Friday, February 24, 2017

Perceptions on Romance

Romance, as a genre, does have rules. A couple discover attraction/love, there are obstacles, love conquers all, and the couple lives happily ever after. There must be an emotionally satisfying ending. Other than that it's open to however the author wants to tell their story.

I find romance novels (the one's that I enjoy, that is) have strong, well developed characters that I can relate to on some level. They story lines are optimistic but that's not saying they're all warm fuzzies. There can be heartbreak, tears, death, and abject misery. But the reader is promised that it will end well. In the real world full of uncertainty, I find hope in stories like these. They are mocked for having any sort of formula (as if fantasy doesn't have the chosen one saving the world or mystery having the detective following clues to uncover the bad guy). All genre fiction has some sort of trope or norm (which is how it's categorized as genre fiction), however romance is the genre that people disparage the most (based on my own experiences, I'm not citing any studies here).


Some say that romantic fiction is looked down upon for sexist reasons. It is a genre predominantly written by women, for women. I think there is absolutely some truth to this. You can go back the early days of mass market publishing and see women writing under men's names for credibility. And while women writers no longer such a sore thumb, in genres outside fiction intended for the female demographic there are STILL prejudices. (What boy would want to read a story about a boy written by a woman? Publishers had Joanne Rowling publish Harry Potter using her initials for marketing purposes.) Although I would like to think that our society is enlightened enough for matters such as gender to impact the perception of whether or not a book is of quality, I have a feeling we have a long way to go before we're there.

My own personal opinion of why romance is so denigrated by the reading community, even by those who read romance, is because of the perception of the sexual component. If you read the genre norms as I explained them above about what makes a book a romance you may notice that sex was not included. Sex can be included as part of the story, but sex is not THE story. I'll agree that some romance readers chose books based on the sexual content, but the books themselves are so much more than sex. Every time I explain to someone that I write romance, they will bring it up.

Smut. Trash. Porn. One relative even described it as "scatological" (I like to think it was a vocabulary error on her part, but maybe not. Maybe she does see it as shit. (OR maybe she reads scatological fetish stuff--in which case Christmas is going to be awkward. (And I'm adding a triple parenthetical aside here because I'm feeling saucy.)))

Whether it's a complete stranger or close family, I see ewwww stamped on their forehead the moment I bring up my writing. I may as well admit to being in a donkey show in Tijuana (I'm not linking it, you can look it up if you really want to, but you don't. Trust me.)

I'm amazed at how people get hung up on sex as if it is the sum total of the story. Yes, most of the time there is sexual content, but if it's a well written story, that content only furthers the emotional development of the characters. It's part of the story, not gratuitous. Are sexual components of fiction outside the romance genre criticized? No. It seems the readers are willing to accept that these scenes go toward telling the story. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Song of Ice and Fire series,these novels are not categorized as romance, but have both romantic elements and explicit sexual content but no one is embarrassed to admit they read them.

Writing a sex scene is something I do not find easy. I have to be careful to not be clinical or boring. I also have to make sure that the descriptive tone matches the way the character would think, including includes sequence of events, emotional response, and vocabulary choices. The sex scenes have to serve to further the story and not simply exist for the purposes of titillation (that would be porn). It will be as sweet or gritty as the confines of the characters allow because it is entirely based on the characters.  If it doesn't belong, it doesn't go in the story. If my main character wouldn't say something like "silken covered rod of pulsing steel man meat," I don't write it and I don't read authors that do. The character arc and story has to take precedence.

Ultimately readers want to read good stories, whether they're classified literary fiction, young adult, or even romance. It's just a shame readers are so insecure they latch onto the aspects they expect to be judged upon (or perhaps, they judge themselves) rather than the emotional experience of reading.

1 comment:

Susan Kane said...

Wow. This post is spot on. Romance in past decades had sex as the goal, not love with sex attached.
this was a perfect explanation why people (men and women) buy the cheap tantalizing romance.
Thank you for posting such a meaningful, insightful blog.
Well done.

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