…is what makes every story go ‘round.
When I first started writing romance novels, I thought I was doing something unusual. After all, I was a reader of literary fiction — an English major (a snob). And I really didn’t read romance, I told people.
After all, wasn’t saying you read romance akin to admitting you enjoyed something light, fluffy, silly? Maybe a bit scandalous? That was what I believed, anyway, and so moving into the world of romance writing was a bit of a rocky path for me.
Today, I realize that of course I read romance all those years ago. I read it, I watched it, and more than that — I enjoyed it. And you know what else? So do you. Yeah, tough guy in the Caps jersey and sportscar, I mean you. Yep, lawyer lady carrying the no-nonsense leather bag with just the right amount of bling to say, “I’m an intellectual, but I still like sparkle,” I’m talking to you, too.
You probably think I’m wrong. And that’s fair, because maybe you’ve never ventured into the romantic-fiction shelves in a bookstore or your local library. Maybe you stick exclusively to thrillers or horror; maybe you only read literary novels.
Guess what? There are very few compelling books, television shows, or movies out there that don’t contain a romantic thread.
And, in most cases, that’s the part that draws readers and viewers through the story. It’s the part that we find most relatable, the part that illustrates something so elemental to the human experience that we can’t help but want to see what happens. Sure, there could be ghosts and murderers and flying monkeys all around it, but that element of connection is the critical thread of any story.
Maybe you’re still skeptical. So let’s frame it around the essential definition of “romance.” From Merriam-Webster, the first definitions are as follows:
1: a medieval tale based on legend, chivalric love and adventure, or the supernatural
2: a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous or mysterious
3: a love story especially in the form of a novel
That third one might resonate with your previous belief about what makes a romance, but it’s critical to realize that the primary definition is something quite different: legend, love, adventure, mystery — the things that inspire us to imagine and believe, the things that feed our love of story and our willingness to set aside reality.
That is romance.
My point is that romance is inherent in any story that gets the gears of our minds whirring with interest. It is the thing that connects any narrative to the human experience.
I will cede one point here. The technical definition of “a romance” — at least, if you’re a writer or reader of the books you’ll find in those sections of the bookstore and library I mentioned — is a love story that culminates in a happily-ever-after or happy-for-now ending. And maybe you don’t read those. And that’s okay.
But knowing what we know now about what “romance” really is, maybe it’s time to stop denigrating the word and making those who understand the compelling nature of romance feel like it’s something to be ashamed of.
Maybe, given the brutality of the world around us, it would be good for the tough guy in the Caps jersey to admit that he likes a little romance in his thrillers. Maybe it’s okay for the independent lawyer lady to tell her friends that the intellectual drama she’s reading is fascinating, partly because of its romantic subplot.
After all, in the end, isn’t life about the connections we make with others? Isn’t it about the adventures and mysteries we encounter every day, thanks to the people we know and meet? And, really, isn’t it about the romance we find along the way?
This is my last column for the Washington Independent Review of Books. But I leave you with the hope that you will work to find the romance in your life every day.