Romantic Fiction: What Makes It So Hard?

I was reading Roulette by Megan Mulry this morning, remaining within the safety of my bed and shielded from the arctic temperatures of downstairs in my parents’ house in Spain and this thought crossed my mind. Okay, maybe it is not quite arctic temperatures, but it’s pretty damn cold down here considering that this is Spain, but that does not change my thoughts that I had as I was reading. Now, I am not advocating this book as the be-all-and-end-all of romantic fiction as there is plenty that I haven’t read, but I have enjoyed what I have read so far. Why? Because it all seems so natural. Firstly, the book is written from a first person perspective of Miki Durand, which I think really helps the reader to get into the mind of the protagonist and exactly what she’s feeling, but the protagonist’s thoughts come across as very normal; it’s very easy to identify with Miki as she comes across as a very believable, very real woman. Secondly, every exchange between Miki and Jérôme Michel de Villiers works well and, again, comes across as believable and real, from their deliciously awkward verbal exchanges all the way to their more passionate and intimate encounters.

So why the post, title laden with innuendo? Well, it was precisely what I was thinking as I was reading the book. I’ve tried my hand at writing romantic relationships in fiction and have even tried to write sexual encounters in the past, but every time it just feels clunky and awkward. Every time I write something like this I end up scrapping the work as it just irritates me how bad it reads. It took half a tub of ice cream, self-pity and a fairly large quantity of amaretto for me to work up the courage to post something lewd (and very NSFW. You have been warned) up and, whilst I got some positive feedback from one of my reliable proof readers, it certainly had room for improvement. Whilst all I posted up was a quick scene of flirting followed by a sexual encounter in a cyberpunk setting, finishing on a rich person’s security chasing the would be murderer out of the building (through an unconventional exit) I am currently writing a novel where romance between two characters plays a very significant part and, considering this may be the first novel that I try and get published properly, I want it to come across naturally and not in an awkward or clunky way. The relationship is so central to the plot that, whilst it isn’t primarily romance in its genre, I feel that a clunky relationship would detract from the narrative as the relationship is awkward, but not in that way. Equally, a 50 Shades of Grey style “romance” is most undesirable as well. That just isn’t how love works, at least not in my insular, sheltered mind!

So why is it so difficult? What raises this rather sizable obstacle? I believe it comes down to two things. Firstly, practice. I have been writing mystery, action and conspiracy based fiction for a long time. Romantic fiction? I’ve only been writing bits and pieces for about a year and a bit now, but that’s nowhere near enough for me to feel comfortable with the standard of work that I come up with. Secondly, I believe it comes down to personal experience, at least a little bit. I am a train wreck when it comes to romance as a person; I’ve had… I think five people through my life (four throughout my teenage years and one later on) who have expressed an interest and three of them I actually reciprocated the feelings towards, however whenever I felt like the dreaded romance train was approaching, I would derail it and run away as fast as I could from the train wreck that ensued, hiding in my safety cave until everything was cleaned up again. Thankfully, I only truly regretted two of them, but enough about the burning pile of mess that is my romantic history and back onto my point. I believe that to write romantic fiction well, one at least needs to have experienced it themselves; one needs to have experienced the flirting, dating, cheeky banter and all the feelings that burn ever so brightly during a relationship to write one into fiction accurately and to give one’s narrative a fluid and real feel. It is a deeply emotional experience that cannot be researched and quantified like other things. Everyone reacts to romance differently, so I believe that one needs to at least have personal experience to draw inspiration from should they wish to write romantic fiction (without difficulties of unnatural relationships and dialogue, unless one is a natural romantic!).

I’m sure that some people take to it naturally, but for me at least I find it an incredibly tall obstacle to overcome, more than most other writing related barriers. It’s a problem because romance is a large part of life for us emotional human beings. A protagonist will likely have feelings for someone at some point in their life much like a normal person will, unless they’re a robot or strange, emotionless alien race, and so if writing anything to do with this part of life comes across poorly it will reflect on the rest of the written prose. The weakest link in the chain.

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