Romance, Love & "The Other Thing," Part 1: What is It, Why Write It, and Who Writes It
Romeo and Juliet
I Can't Wait to See the Stats on This One
Love, Romance, & Sex Part 1: What is It, Why Write It, and Who Writes It
Okay, I’m sorry for the missed posting, but between the overloaded Internet access due to tourists, the wind, the fireworks, and the charged air from a nearby thunderstorm, I couldn’t get any reception at all. That really hacked me off, but at least I can post today.
Still, I had no idea that this was going to be such a huge topic. I mean, we’re just talking about romance in fanfiction and how Mary-Sue affects it, right?
I—jeez, I don’t even know where to start. When I outlined my agenda for my Mary-Sue series, I knew I had to address the MS factor in romantic fiction. I thought coming up with the info needed was going to be simple, that writing it was going to be a breeze.
Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into here. I drafted so many notes that I realized I’m going to have to break this up into at least two parts, with a second more “detailed” version posted elsewhere incase Hubpages and Wordpress suddenly get twitchy … despite the fact that I’ve emailed them each about this subject and they haven’t responded yet.
PART 1: WHAT IS ROMANCE AND WHAT IS EROTICA?
I figured I have to clear this up right away because, generally speaking, nobody knows the difference between the two. Yes, there may be similarities, but the differences are so poles apart.
We know what romance is, right? It’s a story about falling in love … basically. Romance is about falling in love, but it’s not as simple as just that. Romance has a storyline with usually only one pair of characters that are focused on. The genre is pretty formulaic, the attention drawn to the initial attraction between the two characters, which then leads to first fear and denial of what they’re feeling, then to outright feuding, then to a situation where one (typically the woman) of them is in danger of a various form and is rescued by the other, both give in to the sexual tension (that is lightly described if there at all) and reveal their true feelings, a new situation or force arrives to drive them apart (say a jealous ex-lover), but then true love prevails and the pair live happily ever after. Read a dozen Harlequin Romances and tell me if I’m wrong.
Erotica, on the other hand, is about sex. Don’t get me wrong, good erotica has a romantic plotline, but the stories are much more intense and the sex scenes are much more graphic. A good erotic story isn’t sappy, it’s not just a simplified form. Erotica has a more emotionally charged storyline, though a few of the characters might be reluctant to act on their feelings because they fear rejection or fear that they might not be good enough, that they might make a commitment they’re not ready to make, that they won’t be good enough. When they do, the sex scenes are mind blowing, and if the two characters are in love when they have sex, it’s even better. The drama is much more obvious and makes the reader become part of the story, worrying about what’s going to happen next, raging at the missed opportunity, joyful at the final union, and so on.
And let’s make this clear: bad erotica is just about sex straight out, and that’s all it will be, no story or character depth. That’s not erotica. That’s porn printed on stock grade paper with no pictures.
PART 2: WHY DO WE LIKE AND READ ROMANCE AND THE OTHER THING THAT I’M AFRAID TO MENTION AGAIN BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO BE CENSORED?
Why do we read romantic and erotic fanfic? Well, it can be divided into three groups:
1) Whoops, I didn’t realize it was there
2) Ooh! Ooh! Is it gonna happen? Is it? Is it? Is it?
3) I just wanted to read somethin’.
The first one aside, the third part speaks for itself: we’re just in the mood for it. Simple as that.
But the second one is what grabs our attention, and sometimes it doesn’t just grab our attention so much as it grabs us by the eyeballs and slams us up against the computer screen. We’re reading a good story. Maybe we saw this coming, maybe we didn’t. The longer it takes for the two characters to kiss the more we start to freak out. We want to see it! Witness it! We want our favorite characters be happy because it makes us happy! Maybe some of us want to live vicariously through it, but still!
Sometimes reading a romantic fic can be akin to reading a mystery story; when we piece together all the clues, we can’t wait to see the result. And some of us are especially happy when that love is consummated between the characters … some of us love to know that the characters are in love, some are curious, and some just like it.
PART 3: WHO WRITES THIS STUFF? AND HOW CAN WE THANK THEM?
