Romancing the Reader
How important is romance in fiction? After taking a quick browse through all kinds of fiction and seeing how incredibly, virulently abundant romance is, one would be tempted to reply, “it is monumentally important! Clearly, one cannot have a novel without romance!” I disagree.
I’m not saying that I think fiction should cease to include romance in stories. Nor am I saying that I don’t enjoy romance sometimes, in some books. What I am saying is that there’s too much, that a fiction novel can be good – even excellent or amazing! – without it, and that it’s gotten downright cheap. That’s right; I feel that the majority of romance in fiction these days is cheap. It’s a cop-out, a shortcut to intensity. Writers have gotten lazy. Instead of working to create, illustrate, and build a relationship between two characters that’s genuine and meaningful, the shortcut is to say “Oh, they fell in love.” Voila, done!
Writer, brainstorming: Okay, so I need something exciting to happen in my book. I know, I’ll have my knight fight a troll! Okay, but why is he fighting a troll? I know, to rescue a princess! But why rescue the princess? Oh yes, they caught a glimpse of each other, and it was love at first sight! It’s true love, and they will be together forever!
I say again: no.
Obviously, I drastically simplified that, but so many stories today use “falling in love” (if it can even be called that) as a short-cut; a short-cut to intensity or a short-cut to coming up with motivations for a character.
And then there’s another use of romance/true love that baffles me: the completely superfluous, unnecessary, added-on-last-minute stuff. Sometimes I wonder if writers feel that including a girlfriend/boyfriend/romantic-interest-of-some-sort is necessary. The children’s movie, How To Train Your Dragon, comes to mind. It’s an adorable movie (I recommend it, in fact), with likeable characters and a believable relationship between the main character and the dragon that is cultivated throughout the movie. But for some reason, the writers felt it was necessary to tack on a girl love-interest – almost as an afterthought. In the end, the main character and the girl end up together. Hurray! …Except that honestly, I would rather have used the whole three minutes they devoted to that relationship on another few shots of fighting or flying with the dragon. Because I really doubt they spent more than three minutes – out of the whole movie – on that relationship. It baffles me that it was included at all.
So what say you, readers? Is it simply that you can’t have a happy ending without romance? Or is it something more? I’m sure there’s a cultural commentary in here (in fact, I know there is, but I won’t get into it).
It is my belief that today’s writer needs to wake up – when we use romance, we need to put as much work into it as we would building any other kind of relationship between characters. And more than that, we need to make it real, and if we include it, it needs to contribute something. No more cop-outs, no more short-cuts. Make it believable, and don’t include it just for its own sake. There’s more to it than that.
Really, I’d like to see more novels out there that don’t have romance in them – there are very few, from what I’ve seen. But I think it would be a good challenge for a writer. I think it would force a writer into realizing what a crutch romance can be. And I know I would love to see more stories that emphasize bonds of friendship, companionship, and family… and please, I would like them to be more mature than children’s stories.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Have you noticed this? And if you have, did it bother you? Have you done this, and did you realize it? Or do you think I’m wrong, or jaded somehow (which is certainly possible, although I think I have at least some of it right)?
I would also love to hear about any good literature (especially fantasy, my personal favorite) with strong bonds that aren’t romantic.