Writing Romance… is it really that hard?

Here’s the thing… certain emotions are easy to evoke and others are very hard to master and write.

Anger. Hate. Rage. Fear. <– negative emotions are the easiest to write because they rely on primal instinct programmed into the human brain by thousands of years of evolution. Within cultures there are certain things that will always evoke rage (and this is why not all books translate well to other cultures). Certain fears are universal.

Every bestseller every written has a Universal Fear driving at least the opening act of the book if not the whole book itself. Most bestsellers use “I fear I am worthless.” or “I fear death.” as their driving focus. Everything from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE to HARRY POTTER has used this and it’s why it sells so well.

It’s also why Romance isn’t taken seriously at times.

Romance promises as a happy romantic ending. Which means the two most common universal fears are utterly erased by the genre requirements alone. No one is going to die. The characters are going to be loved and feel worthwhile by the end of the book.

Since readers are programmed by society to instinctively fear those things some people have trouble relating to a romance story where they must latch onto something other than fear to get through a book.

Joy. Humor. Laughter. Happiness.  <— positive emotions are really hard to write because they are complex emotions. There is nothing that makes people universally happy. I know, it’s shocking. Not kittens. Not puppies. Not a mother’s love. That thing you love, adore, and can’t live without? Yeah, someone hates it.

This is why writing satire or humor is so difficult. It’s why happy books are dismissed as fluffy or silly. They have a much narrower audience. The author has to reach into the reader’s head and manipulate their emotions so that they can feel soaring triumph. There isn’t a shortcut to writing happiness.

LOVE. <– Such a complex thing. Little understood. Hard to define. Ever roving about. Love, especially sexual and romantic love, are so individual that there will never be a One Size Fits All.

When an author sets out to write a romance they have to convince the reader not only to abandon fear but they have to write humans who are complex, convincing, and through storytelling explain the psychology of these individuals so the reader goes, “Yes, yes! I see it! I see why these two are perfect together and could never be with anyone else!”

It’s at once something many people have an innate talent for (hello, shippers!) and that many people don’t understand. Understanding love requires a very unselfish, un-egocentric view of the world. You have to think like someone else. And then, as the author, you have to create a way for a reader to easily step into the mind of someone else and understand this attraction without using shortcuts like “I saw her and got a boner. It’s love!” Because that isn’t.

It’s easy to write bad romance. It’s easy to use shortcuts and script the book like a film. But where films can rely on music and facial expressions to convey the complexity of emotion a writer only has words. There is no soundtrack for Chapter 7. There is no set of words in the English language that properly express the depth of feeling, the longing and desire, of seeing someone you treasure turn and smile at someone else and knowing from the depths of your soul that you would give up everything just to keep them smiling.

Writing a good romance means balancing internal and external conflict, knowing a person’s weaknesses and strengths, and pairing them with someone(s) who fill in their gaps, boost their strengths, and make them happy at the same time. And then, after all of that, you have to find readers who will understand and appreciate the characters you’ve written. You have to make the reader fall in love too.

Done well Romance is the most complex literary form.

Done poorly it’s just bad writing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *