Romance Novels as Social Commentary - Diane's viewI'm blogging early this month, because I'll be at The Romantic Times Convention in Daytona Beach on my regular day, May 20. But aren't I lucky! The talented Terry McLaughlin, author of this month's Superromance--Learning Curve--asked these challenging questions. I'm going to give my take on it. I'm not a social scientist, but I'm full of opinions anyway.
Do romance novelists/novels use the genre to make social critiques? We discussed science fiction--how it plays on the realities of "now" to make assumptions about "tomorrow." I was wondering if romance novels do the same?
No. Romance novelists use the genre to tell stories. Love stories. I write love stories because I believe in the healing and redeeming power of love and it is my joy to recreate those themes through my characters. I'm much more interested in exploring characters, why they might do what they do, how love might make them better people, than in commenting on society.
That said, we are writing within the context of our times, even if we write historicals like I do. So it is natural that our own social perspective would be reflected in our work. But this is true of any writing or any art form, really. Any creative endeavor is created within the context of the times we live in.
Or is it more a play on the desires of the consumers at the time? Some novels in the 80's may have seemed negative in their portrayals, but those books must have sold if that was the marketing scheme at the time.
This question implies intention and I don't think we have a marketing scheme in our heads when we conceive a story. I have never thought it was fair that the romance novel of today is judged by the romance novel of the 70's and 80's, the good old "bodice rippers." The times were different in the 70's and 80's. I remember hearing a speaker (wish I could remember who, so I could credit her!) at one of our Washington Romance Writers Retreats, who talked about the "forced" nature of the love scenes in those 70's books reflecting women's emerging sense of their own sexuality, a time when for women it was more psychologically acceptable to attribute the responsibility for the sexual situation to the man. The woman, however, had "permission" to enjoy it. Our romance novels of today don't contain that fantasy, because women of today are empowered to take responsibility for their own sexuality and feel entitled to their pleasure. We write those stories now because those are the kind of stories we enjoy and we happen to be part of the society in which we live.
Do writers keep these issues in mind as they write, or is it pure imagination? Although even our imagination and desires are somewhat guided by our environment, surroundings, fears, and limitations, etc. Is there something more beyond the covers, or is it just entertainment?
I cannot speak for others, but I tell the story of my characters, who, of course, I make up. If I do my job right, my story will also contain something bigger that will resonate with readers and make the story memorable. I never ever start with a message and then fashion a story around it. For me it is the characters that the story is about.
And then there's the whole psychology of entertainment, mass media--the whole thing gets blown out of proportion. Like how kids are supposedly committing various crimes against society because of the video games they're playing and music they're listening to. I know some books get a bad reputation because of their content and influence. But if that were true, wouldn't we see a huge population of women running around after hunks because of the books they're reading? Of course not, that would be absurd.
I loved what Gail said in the comment section of Terry's blog, that romance novels show women the "way things should be." I have a friend who came from an extremely dysfunctional family, but she said that romance novels taught her about healthy relationships. I've heard women who have experienced abuse say they've learned the "way things should be" from romance novels. I think this is the power of a love story. It can literally change people!
But I don't try to think of how to influence lives when I write. I just want to write a terrific love story!
P.S. To fuel the creative fantasy--