Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Fantasy of Romance

by Giselle Renarde

Here's something you should never admit when you work in this industry: I'm not a romantic.

But that's my truth.  I soured on romance early in life because I never felt represented in Disney-esque storylines.  I'm queer and I'm weird.  I was never a princess and I never wanted a prince.  Romance as a genre did not speak to me.

Apart from being queer and not identifying with heteromance (which struck me as prescriptive and ridiculous in terms of what's considered acceptable and appropriate behaviour in establishing a relationship), I also found the idea of the happy-ever-after a little... well, unrealistic.  Fantastic, in other words.

Romance is a fantasy.

A couple months ago, there was a hashtag on Twitter that had something to do with romance readers' guilty confessions.  I noticed a lot of readers tweeting that they didn't care how a story resolved itself so long as the lovers lived happily ever after.  They didn't care if the romance was realistic.  They just wanted to feel warm and fuzzy at the end.

Of course, not everybody following the conversation agreed.  Some readers want the plot to resonate, or at least to... you know, make sense.  For myself, I'd rather watch everything fall apart.  That's reality.  I'd rather see real, deep troubles between people--troubles that aren't easily or ever fixed.

But the fantasy of romance must have wriggled its way into my writing brain. I happened to be writing a fluffy bit of erotica, at the time, called "Seducing the Sexy Celebrity Chef."  I intended it as a hardcore romp--a woman's sexual fantasy of getting it on with a domineering TV chef.

But as I wrote my Chef story, its intention began to morph.  I was trying to write a story that was all about sex, and suddenly it was infusing itself with romance.  Suddenly, my famous chef wanted even more than my star-struck woman.

I tried editing out all that fantastic romance, even as I wrote it.  For some reason, I couldn't stop myself.  Romance overpowered me.  When I handed the manuscript over to my girlfriend, who is also my contract editor, I asked her, "Is this too far from reality?"  I really hoped she'd tell me it was.  I hoped she'd advise me to change the story and remove some of that gushy, far-from-life romance.

But she didn't.  She liked it.

What is it that's so satisfying about the fantasy of romance?  Even as I reread that story and told myself, "This would never happen--not in a million years!" I couldn't change it.  Maybe even the most jaded among us maintain the fantasy of an easy love, an easy romance, an easy life.

That's not reality.  Maybe that's why we (yes, even the cynics and the pessimists) need a fictional shot of happy every once in a while.



  1. i'm with you, Giselle. i don't like writing HEA's & am mostly not a romance fan, but every once in a while, i am captivated by such.

  2. There is something within the human condition that welcomes the fantasy of unbridled happiness. Romance so often eludes us, but deep down, the promise of contentment may be what motivates us to try.

  3. Hi Giselle!

    I get what you mean. I'v never been able to write romance. though I've wanted to. I think its mainly the total abscence of such experience in my own life. So I find it hard to write. I admire it at a distance in good stories, but I don't connect with it the way I wish I did.


  4. I think that the "write what you know" (mistaken) advice is negated by the desire of readers to read what they don't already know, or, in the case of romance, what they'd like to re-experience over and over again even if they've had it in their lives. Romance is a certain stage of a relationship, even those that can be eventually defined as love, and it's often associated with youth, although it can come along at any age. The hunger that drives romance readers is a desire to experience that stage either as they imagine it to be at its best, or to re-imagine what they've had in the past, but "colorized" to look like Technicolor.

    I've written stories for "erotic romance" anthologies that would work as well for outright erotica, and vice versa. Sometimes lasting or HEA relationships belong in a story, and sometimes they don't. I like variety.

  5. Giselle, I can so relate. At one time, I thought I could not write romance if my life depended on it. (I still don't think I could write the formula version of Cinderella -- billionaire rescues poor but beautiful maiden.) But most sex fantasies at least suggest some emotional as well as physical bond, so erotica can edge into romance. I'm reminded of a hilarious lesbian story by Amie M. Evans -- 2 women agree on an anonymous, hard-edged hookup, nothing but sex. But since the sex is so good, they agree to hook up again. And use their actual names. Oops - is this becoming a relationship?

  6. I thought my first novel was pure erotica. And yet it had a happy ending (though perhaps not totally predictable, since the heroine had three different lovers) and ultimately I sold it to a romance publisher.

    Sacchi's comment really rings true. Romance is popular because it allows readers to re-experience the thrill of falling in love and the (often-mistaken) belief that it will last forever.


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