So, my story doesn't have a romance subplot until way later in the series, but I think that there are elements of the romance very early on.

A little background info: The story is set in a fantastical world where humans are the dominant race, and all others are servants or slaves. The MC is a banished prince seeking his throne, and the love interest is one of his slaves (Whom he will free later.)

The thing is, I want to tease the romance later, but if there are elements already planted in the reader's brain, I don't want them to think I'm giving them a cat and mouse chase. How do I avoid this?

I should clarify now, that he does not mistreat his slaves, and the slave is freed completely later in the story. He also goes out of his way to save them instead of himself, and to complete requests (Another slave has a daughter she wants to reunite, but it takes a long time to search for her.) His slaves are actually pretty much free. Just not on paper.

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    Do they treat the slaves badly if the "owner" gets an answer which is not what they wanted? The answer may depend on this.
    – MilkyWay90
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 23:53
  • The romance subplot won't even be happening until all of his slaves are pseudo-friends. And he never mistreats them, even if they wholly disagree or even disobey him. They're traveling companions rather than traditional slaves.
    – Kale Slade
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 13:18
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    If you want to make them 'traveling companions rather than traditional slaves' ... make them professionals hired for protection and/or entertainment. Make the distinction between them one employer/employee in which the latter makes clear she can walk away at any time. That's still ignoring a lot of power inequity (there's reasons why every school and large corporation out there have explicitly rules about not dating your students/direct employees) but it's going to be the closest you're going to get to what you want without earning a lot of (well-deserved) flack.
    – El Cadejo
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 15:53

4 Answers 4


You can't

This is not a romance. This is a master having sex with his slave. Or wanting to have sex.

But he's going to free the slave! Is he now? But the person is still a slave when this all begins.

This is an unequal relationship of exploitation.

Is it possible for someone in a subordinate relationship to genuinely love someone above her/him? Yes, of course. A butler can be in love with his employer. A high school athlete can be in love with her coach. But you can never be sure.

Saying someone is a slave isn't the same as saying they're of lower status. This isn't an interracial (interspecies) romance about two equals who society deems to be of different values. Nor is your object of romance simply "a slave." This person is his slave.

If someone can not say no without repercussions, then it is not a real relationship. Even if feelings!

If there is any "cat and mouse" business, it's the kind where the mouse better do what the cat says or it will get its head bitten clean off.

What if what you're planning involves a romance after the slave is free? Meaning truly free to go, with actual options to go somewhere else (it's still exploitation if someone stays because it's their job; they still can't say "no"). If the former slave stays by (true) choice and then there is a romance, okay, maybe.

Before that happens, yes, there can be sexual attraction or emotions about the other person. But it must be in the context of the extremely unequal relationship. You literally can not get more unequal between adults than master and slave. It makes all the other examples pale in comparison.

So there is no teasing.

Teasing love implies both parties are free to enter into a relationship. But one of the parties is literally not free. If the master has feelings for the slave, there is nothing sweet about it, just creepy and off-putting. No slave would have feelings for a master that weren't tempered by the reality of the situation.

The question in the title may be generic, but your story is not. This is not a story about two people from opposite sides of the tracks who slowly fall for each other. While there are sub-genres where a master and slave falling in love is considered awesome, any one with any sense of the real world will be cringing.

You must handle this with extreme care and not pretend it is an ordinary romance.

