How NOT To Write A Romance: A Lesson from Man of Steel

*** Attention!! Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen Man of Steel yet, read with caution!!

Man of Steel 1

7 pm last Thursday evening– the hubs and I went to the movies to see Man of Steel.

My husband is a GINORMOUS Superman fan and has been since he was a child. He’s indoctrinated our sons on the ways of the Man of Steel, and my boys are huge fans, too (I’ve kinda taken a shine to him, myself). So it was no surprise to the people who know us that we could be found at the very first showing of this anticipated summer blockbuster.

Overall, I liked the movie.

I’m not going to give a complete review of the movie because I really couldn’t care less about some of the things online bloggers are saying about it (so SuperHubs tells me. I haven’t been reading reviews.) I will say that Henry Cavill is the most handsome Superman EVER. Love that guy. He was, in fact, the inspiration for the male lead in my very first novel, written years ago. So glad he’s hitting big-time fame now.

The focus of this post is Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Yep, I’m coming at this movie from a romance writer’s POV. (Therefore, should you choose to want to discuss or argue other merits of the movie, you’d better head on over to my hubby’s movie blog for that.)

I want to point out that I am very aware that Man of Steel was not intended to be a romance. It is an action movie from beginning to end, but it does have some romantic elements. Because the filmmakers included those elements, I feel compelled to comment on them.

Last week a writer-friend of mine asked, “when is too soon in a novel to have a first kiss?” My response was, “The sooner, the better!” But of course, that’s only true if it’s done right.

I like for the tension between the male and female protags to simmer and bubble until it nearly boils over, bringing them to the point of that glorious first kiss, full of steam and emotion. If that takes the whole book (or movie), then so be it. If the author is able to work that in the first chapter, okay then.

But it takes time to build that sort of romantic tension.

So imagine how disappointed I was when I when I watched Man of Steel and felt robbed of the romantic tension between Clark and Lois. Robbed, I say!!!

man-of-steelHere’s the thing– everyone who knows even a smidge about Superman knows that Lois Lane and Clark Kent end up together. It’s fated. (Comic readers–I’m ignoring any trysts between Superman and Wonder Woman.)

Lois falls for Superman. She finds out that geeky Clark Kent is Superman. She falls for Clark Kent.

The story varies a little throughout the comic books (so I’m told by my hubby, lest you think I actually read comics. Ha ha!) and the movies, but the common thread is the same– Lois loves Clark and Clark loves Lois.

When we meet Clark in Man of Steel, he’s on a hero’s journey. He’s trying to discover where he comes from and where he fits in. He’s trying to find himself in this ole world. He’s lonely. He’s an outcast. He’s introverted. He has pretty much isolated himself from any human connection. His mission is absolute– find out who he is and where he comes from.

Spoiler Alert!! ****

Man of Steel throws Lois and Clark together pretty quickly. Clark has discovered that there is a ship from Krypton buried in Arctic ice. Ever intrepid reporter Lois secretly follows Clark (a stranger to her at this point) onto this 18,000 year old space craft. While Clark’s off doing Kryptony things on the other side of the ship, Lois gets hurt. Clark runs to her aid and what does he do? Immediately reveal his powers to her by cauterizing her wound with his fire-eyes.

NO. No no no no no. NO!!!!!!

Half of the fun of the Lois/Clark relationship is watching Lois use her reporter-powers to try to reveal Superman’s true identity. It’s fun to watch her develop suspicions about Clark (side note– are glasses really the perfect disguise?? I’ve never understood that. Maybe Lois is pretty dense.) and it is great to watch what unfolds when she learns that Clark is indeed Superman.

This movie stole all of that enjoyment.

Lois then spends part of the movie trying to track Clark down because she wants to write an alien story about him. When she finds him, she suddenly decides to drop the story to protect him.

Here’s where why matters. WHY does she suddenly want to protect him? There’s just not enough story development up to this point. What’s there is sparse and glossed over.

Move to the point where Clark decides to turn himself in as the alien that Zod is searching for, thus revealing himself to humanity. (Okay, I’ve probably confused you, but stay with me.)

When turning himself in, Clark requests to speak only to Lois.

Heh??? Why in the world would he request Lois, a woman he’s seen two times his whole life??

Because the writers of this movie were forcing Lois and Clark together. Using the obvious, fated relationship, they felt the need to make it happen fast.

In so doing, they stole the joy of allowing viewers to watch the relationship develop.

Suddenly it’s Team Clark-Superman/Lois against the world. Oh, and against Zod.

She accompanies Superman up into space on Zod’s ship. (Seriously?) She shoots some aliens. (Are ya kiddin’ me?) She works with Jor-El to save Superman. Then she high-tails it back to earth in a pod thingy that catches fire (clearly Lois is having a bad day).

Jor-El tells Superman that he can save her. He can save them all (aka humanity). Insert Christ-like correlations here.

So Superman saves her. That’s what he’s supposed to do. In return, Lois is going to help him save the planet (riiiiiiiiight).

Fast forward. The world is besieged by Zod as he uses some alien ships and technology to turn Earth into Krypton. Millions of people are dying (although the people aren’t really shown, it’s impossible not to assume that as Metropolis is basically falling down and Smallville is a hot mess).

Superman is in the fight of his life. Lois falls out of a plane. He saves her. They kiss.

