Want to learn how to drive me up the wall? Insist that every time two characters make out, that the novel has a romance.
Here in publishing, romance is a very specific genre that basically means the plot revolves around the characters being or falling in love with each other. There must be an ending that is happy, at least for now. Those two things and voila, it’s a romance.
Two people getting down and dirty? If it doesn’t satisfy the requirements above, sorry, it’s not romance.
Of course romantic subplots exist, but again, those are a specific thing. Jane and Mr. Bingley getting together is a romantic subplot in Pride and Prejudice. Ginny and Harry are a romantic subplot in Half-Blood Prince.
On the other hand, Dan Brown’s doppleganger getting it on with a new beautiful science lady at the end of every novel does not constitute a romantic subplot. It’s people having sex, but it’s not romance.
No, really, it’s not. Promise.
Yet that doesn’t stop people from, every time two characters touch hands, either bemoaning the romantic subplot development, or overblowing it beyond all proportions. Y’all are aware that people can screw and feel nothing for each other, right? Or can be indifferent to each other. Or hate each other’s freaking guts.
Please say yes.
As it turns out, I’m not sure most people do get this. After all, Western society does love the myth that sex is magical and loving and amazing, and it sells it hard to both the young and the old. Holding hands is fireworks! Penises are magical healing tools! Virgins are aammmmmaaaaaazing and if you are not a virgin and you are not married SHAME SHAME UPON YOUR HOUSE YOU LECH YOU.
I have planned a wedding in the western world. Okay, fine, I failed at planning a wedding and got my mother to do it, but for a good nine months I did my freaking best to plan a wedding, and let me tell you, the Twu Wuv syndrome persists far beyond it and into the world and possibly infects our brains.
But the fact is, people have sex for all sorts of reasons, not least of all because, gosh, it feels nice. They might have sex with someone they don’t like for that reason. They might do it because there are no other options. Heaven knows more than one high school romance has disintegrated in the face of moving into the wider world, because when you have one option, you make do, but once life opens up, make do is a thing of the past.
Personally, I love all of those as subplots. Not romance, not stars and flowers, but two people who are with each other for reasons they can’t quite articulate without it all falling apart. People glued by time and habit, people who are locked in mutual dysfunctionality. People who are compatible, but wish for something else.
I like to read them. I like to write them. I find them rather more real than the hearts and stars, and a good deal more comforting. Love is nice, but hormones are just as strong and feel every bit as good in the moment, though what they leave can be far worse than what was already there.
What annoys me is when people call them romance.
Romance is birds and rainbows and a happy ending. It’s good and lovely and fine in its place, but it’s definitely a construction of narrative.
Relationships, on the other hand, are far less precise. They arise, they fall, they simmer beneath the surface. They vary in intensity. They vary in what both parties are getting out of them.
Sometimes all they’re getting is sex.
That’s fine, and makes for good reading. But if you try to call a book like that romance, you’ll be inevitably disappointed, because it isn’t. It’s not supposed to be.
I’m S. Hunter Nisbet, writer of post-apocalyptic dystopian novels of the dark and gritty type. They’re not romance. There is no romance in the Saint Flaherty series at all. There is not even a hint of it.
Mind, that doesn’t stop the sexy fan fiction.
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