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    +1 I completely agree. However, I must say that if the master and slave develop a relationship of mutual respect and friendship which leads to the freeing of the slave - with no strings attached - and love only comes in as a later evolution, then I wouldn't take it badly. But absolutely NO strings attached when freeing the slave, and no hint of love until it's been quite some time after the freedom. 'You freed me and now i love you' must be avoided at all costs. Commented May 18, 2019 at 16:35
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    Would love to read a story where the slave owner dude finally sees the problem and rather than "freeing" her on condition she have a relationship with him, instead realizes how creepy he is and tries to stop being a creep…. Oh well. This is why Fantasy genre takes place in the distant past, I suppose. Guilt-free exploitation.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 17:30
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    Also, why do men think that refraining from rape/exploitation would be a reason to fall in love with them? Low bar or what?
    – wetcircuit
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 17:33
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    @SaraCosta The more realistic version I keep thinking of is Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. She bore him 6 children and, while the story is often told that they loved each other, we don't actually know. His feelings may have been real. Hers? Hard to tell. He didn't free her but she was able to negotiate with him to free their children, though it didn't happen for decades. Note that this official account doesn't confirm the relationship but DNA and other sources have. monticello.org/thomas-jefferson/jefferson-slavery/…
    – Cyn
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 18:11
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    I'd also like to draw your attention to the fact that every single one of your readers will be reading your story as a metaphor for American slavery. There has been a lot of criticism recently (although, and I apologise, I've mainly seen it on Twitter and can't find an article directly on this subject though huffpost.com/entry/… touches on it) about SF that functionally erases Black voices by turning their experience into metaphor. Tread carefully.
    – El Cadejo
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 23:05

I have seen, IRL, a solution to this problem.

I would say, make one (or both) of the characters unavailable; already coupled with or wanting a different romantic interest, and make it clear that to their future partner, at least, they seem unavailable.

Under those circumstances, make them increasingly good friends. And then something changes, the attached person is freed up, not to pursue the other, but eventually that is what happens.

A single male friend of mine became good friends with a married female colleague for three years; they went to lunch together nearly every day. He says he never expected any change in that relationship; but then something happened. Her husband lost his job, became increasingly unhappy, and within a year they were divorced. Nearly a year after that, she asked my friend if he would go see a particular movie with her, they began dating and now they have been married for over ten years. To me they seem happy.

For writing purposes, I'd make the parting incident uncaused by the attached party. In the real-life example, it was not this woman's fault her husband lost his job or had a life crisis because of it.

A death by accident or disease or terrorist attack would be similar; perhaps an impulsive infidelity (but not by the attached character). Or her spouse might have fallen in love with another willing person, that happens. Or her spouse realized he's gay.

I would make some externality bring about the separation, so the once-attached character is not seen as ditching their partner for somebody else, and certainly not an incident caused by the single party; that could be interpreted as intentional causing a break-up out of self-interest, even if you write it as an accident.

And you can make the single person a moral and reasonably enlightened person that can have a friendship that they do not ever expect to turn physical or romantic, even if their friend meets all the physical criteria necessary for their romantic attraction.

Also in writing, there is a lot of good tension to exploit in making a decision to risk ruining a great friendship by making it a romantic relationship. I wouldn't gloss over that too quickly for either party, I imagine those decisions can be mind-rending. And fun to read about!

EDIT: I admit I overlooked the master/slave relationship in this question, but I don't think it makes my answer unsalvageable; it just adds a complication. The solution is pretty simple: Like above, the honorable master (banished prince) is friends with his servant; that is not unusual. Being friends, at some point something changes. Maybe she risks her life to save his. He decides he can't really be her friend unless he frees her. It is a fraught decision; he is smart enough to know he risks losing her if she chooses to leave him. But out of friendship he goes ahead, hands her her freedom, and tells her she is free to leave. She chooses to say. That converts the relationship into a true friendship; and the prince thinks that is where it will stay. Then at some point, she echoes the risk of losing her that he took in giving her freedom: She risks losing HIM as a friend by trying to convert this friendship into a romantic relationship. She feels a risk because she still thinks of him as higher born, and perhaps not interested in romance with a commoner and former slave; she is worried his romantic sights are set above her station. But she is in love with him, and takes the risk. And her trepidation is unfounded, because thanks to her HE is no longer a slave to his former royal station; and he is happy to be her mate, consequences be damned.

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    "thanks to her HE is no longer a slave…" ummm.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 2:05
  • @wetcircuit I mean that in the metaphorical sense; much like a person raised in a religious household may throw off their upbringing and become an atheist (Many members of the Atheist Club in our university were raised and once felt devoutly religious). The prince was raised in a privileged post with certain attitudes and beliefs that bound him. But the experiences of banishment might change him to think all he was taught was pure, selfish, royal bullshit, thus "freeing" himself from those preconceptions to find friendship, free his slave, and fall in love with someone "not fit for royalty".
    – Amadeus
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 14:35

You are pretty much going to have to upend the master/salve relationship from its deepest core.

