Welcome to another discussion here on Of Dragons and Hearts. I’m participating in The Discussion Challenge this year, so head over here if you’re craving more debates on books. And if you want to see my old discussion posts, simply scroll to the end of the post and click the “discussion” tab – I’m pretty good with using those, so you’ll get all the discussions in one place. Also, if you’re not up to a discussion on sex, you should probably just… um… skim this? :)
I’ve been thinking about the issue of realism in romance a lot. Cait wrote a similar post a while ago, but hers was centered more on young adult literature and not as specific as mine will be, but go check it out anyway. She’s cool.
Now, romance, as you well know, is by its definition a genre that deals with fantasy – maybe not in the sense of dragons and fire-throwing wizards, but fantasy of the other kind, where the happening is so idealized and dreamy, it’s completely removed from reality. So if we take all the fantasy out of a romance and portray love relationships as they really are, chances are 90% of romances would be a) boring, b) depressing as hell.
Don’t think I’m a cynic, please, you know I’ve found my own happiness and that I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, but most relationships just aren’t whirlwind romances with days of sweaty sex and soulful declarations. You can absolutely disagree with me here but my beliefs are based on years of observation (kidding – kind of). But it’s all the more satisfying when a relationship DOES succeed, when two people who are right for each other find themselves in a joyful, non-toxic union and live happily even after. *sigh* (I told you I was a romantic.)
Anyway. What I’m going to talk about is the fantasy of romance, or rather the extent to which romance should be realistic to still be believable.
You know when you’re reading a fantasy novel and the worldbuilding just sucks? Or the hero/ine is this exceptionally gifted individual who can do no wrong? And it keeps throwing you out of the story and has you rolling your eyes? Well, I think romances function in a similar fashion.
You get your fantasy of two attractive people feeling a powerful attraction to each other, they banter and bicker and inevitably end up in a liplock of epic proportions, usually followed by amazing sex, love, and marriage. But there are a million ways of putting these elements together – and their execution is very important for the reader’s immersion in the story. I’m not going to go into the ideology of romance here or gender roles or character traits – this discussion is long enough as it is.
So what I wanted to do, really, was make a list (heh) of three things that throw me out of the story, that have me rolling my eyes and skim reading until the scene is over. Because come on, I know they aren’t possible (or are they?!).
- Exaggerated descriptions of the perfection of the couple’s bodies. I know all romance heroes and heroines are supposed to be attractive. And, you know, I’m aware we can’t have a sex scene without the description of intimate body parts, but can we please hold it with the details? I’m not trying to be a prude, just… don’t even get me started on the expressions used to describe these body parts. If I’m completely honest, the male models featured on romance covers are usually unattractive to me. They kind of look scary. So. Less is more.
- Exceptional prowess in bed. AGAIN, I know that nobody wants to read about bad sex. It would be completely useless and unsexy and probably embarrassing to read about. But modern erotica, especially, features sex so fantastically, euphorically spectacular it really does make me roll my eyes sometimes. I know multiple orgasms are possible for women and I know men can have stamina. But Fifty Shades of Grey and its successors made both male and female bodies sound like some alien/robotic objects capable of hours, even days of strenuous physical activity, which just puts me off.
- Heroes (or heroines – though this is much, much less common) who have had a LOT of sexual partners. This is closely related to the previous point but am I the only one who finds the idea of a guy who has slept with a hundred women unappealing? And does anyone actually know such a creature? Yes, I know I’m being judgy but I can’t imagine that sex would mean anything to a man (or woman?) who has had so many different partners. Is there anything he hasn’t tried yet? Anything he hasn’t seen? I know my experience with such individuals is painfully limited, so I’m basically treating them as a sort of a mythical being, like a construct in a fantasy world.
I will stop here and say that this list could have been a lot longer, but I will ask you for your input now:
What throws you out of the story?
Do you have pet peeves when it comes to realism in romance?
And should romance be realistic or is it okay if the fantasy is a bit out there?
I’d love to hear from you! :)