wolf is off behind enemy lines in Jifan searching for the missing Red Dragon. May is home in Alfar dealing with a disintegrating political situation. The action aspect of the novel was easy to carry off, since the two main characters have their own separate plots.
But the love story drives everything else. Wolf leaves on a dangerous mission and is afraid for the first time in his life. It’s not going behind enemy lines with no backup that scares him. It’s the possibility he might never see May again. When he disappears and is presumed dead, May abandons her post and frees several prisoners to help her search for him.
And while they’re apart, their free moments are spent thinking of the other. Wolf yearns to be finished with his mission, so he can return to May. May worries about Wolf constantly and wonders what he’s doing.
And in between that there are battles and murders and political machinations and intrigue and suspense and all the things you expect from a good action-adventure story.
But there’s also love.
There is the poignant moment when May, having been told Wolf is presumed dead, visits her father to ask for advice on what to do. There is the realization by Wolf that he has never been in a real relationship before, never been in love before, and he has no idea what he is supposed to do or how to handle it. There is the uncomfortable understanding between the two that they both have dangerous jobs and someone’s career may need to change for them to continue to be together.
Red Dragon Five is a page-turning yarn about the sabotage of a top-secret weapons program. But it’s also a book about two people in love and their struggle to be together. Those two stories, while separate in a way, are not incompatible. They are blended together to weave a very human story . . . even if one of the lovers is an elf.
There may not be a lot of modern precedent for an action-adventure tale that is also a love story, but that wasn’t daunting to me. I wrote Red Dragon Five to be a book I could not only be proud of but that I would like to read. And, as much as I like thrills and spills, I enjoy a good romance too.
Red Dragon Five is both.