His slaves are actually pretty much free. Just not on paper.

As others have pointed out, slavery is a very deep rooted issue, especially in the US. One must be careful to not downplay this too much. It is generally accepted that if one is a slave, one cannot possibly ignore the fact that one is a slave. The concept of freedom is one which touches deep in the human psyche.

For a very non-politicized treatment of the issue, consider reading The Positronic Man, by Isaac Asimov, or its big-screen adaptation, Bicentineal Man. In this case, the "slave" is a robot, bound by laws written into its positronic neural pathways to obey humans. The story is one of this robot's quest to attain individuality, and eventually freedom. In this story, the robot indeed becomes quite an influential character on the world scene, such that nobody would dare issue him an order. He is "pretty much free." Yet in the story, we see the drive to actually attain freedom, if nothing else but "on paper."

The issue is spoken to at-length by many philosophers as well, though that may go beyond the scope of my answer.

The only way to generate any real relationship here is to upend this slavery based relationship completely. The slave must be able to do something that prevents the master from ordering her as a slave. What this thing is is up to you, but note that I used the word prevent. It must not be that he merely does not want to act on the master/slave relationship. If it is merely "want," then the slave is still a slave, beholden to their master. He must find himself unable to act on the relationship, even when he wants to. The reader must believe that he is truly no longer the master (and then you may play with the issue of how he interacts with the rest of the world, which believes he is the master, at your leisure). This will almost certainly involve some great internal conflict within himself.

The reader must believe two things:

  • The reader must believe that he is not, in fact, the master of her. The reader must believe that the master/slave relationship has truly been broken in a way he is incapable of recovering -- even incapable of permitting others to recover it. He simply must not be the master of her, no matter what the papers may say.
  • The characters must believe that he is not, in fact, the master of her. This, of course, leads well into your idea of trying to free her. However, it focuses more on the internal state of the characters, not just their actions.

Even then, you will face the challenges brought forth by others' opinions of the female as a "slave." As in the story of Andrew, from The Positronic Man, the push for freedom not just in the minds of people but in their written words as well is truly strong indeed.

Short of that ideal, the raw power of the slavery theme is going to haunt your "romance" at every turn. There are plenty of examples of this working (Scheherazade being the archetypal example that comes to mind), but it does sound like you are looking for something different than that.


Play up the obstacle.

He is royalty, she is a slave. That is pretty good barrier. As long as you use it properly you can freely show the attraction between them. Just have them deny it often enough for it to be obvious there is something to deny. Have them make clear there is nothing improper between them often enough that it is obvious there really might be. Then have them occasionally forget. Do things that do not fit the proper relationship without noticing they do so. This excludes anything overt unless you want them to look like idiots.

You also need to play up the master/slave issue in other ways for this to work. Since you want the slavery to be temporary this should be fine. The point is that the divide causes them other issues and they actually deal with those issues as their non-romantic relationship develops. This is what you need to avoid the cat-and-mouse effect. They actually do make real progress in their relationship, it just isn't in the romantic aspect.

Also, as others have mentioned, be careful about playing the master slave relationship dynamic. Sadly slavery is a political issue at the moment due to racial tensions in the US and people absolutely will read all kinds of things to a slave-master love story that you did not actually write there. They also will make all kinds of moral judgements about what is going on without really thinking about it.

It might be easier to replace the slavery issue with something else to avoid that. If he is royalty, the divide to common free person or even minor noble is pretty much the same as to a slave but it won't evoke strong knee jerk reactions from readers because unlike slavery class society is not a hot topic. It probably should be since some long term trends are looking unsettling but it isn't.

Mind you people will still judge your characters based on the context of our current society despite that not making any sense. Or the exact same amount of sense as trying to live your life according to the moral standards of 25th century Free Mars Federation does. So you still have to be very careful with giving your society and characters values that would be realistic. Lots of fantasy simply uses modern values with some names changed to avoid such issues.

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