Andrea G Stewart

Art and Writing

Can We Stop Devaluing the Romance Genre?

Happy International Women's Day! I happened to read a romance scene in an epic fantasy novel today that was terrible. Terrible as in--roll my eyes when the characters confessed their feelings and the sex scene was about as titillating as watching two people trying to figure out the rules to a board game.

Can we stop devaluing the romance genre?

Is it because shit rolls downhill? The literary folks look down on the genre folks and the genre folks say, "Well, I know romance is considered genre, but at least we're not them." I've heard, multiple times from multiple people, "Maybe I should crank out a bunch of romance novels. That's where the money is." I've heard how romance is formulaic and thus, it must be easy to write.

Is it? Is it really, actually easy to write?

There are a lot of terrible romance books out there. But then, there are a lot of terrible thriller books out there. There are a lot of terrible books of any genre (yes, fantasy and sci-fi too, let's not pretend).

I used to make fun of the romance genre. I read a few romance novels and couldn't stand them. But it's a little like trying tofu once and then proclaiming that you don't like tofu. It comes in so many different forms and textures--how can you know you hate it, just like that?

I tried to write romantic scenes into my novels and my stories and wow, they were terrible. Insert Tab A into Slot B--is that good for you? No?

Do you know what romance writers do well? Romance. I got recommendations from Tina Gower (who writes romance and is brilliant), and I read some really, really good romance novels. The authors built a spark between the characters, the banter was biting and witty, the books were funny, they were sad, they grew a relationship between two people that was maybe a little larger than life, but they made me feel something--and isn't that what good writing is supposed to do? I tried to analyze how it was done and I think it made my writing better. A good deal of fantasy and sci-fi novels have a romantic subplot. And many times the author pays much less attention to this aspect than to the rest of the story, to the whole book's detriment. Who wants to read a romantic subplot where the characters have zero chemistry?

Writers of romance are primarily women. Readers of romance are primarily women.

Let's take another genre, geared towards men: the military thriller. If a woman was reading a military thriller on a train, and a man was reading a romance...what kind of reaction do you think each would receive?

Read widely and read often: it's advice I've heard given to writers many times. What part of "read widely" says "except romance, that genre is lame"?

So please, at least stop and think twice the next time you want to disparage romance, or place yourself somehow above it, or feel like you already have all the answers on how to write one.

After all, for you writers who speak of bringing something new and exciting to your chosen genre--how much easier is it to build something different when you're unpacking more than one set of Legos?