Why is So Much Romance Writing So Shitty?
I know this is meant to be spooky season, but you know what I’d like to talk about? Love.
Though my constant cynicism and grinding down of my own self-esteem into powder for you guys to rub on to your gums for fun (just kidding, my arrogance knows no bounds) might indicate the contrary, I love the romance genre. In fact, I’ve been writing fiction in it for the last five years or so, and it’s still one of my favourite genres. I love love – I love being in it, I love writing it, I love reading it, I love a good love story told well, whether it’s real or not.
But I’m not exactly in the majority here. Or, it certainly doesn’t feel that way, despite the enormous number of people who consume romance media. A shorthand for bad movies is the cheesy romcom; the response to Fifty Shades of Grey (bane of my life) and its success was to use this dreadful writing as a standard by which to judge the genre.
The romance genre as a whole is one that’s treated, often, as a side-note to actually good taste. There’s a whole lot to be said about the fact that it’s pretty much the only genre that is so intensley dominated by both female writers and female readers and is often dismissed with hand-waves of bored housewives, and the misogyny therein, but I want to focus on something else – something that, I think, has a major impact on the way that romance is viewed in the mainstream.
Which brings me to my main point: why are so many on-screen romances so fucking dreadful?
Because, let’s be honest, they are. The obligatory (straight, of course) romance plotline is crammed in to pretty much every single mainstream piece of media that you can think of, in a way that no other genre is. Nobody expects a science-fiction film to squeeze in a neccessary musical theater number, nobody expects a comedy to find a way to work in a gritty action subplot, but, almost inevitably, you’re going to see a male character and a female one appear in the vague vicinity of one another at some point over the course of whatever latest blockbuster you’re not going to see at the cinema because, you know, pandemic.
The biggest problem, I think, is that with romances coming as such a standard and being cut from such a familiar stencil, so many writers and directors seem to just think that putting too moderately attractive people in the same general vicinity as one another. Romances usually seem like a second thought, a box-ticked, and it’s hard to exactly approach that notion with any degree of enthusiasm, right?
A good romance is something you have to put real time into – not just in real life, but in fiction, too. Writing a romance that feels real can take up an entire front-and-centre storyline in any form of media – it’s about building rapport, tension, a believable connection, whether that’s a positive, functioning one or otherwise. You cannot sideline this into something that barely gets ten full minutes of screentime and expect it to feel as full as it needs to in order to make your audience believe it.
No matter how great an onscreen chemistry your actors happen to share, no matter how many times this has been done before and no matter how many obvious beats you can tap into to skip to the big kiss, if you’re not putting effort into writing this, it’s going to suck.
And honestly, you’re not often going to come across a romance that’s the main focus of a whole story – Outlander is one of the better examples of this in the mainstream, but there haven’t been a huge number of big-hitting movies or TV that have been explicitly, firstly and foremostly, of the romance genre. It’s a supplement, a neccessity, a box-tick, and, as a result, a lot of writers aren’t getting the practice they need in dealing with the genre, basing their work in romance on the old, wheezing tropes that we’ve been stuck re-living over and over again. What you get as a result is a regurgitation of the same plots, because they’ve passed muster before, and hey, it’s just romance, right? No need to spend your energy making us believe it.
And so it goes: romance as a genre isn’t respected because the quality is percieved as poor, so writers put low effort into writing plots in that area, and so, romance as a genre isn’t respected because the quality actually starts to become poor (at least, in regards to the mainstream iterations of it – some of the best writing I’ve ever read has come from romance writers, especially indie ones, and frankly, if you’re still turning your nose up at the genre, I’d implore you to give it a real try).
And I want to see this change. I love love, and I want to see it getting the respect that it deserves in fiction, and especially in TV and movies. Stop sidelining romance, and stop treating it as the “easy” space-filler when you don’t have enough to pump up your story as it is. It’s a wonderful genre when done right – and you lot just haven’t been doing it the justice it deserves.
(header image via FameFocus)