Today I am pleased to host my first guest-post ever!
WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ ROMANCE
I’ve been lurking around online threads, stealth-reading and not commenting when I see people (men and women) sneering on female authors. We all know what you’re saying: that women put romance in their stories–more so than male authors, because you know, women do things like that.
A lot of women authors don’t bother responding to individual comments on this subject anymore, because trying to stamp out ignorance is like stepping in shit. It just makes a big stink, and in the end, everyone stamps off in a huff, spreading around more shit, which just fertilizes the ignorance.
I watched all of this go down once before when people claimed they could TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STORIES WRITTEN BY A MAN OR A WOMAN. I stamped in that shit until I got tired of it and proposed an experiment. I, along with several talented writers, blew the misconception to hell in a handbasket with the Gender Bending Contest (http://www.tfrohock.com/blog/2013/1/7/gender-bending-the-big-reveal.html). For this experiment, we provided samples, ran a contest, and analyzed data, which essentially proved that people can’t tell the difference between male or female writing styles based on the prose alone.
So now I’m seeing similar arguments springing up across the interwebs that intimate women are habitually sticking icky-old-romance in every story that springs from our keyboards. A certain group of readers doesn’t want any kind of romance whatsoever in their novels. They make it perfectly clear that they want characters to be cold killers, who kill, Kill, KILL … and they repeat this mantra until I start to hear Arlo Guthrie in the Shrink’s office, screaming: “Shrink, I want to kill. I want to kill! I want to see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth! Eat dead, burnt bodies! I mean: Kill. Kill!”*
You get the picture.
That wouldn’t bother me, except this same group of people claim that male authors DON’T use romantic elements in their stories. As a matter of fact, male authors are lauded for having “realistic” relationships in their novels.
At this point, I cheerfully call bullshit.
In the Broken Empire series, Jorg spends a good deal of time thinking about Katherine in a very romantic way. At times, he is downright pining for the woman. Meanwhile, in Michael R. Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption Bedeckt and Stehlen have a thing for each other, which went beyond drunken sex in the alley. Stehlen genuinely cared about Bedeckt, whether she ever admitted it to him or herself.
Or we can cite Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Trilogy and Kvothe’s love for Denna. I mean, good God, even in the most sacred of sacreds, A Song of Fire and Ice, Rob Stark FALLS IN LOVE with Talisa, and ditches a political marriage that could help him win the war, because of TRUE LOVE.
I could name more. To the best of my knowledge, no one classifies these works as “romance,” nor have I heard readers decry the romantic nature of these pairings. When men do it, apparently the relationships are considered to be “realistic” [a word that I am beginning to loathe whenever I see it flung into a sentence in order to justify the way a man writes his story versus the way a woman writes the same kind of story].
The existence of two people who care about one another in a story does not automatically make the novel a romance. In a romance novel, the love affair is the focal point of the story. The entire plot and characterization are developed for the sole purpose of moving two people into a relationship.
I have not read an epic fantasy by either a man or a woman where romance is the focal point of the story. There might be some romantic involvement between the characters, but the entire plot and characterization are NOT developed for the sole purpose of moving two people into a relationship.
Most often in fantasy, the entire plot and characterization of the story are developed around an adventure of some kind. Fantasy is usually about the rise and fall of kingdoms, the slaying of monsters, and bringing myths to life. Therefore the plot and characterization of the story are developed in order to bring down kingdoms, slay monsters, or bring myths to life, and so and so forth.
HOWEVER, the story, which is about bringing down kingdoms, slaying monsters, or bringing myths to life, will also involve characters. These characters will develop relationships of all kinds. Some will hate each other, others will tolerate one another, a few will kill-Kill-KILL, and some will even FALL IN LOVE (see Rob and Talisa Stark).
Just because two people connect emotionally and even … oh-the-horror … have sex, does not make the novel a romance even when a woman writes the story.
Shocking but true.
An excellent example of this is Laura Bickle’s Petra from her Dark Alchemy series. Petra is attracted to Gabe, but their relationship is woven into the greater plot, which is about Petra solving the mystery of her father’s disappearance. Petra is aware of her attraction and the ramifications of being drawn to a dead man, but at no point does Bickle use the plot to move Petra and Gabe into a romantic relationship. It is simply an organic part of the story.
Likewise, in my own Los Nefilim series, Diago and Miquel share tender moments, but their love is not the focal point of the stories. I’m not moving them toward a relationship, they’re already in one. Their feelings for one another often motivate their actions or reactions to the circumstances around them, but the story itself is not about their relationship.
The point is that these relationships are just as “realistic” when there is a woman’s name on the cover of the novel as it is when a man writes the story. If you really hate “romance” in a story, then let’s have a little more parity here.
*Lyrics taken from Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”
T. Frohock has turned a love of dark fantasy and horror into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. She lives in North Carolina where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.