The subject of this post was suggested to me by a rant - or rather, a considered complaint - by wattpad author PJ Malone, who pointed out the following:
people don't get swept off their feet by some hot thing, and I'm tired
of reading about something that makes me want more than a happy normal
relationship where you meet, you fall in love, you fight, you make up,
you fight again, make up, start a family, and repeat the fighting/making
up thing, get old and fat and both of you look beautiful to the other
because of your soul, not your face.'
The debate this sparked was very interesting. Some pointed out that if you spend $7 on a book, (or £7.99 in my case) you want it to be hot, and that is absolutely fair enough. When you read something for fun, you don't always want it to mirror real life. Escapism is just that - a way of retreating into a world where anything can happen, where belief can be suspended in the cause of something light and mindless, a tale you can get lost in. Others agreed that they were tired of the Mr-Perfect-Meets-Miss-Virgin type stories where the odds of meeting said Mr Perfect are unrealistic in the extreme. I suppose Fifty Shades is a case in point. Then again, how likely is it that said Mr Perfect is also a sparkling vampire?
Speaking personally, what I love are the warts-and-all stories, the tales of after the Happily Ever After, and the realism within the romance. Perhaps that is why there have been several attempts to create life after marriage for the Darcys, from Sharon Lathan and other regency romance authors to P. D. James. Everyone wants to know what happens after the curtain falls.
The first book that springs to mind where neither He nor She are angelic and perfect and made for each other is Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.
Plain Jane with her many faults and the brooding, self-proclaimed unattractive bachelor with a sordid history are still the greatest players in the best warts-and-all romance I have ever read. I think this is the tale that has inspired me above all others when writing romantic relationships.
My description of The Faustine Chronicles in response to PJ Malone's questions was this:
MC is considered freak-show standard ugly by the standards of her
society and as she's had that for all 21 yrs of her life she finds it
hard to accept that anyone would think differently and owns her
ugliness. The other is Vlad the Impaler on steroids,
pretty much, and he is a womaniser and has got one dead wife and
several dead mistresses and one betrothed who killed herself to his
name, so there's a reason why he is currently available. I wanted the
bad guy to get the girl, and I needed the girl not to be too moralistic.
So Miss Virgin (too much self-respect to pay for sex, although she
saved up once) is a pragmatic, hardcore survivor who isnt afraid to get
her hands dirty. And he tries to be better, although his idea of doing
something nice for her involves poison, manipulation, blackmail, theft and
then silencing the witnesses. All of which she knows about and ends up
being complicit in as the ends justify the means. There's a bit of
redemption for the pair of them, but only after a few tragic
soul-searching moments. I promise no one that they will live happily
ever after... and you can imagine what their kids are like.
The Book of Fate is not the end of the story - there is also The Book of Time, The Book of Chance and, ultimately, The Book of Death to contend with. The relationship is never perfect nor does it ever pretend to be, and the brooding 'bad boy' certainly isn't changed fundamentally by the love of a good woman. It's not that he doesn't try, it's just that... well... he just isn't wired that way.
Even my romantic subplot in Black Gables, a murder mystery set in 1955, does not have two smoking protagonists. That's a subtle, slow-burning development which occurs under the surface and between two people who are probably not conventionally attractive.
What do you think? When it comes to romance, how do you like yours? ;)