Every now and then, I like to write critiques of fiction genres. I felt the urge to write such a piece today, but quickly realized I had said pretty much everything I wanted to say about the horror genre already. And about the epic adventure genre, which I also like, I had nothing interesting to say. Same goes for mystery and comedy.
So I thought I’d change things up a little. I’m going to write about a genre I have very little familiarity with: romance. And by “romance” I mean of course “love stories”. (There is an older definition which means something more like “adventure”.) The only thing even close to being a romance I can remember actually liking is Jane Eyre, which I read earlier this year. This shows how ignorant I am of the genre.
Now, it’s certainly true that almost all of my favorite books, movies, video games, etc. include at least one romantic sub-plot, but that does not mean they are of the romantic genre; they merely feature elements from it.
I think this is because an actual romance story is very hard to do, because a proper romance involves two people who get along well. And as the adage says “the essence of drama is conflict”, and therefore a successful romance is necessarily devoid of conflict for the most part. This is–or might be–interesting because while a “horror” story derives its conflict from something horrible, and an “adventure” derives its conflict from adventuring, a “romance” needs some external conflict.
A popular source of conflict is that there are social or familial bars against the romance. This is probably the most common. Another one is to write it so the couple acts like they don’t like each other until they fall in love. (I have never liked this one.)
I suspect this why romances today, at least in film, tend to be romantic comedies. Comedies don’t really need to have terribly plausible conflict, because they are comedies. So if you’ve got a romance in search of a conflict, you can make it a comedy and invent one pretty easily.
Lastly, although I’ve never written fiction of any genre, it seems to me that romance must be much harder to write than, for example, horror and adventure. Very few people have ever seen or thought they’ve seen ghosts, or been sent on a quest to defeat “The Dark Lord”. Whereas most people probably have fallen in love at some point. As a result, the audience for a romance story is in a better position to spot false notes in the story.
Again, these are the observations of someone who does not actually read or watch much in the genre, so they may all be wrong. I am largely extrapolating based on second-hand knowledge and what I see in romantic sub-plots in works in of other genres.