If you go onto someplace like Fanficition.net, I promise you that you will be absolutely swamped with the number of romance stories there. If there was some kind of newbie writer Geiger counter available, you’ll find that a huge majority of these authors have penned at least one romantic story, and a large portion of that features their canon characters—more often than not, an alleged Mary-Sue.
But why? Why are there so many first time writers out there coming up with this stuff? And why are so many of them girls and women?
Well, for starters, girls and women are kind of in a bind here. We’ve been raised on this sort of stuff. Enough with the “some day my prince will come” crap. Nine times out of ten that doesn’t happen. If we’re the ones doing the looking, it might take forever to find the one guy (or girl, to be fair) that’s just right for us. It gets us worried and disillusioned, and sometimes we’re even mocked by friends and family for not finding someone.
So, to comfort us, girls and women are more likely to write and read something romantic, to take us out of our miserable element that life and society had flung us into, and create something that we imagine and want. Why live in Boston when you could live in Sunnydale, making love to Spike the vampire? It’s more exciting than where you are now, and you get to call the shots on what happens to you or your character.
And hey, maybe we just have a cool idea to pair our original character with a chosen canon character because we think they’re destined for each other anyway. Watch the sparks fly!
In addition, I would like to point out that, though many of us wouldn’t realize it, a huge amount of these stories are written by girls who have not lost their virginity yet. Their sexual drive is intense, but they’re often afraid or uncomfortable with the thought. Sex is supposed to be a commitment, a kind of covenant you’re supposed to share with someone who can be loved and is compatible and trustworthy—why not write about your ideal first time with somebody you already know and love and trust?
Now, before I move on, I should address the trend of men and boys writing romantic/erotic fanfic: honestly, I’ve seen very little of it. My best assumption is either that they’re not into that kind of thing, or they’re just too embarrassed to post it. I’ll return to this in a little bit.
PART 4: THEMES AND TRAITS IN ROMANCE
Now, the themes of romance and erotica in literary/comic/video game/TV show/movie and anything else I missed are naturally evident in romance and erotic fanfic. That can’t be helped, and because fanfic writers are pressured not to create a Mary-Sue (*SNARL*), they often fall back on the Anti-Sue method which wrecks their whole story.
To begin, most romance novels (and a few romance fanfics) go like this:
1. Begin with a character (typically the girl/woman) bemoaning their inability to find love
2. The heroine is often describe as being sweet and kind a little shy, or bold and confrontation and headstrong. They have long flowing silky hair, long legs, tight waist and wide hips, and dainty hands. Their faces are symmetrically perfect and they have wide, shining deep eyes that can stare into a man’s soul. Their lips are small but full, and they have huge breasts. The books are referred to as bodice rippers for a reason.
3. They may sometimes cross into a different area, i.e. a different city or country as some kind of “fresh start.” They go there for a change of scenery, because they’re compelled to, they have a new job, go on vacation, are visiting a sick friend or relative, on a mission that is diplomatic/military-related/teaching in a different land, is escaping bad memories of former lovers or those former lovers themselves, or is taken into some kind of protective custody.
4. Encounters the man (or whomever) that takes their breath away. This person is physically their idea of a perfect man. The heroine typically hides their feelings from this man out of fear of rejection, because they’re still getting over a heartache, or because they feel like they have to be stronger and not give into silly emotions like that, or just consider this person, however attractive though he may, beneath them or their station. This man is tall, dark, sometimes with flowing hair, a strong chin, bronze skin, muscled all over the place, with eyes that are deep and mournful or laughing or distant. They may or may not have long flowing hair of their own.
5. Sometimes the man is a gentleman and gives the woman the utmost care and attention. Other times he’s a jerk and he and the heroine bicker constantly. They might even fling insults back at each other.
6. Even so, it’s usually love at first sight for them.
7. Something happens and the heroine is lost/kidnapped/injured/poisoned/dying/under attack and cannot protect herself. The hero rushes in at the crucial moment and saves the woman.
