Love is in the Words

Romance has long been considered an important component of literature and drama. It draws them in, including me. People love to praise those who make huge sacrifices for love. Readers like to see it blossom and endure amid great trials and hardships, to see it conquer all. Unfortunately, sometimes fans can get so obsessed with notions of romance that they can lose their hold of reality.

Modern adaptations of classic stories alter characters for the sake of romance. Helen of Troy has been portrayed as falling genuinely in love with Paris rather than being under a spell, as she was originally in The Iliad. In some adaptations of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod and Katrina are in love, with Ichabod as a noble hero, whereas in the original story his motives are anything but honorable, and it’s implied Katrina, who was rather vain, merely used him to make Brom Bones jealous. Even villains like Dracula, who originally had no qualms over their actions, have become “humanized” and anti-heroic via romance. Romance appeals to people.

Within fandoms and fanfiction, I’ve seen “shippers” when there’s a love triangle and even with characters who either didn’t end up together or weren’t in love. Margaret Mitchell was hounded by Gone with the Wind fans wanting to know if Rhett and Scarlett reunited. She never gave them a definitive answer, because that wasn’t the point of the story. It’s been suggested some (but not all) fans don’t care about reason, wanting a romantic ending no matter how much it defies logic.

So is there a danger when writers incorporate romance into stories? Yes. There have been articles and books discussing how reading romance novels can be dangerous for one’s physical and psychological health, because in searching for love in real life, readers may aspire to an idealized image found only in fiction. Some try to play it out, thinking it’ll end like in stories. The result is grave disappointment, because in real life nothing is perfect. In Sense and Sensibility, the romantic Marianne falls for the handsome, dashing Willoughby and wears her heart on her sleeve. When he leaves her and marries for money (after being disinherited for abandoning another girl he got pregnant), Marianne wallows in grief, to the point where she endangers her health and nearly dies.

So what can writers do? Recognize the power stories have to shape readers’ views on love. Perhaps aim to show love isn’t perfect, with fights and disagreements, but still satisfy readers. Marianne finds love in Colonel Brandon and gets a happy ending, but she matures and sees the error of her past conduct. Another thing to bear in mind is that sometimes relationships don’t work out. Seldom is a first love everlasting, especially with teenagers. At other times, there isn’t a happy ending but hope for a better future.

I don’t dismiss the power and importance of romance. It’s needed in some (but not all) stories. But writers and readers alike need to understand genuine romance is gradual, with ups and downs. As Shakespeare says, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” And as I learned in church, love is an umbrella term used for many situations that aren’t identical. Furthermore, what may appear to be love isn’t necessarily love. They say love is blind; so is obsession. Love not built on a solid foundation of friendship, mutual trust, and respect, is the easiest—and fastest—to crumble.

45 thoughts on “Love is in the Words

  1. I totally agree about writing romance to be more realistic.🙌
    Same when writing teenage characters I’ve noticed in most stories they’re portrayed as dumb…Also that their families aren’t involved in and the teen is facing the world alone.
    I know there are cases like that ,but it would be more realistic if an adult tried to intervene more in such stories. Hope this made sense.

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  2. Awesome article, Andrew! Great advice for those authors writing romances or incorporating romance into their novels! Wonderful tips and advice. A job well done! Cheers!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It is easy to get swept up in a whirlwind romance in stories. I happen to be a fan when it starts out where they don’t really like each other and it happens more over time. However, even then it’s often exaggerated for the sake of the story. I realize that, but I could see how someone could essentially get addicted to that all consuming love. This was a very interesting read, Andrew!

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  4. I remember when Twilight came out and I decided to give it a chance, despite all the negativity surrounding it. I read the first two paragraphs and put it down. Bella had already fallen in love. I don’t think these things should be rushed in literature, or always prioritized. I like how the Greeks had different words for different kinds of love. I think it makes it more impactful that way.

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  5. Great article, Andrew! The romance genre is sooo big for may women readers. I like some romance in my reading too, but it’s NEVER a priority. If it’s there and it’s sickly sweet or so ‘unreal’ it beggars belief, than it can turn me off the whole novel. It may be though, because I did have a wonderfully romantic falling in love with my hubby, that I just don’t need to read about it in fiction, and maybe many other women do. (I’m not saying that men can’t enjoy some romance reading, of course, I’m just referring to what I’ve picked up along the way where women readers are concerned). So that said, the phase of falling in love changes inevitably to having to work on the relationship. As my hubby used to say, ‘What happens after a couple sail off into the sunset?’ And I agree with your thinking on this. There should be some real life possiblities of outcome in romance fiction or romance within fiction. (Will share this!)

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  6. I think this is your best article. I’m a fan of romance novels, and yes my imagination can get obsessive. I’ve idealised love based books and movies, because of my fractured childhood. Reality is sometimes a disappointment, humans are in fact fallible.
    However, I still write and read fantasy-romance because I want the escapism. 😅

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  7. Great job highlighting the power of romance in writing- and the need to use that carefully! SO much writing out there glorifies relationships that are (frankly?) unhealthy. It’s not that those topics can’t come into stories, but it’s important to be aware of the messages we’re sending to our audience – especially as I see this frequently in YA books my students pick up.

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  8. ‘‘Tis the season. It’s a perfect reality check/reminder of what love is in literature and tv versus what love can be in real life. Love is a beautiful gift that requires work and honesty. Great post.

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  9. I guess it’s because I’m older (nearing 40!) that I like my romance to be way out there. Passionate, unrealistic, powerful.

    My personal journey in 5+ years of relationship then marriage has been wonderful… but it’s a story I’ve lived and don’t want to re-live in my fiction. Plus, my husband has never shape-shifted, so there’s that 😉 We’re still working on the billionaire part. (LoL)

    Take care, my friend 🙂

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  10. An interesting post, Andrew. I like a touch of romance in a book but rarely read a romance. I include a bit of a romance in my supernatural fantasy, Through the Nethergate. One reader commented that she didn’t know why it was included and the reason was because I wanted to show that love between a real person and a ghost could never continue and endure.

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  11. so many good points to take away and recall when incorporating a romance in our own writing, my personal favourite you wrote was “that was not the point of the story”, too often we mix personal feelings yet don’t want to reveal too much and then the plot weakens, my humble opinion anyway. thank you for such an interesting and informative post. I rarely read romance as I find its image too idealized!

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  13. An awesome article, Andrew. It is so true that romance in novels can be a little too heavy-handed at times and can lead to this idolised image of Happy Ever After. I always found it disturbing when I saw writers who would suddenly add another book to their “completed” series, just to throw together a couple their readers had been pining for.

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  15. This is literally so true! I definitely think our notion of romance has become warped, it’s dangerous that people think they necessarily need a certain type of love to be fulfilled, plus it’s not always realistic. Not hating on romance at all – I still love it (haha) but we just have to check in with ourselves and remind ourselves its not reality!

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