There was a time when I would have said that I would never write Romance. I certainly never read it. That stuff was for girls, after all. When I were a lad my reading was all fantasy and SF, cool stuff with lasers and swords and demons and stuff. Romance was not in the picture. After all, I would hardly consider the sort of relationships that Conan had as ‘romance’, more reinforcing an unhelpful misogynistic male stereotype, and Elric of Melnibone was too obsessed with his own self destructive angst to worry about such things. Typical teenage boy stuff.
Even at school I hardly displayed the most romantic tendencies. Given the choice between studying a play about angsty teenage romance that ends in suicide and a particular Scottish play filled with witches, blood and dark omens (not to mention Banquo’s ‘gory locks’) you would probably not be too surprised at which one won out.
Needless to say I was not known for my romantic tendencies.
So, obviously, when I grew up, I wrote a Romance novella…
Wait… what? How the hell did that happen? I ask myself the same question a lot.
I put the answer down to my desire to challenge myself.
You see, when I was in school my ambitions were to write a fantasy novel. Or a SF novel. Something genre based anyway. I even wrote a very bad SF short about aliens invading the school (I am still waiting for the producers of The Faculty to get back to me on my royalties for that… 🙂 ) and a clichéd fantasy novel about a bunch of characters who join up in a quest to find a magic object. It even had a werewolf in it. Thankfully, those truly awful pieces of literature never survived long enough to sully the world with their awfulness and for a while I put aside writing to focus on other things. Then I came back to it and the first thing I thought was ‘I need a challenge’. I also came to a revelation that romance was an important part of life. More than important, it is fundamental to life. Without it being there to help ensure that certain essential biological processes occur, life pretty much stops. Ok, I guess at some point in human history we did without it, though it is hard to really say when romance first began. Courtly love is cited as a medieval invention but there was romance long before then as evidenced by the love poems of Cattullus (written between 84 and 54 BC). Even older than that is a Sumerian poem or song written 4000 years ago and bear in mind that this is the oldest recorded evidence. Just because there are no surviving written love poems before that does not mean the concept did not exist. Romance has been around a long time.
Though I am not sure why this would be surprising. After all, these ancient civilisations had deities (usually goddesses, there may be a hetero-normative argument to be had there) who were dedicated to romance and love. Safe to say that romance and love have been human concepts for a long time, almost certainly longer than the written records that hold these fragments of the literature of these ancient periods.
So what did this mean for me and my big decision? Well, I argued in my inner monologue, you see romance is everywhere and involved in everything. It is a major motivator for human behaviour. It appears in all forms of story, not just those that come with covers depicting smouldering leading men with a tendency to scowl too much and beautiful heroines trying desperately to keep their bosoms inside a corset. Main characters in war stories, superhero stories, comedies, tragedies and, well, any story really, are at risk of falling in love and doing something stupid because of that. Romance is a vital tool in the storyteller’s repertoire. And I wanted to get better at using it.
So I joined up with a fun group of writers known as the BBW Romance Writer’s group. That’s BBW as in ‘Big Beautiful Women’ because another thing I believe in is realistic bodyshapes for both genders. Our goal was to produce an anthology of Romance fiction novellas with realistic heroines, a project they had already achieved with two previous publications. I set out to try to write a Paranormal love story because I realised early on that I could not do a full romance tale, I had to have some fantasy, some supernatural stuff, to shake things up. Boy/Girl/Trans meets Boy/Girl/Trans [delete as appropriate] is all very well but it is also cool if there’s a ghost or something as well. In the end I actually merged two stories that were sat unfinished on my hard drive – one a contemporary boy meets girl, the other about an ancient Roman and his doomed marriage.
About half way through merging these two I realised that the romance was not where anyone would expect it to be – in the hands of the two contemporary characters. Their tale is a more modern love story, but it is not as deep and enduring as the tragic tale of Gaius Lucius – a romance that makes a desperate man do terrible things in order to keep hold of it. In a way I suppose I was making a point about perceptions of romance – that in some cases modern ideas of love are more superficial. That epiphany is what, for me, made sense of the whole concept of romance in fiction and the final result of that realisation led to the publication of Transitions.
So, I would say to any writer who works in any genre to not ignore the importance of romance. Explore it and use it and try to understand how it might motivate your characters. It is not just hearts and flowers and hallmark cards.