8. The hero takes the woman to some location (house/chatuea/camp/ranch/castle/tipi/cabin/yacht/cave/pirate ship/mansion/high rise apartment in a skyscraper/luxurious hotel/little quaint farmhouse where he lived with his grandparents when he was a child/whatever) where they are both safe an secluded. They profess their love to each other, and then the make love in a few descriptive words as possible.
9. Drama begins to build. The heroine might find out that her lover is a spy/secretly a prince or some kind of royalty/a mercenary/a fugitive/a god/a vampire/a werewolf/etc., or one of the characters is kidnapped and held hostage, someone like an ex-lover/jilted spouse/rival king/mad scientist/an army buddy thought to be dead/etc. shows up, or they find out that one of them is still actually married with kids and they’ve lying about it the whole time.
10. One lover spurns the other, and the hero or heroine has to work hard to make up for it.
11. More barely mentioned sex.
12. All is forgiven and they live happily ever after.
13. This all takes place in two hundred pages at the most.
PART 5: THEMES AND TRAITS IN EROTICA
You’ll see why I’m more partial to erotica:
1. Erotica takes place in a lot of different places and times, but the characters aren’t as simplified as they are in romance. A character in erotic fiction is a lot more likely to be like any one of us. They have a greater and deeper range of emotions and personality, and their lives are a lot more complex.
2. Both of the characters’ physical appearance is more varied than just the cookie cutter that’s-what-I-like type of stuff. Some characters are ideal, of course, sometimes even to the extreme, but erotica is aimed largely for us ordinary folks who want to relate to a character similar to us and see them enjoying a sexual encounter.
3. Sometimes the sex scenes are sudden, happening right away within ten pages. Sometimes it takes a while before anything happens, gradually building up the tension. The scenes are always well described in either some extremely graphic language (dirty horrible words) or graphic description (can be clearly illustrated or poetically described—I’m reading Snow Falling On Cedars right now, and it has a lot of scenes of the latter.)
4. The emotional reactions to these encounters can range from relief to stunned shock to happiness to guilt or fear, and it might happen all at the same time. It depends on the storyline and what the characters are like, but sex can bring on some strong emotions sometimes, and you’ll have to explain what it is and why.
5. The character conflict can be intense, both internally and externally. Because the characters have, well, more character, more depth, more personality, are more human, they are going to react to their feelings and their situation more strongly.
6. The character’s personality matters a lot here. Unlike romance you can’t just say that your character has a bad attitude because his girlfriend died in a car crash. You’ve got to describe everything about him, like how he tsks and shakes his head or flinches away from somebody and why. Talk about how the girl used to climb up into a tree to read and why she did that.
7. Your character’s history is important. You don’t have to go into every detail from their childhood on up, but without some kind of fleshed out background your characters are boring and unrelatable. Talk about important events or people, things that helped make your character who they are. And again, don’t go cramming all of this together into a single paragraph—that’s information overload. Space it out, bringing up certain events when the current situation calls for it.
8. In good erotica, there is a lot of drama. Real drama, not “Boohoo, my lover with all those rippling muscles has left me because I’m engaged to another man.” No, in good erotica, the story is just like that in any other story. There can be emotional drama (the character is frightened by the situation he’s gotten himself into with this woman), drama in relationships (they’re fighting because she caught him with another girl), drama with family and friends (they don’t like this man and pressure the woman to break up with him), and so on. It’s like grandfather always said: S.O.S. Same Old Shtuff.
9. The couple don’t actually have to be in love in order to have sex. It could be intense sexual attraction and nothing else, or attempt at conceiving a child, or whatever you find plausible. But make it be known that SEX MUST ALWAYS BE CONSENSUAL.
PART 6: SHOULD I WRITE IT?
Only if you think you can do it and do it well, then I don’t see why not. If you’re not sure, THEN DON’T DO IT. There are too many crappy fics out there already.
Here is where I break off this blog to continue next week. Hopefully I’ve laid down the basic information for everyone to understand. Next week I’ll start focusing on the Mary-Sue factor. Why am I stopping here? Because there’s just too much to write and it’s confusing!!!