A number of my fiction readers have commented that the romances I write are “different.” Well, I should hope so. Why write what everyone else is writing? Why not follow a unique path that persons bored with “the same old thing” can use for their refreshment? All the same, it raises the question of whether the recognition of “romance” as a genre sets down specific rules that the participating writer must obey.
It’s not a new question. The emergence of the crossbred “science fiction romance” has had it on many writers’ minds. For one thing, those SF / romance hybrids happen to sell very well. For another, the use of SF motifs allows the romance writer lots of latitude in constructing problems and dilemmas for his characters. But, reply the purists on both sides of the divide, the result is a beast that’s neither fish nor fowl; the consumer doesn’t quite know what he’s purchased until he’s plunked his cash on the barrelhead.
Well, to each his own, I suppose. Myself, I like to be surprised by the fiction I read, as long as the author is skillful enough about how he presents them. If a lot of writers don’t possess that degree of skill…disappointment is also a feature of life with the printed / pixelated word..
But apparently that’s not what disturbed one reader of my crap. She gigged me for “front loading the romance:” i.e., getting Boy and Girl together early in the action and devoting the subsequent three-quarters of the tale to developments of other kinds. Her preference was / is for romances that prolong the build-up, such that the clinching union of hearts comes much nearer to the end of the book. Once again, to each his own. You can’t please everyone, and only a fool would try.
Still, she got me thinking about the adventure of love. It’s a somewhat larger subject than the typical romance would have us think.
Have a little C. S. Lewis for a taste-whetter:
The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.
[From The Screwtape Letters]
Is there no married man or woman who does not know what Lewis is saying in the above? Hasn’t just about any married individual experienced the let-down that arises as one goes from the intoxication of romance to the mundane, repetitive, often irritating business of conducting a life shared with another person? For most of us, that is by far the larger portion of our love stories. Our stubbornness about our individual preferences and proclivities brings many such stories to a bitter end. Worse, not all of us learn from such sad tales.
This is not a brief for romance novels that end in misery and solitude. It’s just a recognition that “the romantic part” of a real-life love story is almost always a brief phase. It’s usually followed by a much longer period in which the erotic intoxication of romance is of little help in coping with the difficulties of life together. For the overwhelming majority of us, life is difficult. Our difficulties ramify when we elect to pair with another.
So I “front load the romance.” I get the lovers together early and use the rest of my novels to explore the difficulties the newly paired lovers must face together. Not every adventure of love goes smoothly and without incident. Sometimes, as in Antiquities, the ending is other than happy. Life is like that, sometimes.
I claim this is just realism. What sort of adventure is without costs, risks, obstructions, setbacks, and crises? How realistic is a tale in which the protagonists conquer every challenge easily? Would it be sensible to demand that two lives bonded by romance, however great the love that initially united them, be entirely without trials of the lovers’ patience, endurance, and charity? Even the most escapist story must make some concessions to reality.
Well, everyone knows how eccentric I am.
All the above having been said, romance readers love a happy ending. I certainly do. And I try to give the reader a sense that the adventure of love will “end well.” So even if the action takes one or both of my lovers to the grave, I provide balm in the form of happy memories.
Speaking of adventures in love, today is the first Sunday of Advent, the celebration that opens a new liturgical year. Today also begins a new three-year cycle, over the course of which Catholic congregants at Mass are exposed to readings from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke in turn. The story of Christ’s ministry, Passion, and Resurrection the three synoptic gospelers tell, in their several ways, has been called “the greatest story ever told,” and with good reason. For the Son of God was born in mortal flesh to bring a New Covenant of love to Mankind. The two Great Commandments:
But the Pharisees hearing that he had silenced the Sadducees, came together: And one of them, a doctor of the law, asked him, tempting him: Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?
Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.
…make that perfectly plain. (Further thoughts on the subject may be found in this piece.)
Now I must move from talking about my fiction to actually writing it. May God bless and keep you all.