I was drawn into a discussion about reading (and writing) genres recently, and it made me think (of course). The line my thoughts wandered off to the most strongly, however, was romance – it’s never been a genre that captivated my attention for long, personally.
(If I am reading a novel that is pure romance, I tend to get bored. Or sometimes the characters just aggravate me. Or I just . . . can’t get caught by the story.)
When I read novels with a romance element, they often need something else happening to keep my attention – that’s a personal thing, not a slight on the genre – so when I do, I tend to read paranormal romance, or mysteries a romantic subplot, etc. The romance can be a heavy part of the plot, but I have to have something else unfolding to tangle out as well. This is almost certainly due to the most common executions of novels in the genre, rather than an artefact of the genre itself.
I am also very, very sensitive to fremdschämen (even/especially on the behalf of fictional characters) and embarrassing or silly situations seem to be something of a staple of the romance genre, unfortunately. If I read a confrontation that makes me want to hide my face and shove the book under a pillow, I may be discouraged from enjoying the story.
All those things might make one think – not unreasonably – that romance doesn’t feature very prominently in my own writing. That assumption would be drastically incorrect – there is almost always at least some thread of love or romance. Sometimes it is close friends, siblings, etc. not always a romantic love, but those kinds of personal interactions draw me as being incredibly interesting (some of the most intense of human emotion and expression bloom from the centre of love).
Also, admittedly, despite my sometimes sharply cynical view of the world, I am a romantic. I like to write about people who are deeply in love, or have magically bonded themselves because of that love, or who break without each other, Even if those people are, for example, also completely amoral, vicious killers. (Something I have in fact written, in several novels/stories and genres.)
My romance stories sometimes have no plot beyond the romance, but that holds true only for those shorter ones. Novels that centre on romance also become murder-thrillers, or science-fiction epics, or high adventure fantasy.
Although really, I usually begin with one of those (the exception being the thriller; that one was intended to hybridise a couple’s romance with serial killing) and then find that somehow a romance has slipped in. Love, romantic or otherwise, slipped in as a far stronger plot motivator than anticipated.
I didn’t know until I actually wrote them but they’re in love, for example, or someone showing me that his relationship with his sister is much more of a touchstone of his life than I had expected while I was plotting the political intrigue they are caught in the middle of, or finding that a woman’s journey onto becoming the doctor on a mercenary spaceship began because she needed a place off-planet to go with her son immediately.
I don’t necessarily see that ‘slipping in’ as a bad thing, though I know some authors who do – who feel that a high fantasy quest should feature the quest, and the goal, and not be ‘sidelined’ by romance. I can at least see the point there, and a pure questing fantasy is hardly crippled – I’ve read many, and enjoyed the majority of them.
People fall in love, though. It happens, no matter what else is going on (in fact, if the world was ending it is more likely people would be pushing for it, human nature suggests) and I don’t really think it’s a bad thing to let it happen alongside the plot. To let it have some time and focus, both wound through the ‘main’ plot or to let the plot breathe. (Or to have the romance take centre stage and the spy vs. spy game be the secondary plot.)
Fanfiction helped me with this – not that I ever really felt as though romance should stay out of my fantasy, for example (only when done poorly; if you have me halfway through a battle please don’t cut away for a soppy scene that doesn’t even internally make sense) but fanfiction is the one arena where I have found romance actually blended into other genres very well, and as a commonplace.
Defeating the Big Bad, taking on the government, building and training an army, and helping a tortured ally to heal? That doesn’t mean that over dinners twice a week you can’t be quietly crying on a friend’s shoulder as your world falls apart and you have to fight for your life and slowly realising that you’re falling in love with him. They can mesh very nicely.
Fanfiction does this sort of meshing on a regular basis, and I think it is a wonderful thing. I love the romance threaded through the more ‘serious’ plots, and I feel like it can make the stories much more well-rounded and easier to be absorbed by, personally.
Of course, there’s plenty of fanfiction where the plot is the romance (or the sex, or both) and there’s nothing wrong with that, either. But I wish that original fiction would be more accepting of things that are commonplace (or at least not remarked upon) in the fanfiction realm in many ways, and this is just one of them. Fanfiction allows and encourages melding of genres in a truly engaging way that original fiction and traditional publishing has yet to catch up to as far as I have seen.
I love romance stories, and I love people in love not only being ‘people in love’ but also ‘people with goals’ and ‘people with problems’ and ‘people with arch-enemies to take on’ – love stories needn’t be restricted to covering only the barest bones of romance, and I personally find it even more compelling when it is in the midst of life. (Whether ‘life’ means your business trying to go under, your brother trying to kill you, your rebellion building steam, or your family reunion.)
So when I write these days I half expect a romance to slip into my plot, and I don’t fight it when it does, even if it surprises me. I enjoy the more fluid melding of genres, not least admittedly because that has always been the way stories can build in my head.
Do you enjoy romance as a genre, either alone or meshed with others? (Or both?) Has a love story ever slipped into the plot of your non-romance novel as you write? What is your favourite type of love story to read?