IN THE MIDDLE OF A STINKIN BATTLE FOR EARTH, aliens involved and all, Superman finds time to kiss Lois, a chick he barely knows and has little relationship with, as they stand in a wasteland of what used to be Metropolis.


It was at this point in the movie that I became more interested in what was going on with Zod and pretty bummed that Chris Meloni’s character was dead. Hope for romantic tension to drive the relationship between Lois and Clark? As dead as Chris Meloni’s character.


The male writers of this movie could have consulted a few female romance writers for lessons on how to create tension. They should have, really. I know this movie wasn’t meant as a romance (that was Superman Returns), but it lacked the je ne sais quoi that made me want to root for Lois and Clark to get together.

There was no mystery between these two characters. There was no foundation for a relationship. There was no relationship, really, other than the couple of times they came in contact with each other.

So what should the writers have done instead? How could they have made the epic romance between Lois and Clark worthy of its tradition?

  • Give us a snippet of the motivation.

The writers insulted every intelligent human in the audience by presenting us with an isolated hero, bent on learning his true identity, who suddenly and inexplicably veers from that path, even if only for a moment. They needed to have included purpose for that deviation. Motivation, people. It’s called motivation. And what motivated Clark to reveal himself to Lois? What motivated him to suddenly have this faux-romantic connection with her? What motivated him to allow her to accompany him up to space to be on a Kryptonian ship????? And what about Lois’ motivation?? We know why Clark is motivated to find his true identity, but the rest of it left me scratching my head.

  • Instead of angering me by forcing a kiss between Lois and Clark too soon, the writers should have built the tension with mystery and internal conflict.

Clark has enough internal conflict going on, hence the reason why I can’t buy that he has time to be romantic about anything. Lois, however, is an underdeveloped character emotionally. We know next to nothing about her motivation, and thus her internal conflict about Clark/Superman. The fact that Clark reveals his true identity to her so quickly brings up more questions than answers. And it takes away the fun.

  • Use the physical, but not too much too soon.  Superman-and-Lois-Lane-in-Man-of-Steel

Lingering looks. Accidental touches. Superman could have saved her from the airplane, placed her tenderly on the ground, swept the hair back from her face and asked if she was okay with gentle, heroic concern in those baby-blue eyes, and every woman in the audience would have swooned. A non-kiss would have been 100 times more romantic.

  • Build an emotional connection through the external conflict.

Man of Steel skims the surface so much that we can only assume that Lois is attracted to Clark for two reasons– 1) he has powers 2) he is hot. In all the other Superman movies, Lois and Superman have an emotional connection. Where was that here??? Shared experiences bond people. And the destruction of Metropolis, Smallville, and the alien race of Kryptonians was definitely a shared experience. Why not play up that bond rather than force a kiss where it just seems ridiculous?

I loved the closing scene of the movie where, for the first time, we see Clark in his signature glasses, ready to start his job at the Daily Planet. But knowing that Lois already knows his true identity and that they have already shared a kiss, well, it leaves me not really caring what happens to them should there be a sequel. (I wish, more than anything, that they had saved the kiss for the next movie.)

The will-they-won’t-they tension is fun when you know they will, because it becomes when-will-they.

Now that they have, what’s the point?

Share with me: Have you seen Man of Steel? What are your thoughts on how the movie portrayed the relationship between Clark and Lois? How do you feel when the romance moves too quickly in a story?

Real Signature


Filed under Just For Fun, Romance, Writing

13 responses to “How NOT To Write A Romance: A Lesson from Man of Steel

  1. I have one question: How do you really feel about this movie?
    Oh wait … one more: How much of this did you talk out with your husband?

    And yes, I hate it when a romance — imaginary or real-life — is forced.

    • Lol. I guess I didn’t really let me feelings come through in this post, huh??? 🙂 Oh, and Brian and I have had conversations all weekend about this movie. He went back to see it again last night.

  2. Melissa Tagg

    Just a note to let you know I’m going to come back and read this a week from now. I’m (finally!!) seeing Man of Steel next Monday night. So, I’ll have to come back and read it after that. I always like hearing people’s thoughts on movies!

  3. Haven’t seen it – and won’t. I liked the first Christopher Reeve movie too much. I don’t want to dim the memory.

    Your analysis of the development of romantic tension is excellent. The motivational points are all-important, and the action (i.e. physical affection) really isn’t. It can all be communicated by words, and eyes.

    As an example, I’d put forward the relationship between the characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connally in “Blood Diamond”. They begin the movie hating one another, and end it in one of the most compelling romantic scenes I have ever seen (one without physical contact of any sort).

  4. I have always been a monster fan of Superman. I really enjoyed this one, but I told my husband. I missed the romantic thread between Lois and Superman. I think we’ll see more in the second movie now that he’s a reporter but it stinks that she knows his identity. I liked all the fun not knowing played into the comics, series, and movies.

  5. beezerhale

    Lois knows his identity in most Superman stories.

  6. beezerhale

    People (casual fans) seem hung up on the things that happened in the Donner movies. I thought this story played out just fine. We have already seen the “Lois tolerates Clark, but loves Superman” on the screen.

    • You know, dear husband, that I am not a devoted fan of the Donner movies. I’m not asking for “Lois tolerates Clark, but loves Superman.” I’m just asking for a little mystery and tension. I didn’t get it.

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