Let me let you in on a little secret: we, as writers and as people, want to be happy. We tend to use writing as an escape in the best of times, and that seems to be true more now than ever. But funnily enough, as we celebrate (or not, you do you) Valentine’s Day, and our Instagram feeds are flooded with pictures of smiling couples, it seems like there’s an odd negativity that brews under the surface, one of people hating on the holiday. This isn’t anything new, in fact, even I had my “edgy” phase where I denounced all romance as unimportant. But now, as a writer, I find that romance is the one genre that I can’t stay away from—why is that?
People love love. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and if love just isn’t your thing, that’s perfectly fine! But romance is one of the most profitable genres in fiction. Books about romance are everywhere. Even within other genres, there is often a romance subplot, some will-they-won’t-they to build tension, some prior established relationship that needs defending, or some past relationship that informs the protagonist’s decisions. And, well, we see it in real life too, don’t we? How many of us can truthfully say that we haven’t made poor decisions in the pursuit of relationships that didn't work out, or even in the pursuit of relationships that did?
As always, life and art are inseparable. If you’ve ever spent even three seconds on any website that hosts fanfiction, you can see just how much people love to write about love. Fanfic authors have been doing just that for years, retconning relationships or continuing relationships beyond the scope of their original media, all without any payment or external motivation. Some of the most compelling works of fiction I have ever read were written by students and retail workers and tired parents that just couldn’t get the idea of certain characters out of their head, and took to the internet as an outlet. Whether it be romantic, platonic, or familial (found family trope, anyone?), love is one of those themes that compels people to create for the love of creation.
The fact of the matter is that there is so much hatred and fear in the world, and we as people just want to be seen, safe, loved. So when we feel negativity coming in, what better way to combat that than to write about the most saccharine sweet love possible? It seems that there’s been this long-held mentality that, when it comes to writing, the more depressing it is, the better it is—”real” literature isn’t sweet or adorable, it’s rough and difficult to cope with. But is that really the case?
Dark and gritty writing can evoke some pretty strong emotions, and I don’t mean to discredit writing that deals with heavy topics. We need those books as much as any others, and they can be a brilliant way of confronting real-life negativity. But let’s not forget that that can be just as true on the other side of the spectrum. Writing is a labor of love in and of itself, so why not have fun with it and write something so sweet it makes your teeth hurt?
It’s also important to remember that sometimes, writing a simply joyful love story can be just as important a social commentary. We all know how predominant the “bury your gays” trope has been in media, especially many early queer novels. In that case, writing dark novels where the characters aren’t allowed to be happy and in love is actually something that harms the queer community more than it helps it. On the other hand, light and relatively low-stakes romances help to combat the stigma of suffering that still enshrouds the perception of LGBTQ+ individuals. Allowing our queer characters to experience love is an act that is vital to our representation.
What it all comes down to, I suppose, is this: don’t be afraid that your romantic writing isn’t as “literary”, and write as much love as you wish! And for those of you who have been writing romance, just remember—there will always be people out there, as hopelessly romantic as you are, who can’t wait to read your work and love your characters just as much as you do.
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