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12 April 2008 @ 07:14 pm
Meta Post: What is romance?  
So, the other day I was chattin' with hello_spikeyand our conversation about how one designates sexual versus romantic pairings in fics inspired me to wonder, "What does romance consist of in fics?" Need there be the word "love" exchanged, flowers and chocolates given, and stupendous orgasms received for it to be romance? Does sex need to be involved? Are there other "criteria" that you find necessary? 

Share your opinion. What sort of "romance" is your favorite to read/write? Be as broad or as specific as you like. When you read a pairing fic, do you expect sex only or a romantic connection, however you personally choose to define that? 

Personally, I have grappled with this question the last few days. My characters don't usually get "happy" or "romantic" endings or endings at all, really. No "I love yous" are said. I like to show the depth of emotion characters feel for each other through their actions. Often times, that is expressed through sex. Certainly, there is nothing traditionally romantic in what I depict. Have any other writers on my flist wondered about this in their own work as well?

As always, if there is anyone you think that might have an interesting response or would find this discussion engaging, point 'em my way!
botiasbotias on April 13th, 2008 12:23 am (UTC)
For me well-written sex scenes are a big plus but not necessary in a pairing-driven fic.

The characters have to have intense feelings about one another. Sex is one way they could express that. I like it when they challenge one another, also protect, comfort, and strike sparks off of one another, make one another laugh. Jewelry, flowers, and the standard romantic trappings, don't really do it for me in fic, though I am not opposed to them in real life. I rarely mind a plausible happy ending, but find unnecessarily angsty ones unfortunate. :)
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hello_spikeyhello_spikey on April 13th, 2008 01:03 am (UTC)
ooo.... good to bring the definition to the discussion, because we need to decide what we're discussing, don't we?

Historically, "Romance" first appeared to refer to writings (usually the chivalric tales we so love) in the "Roman language" ... which doesn't make sense to me because they used this to mean French, as opposed to Latin, in which all more edifying texts would be written.

Hence the literary definition of romance stems from these sorts of tales, though in our modern usage we tend to use the term to talk about, as you said, Harlequin-style stories which center on a love relationship.

It's not that far of a stretch, though, in meaning - the oldest known Arthurian legend, "Erec et Enide" by Chretien de Troyes, is all about the 'romance' between Erec and Enide, prow knight and Most Beautiful Woman Ever (TM). He doesn't start the tale in battle or engaged in the hunt with Arthur and the other dudes, but keeping the queen company! Isn't that a portentous opening to chivalric literature as we know it? And he meets Enide and he fights a tournament for her and they get married and shag so much his buddies complain he's never outside of the bedroom.

...digression!!! Sorry. I'm, like, soooooo into chivalric literature I had a little eyegasm when I saw you bring it up.

When I talked with clawofcat about it, though, I was thinking of a dichotomy between 'romantic' love and sex - emotional vs. physical? Not necessarily hearts and flowers vs. grungy real love.

er... um... okay I admit it. I replied to your comment only to gush about chivalric literature.
hello_spikeyhello_spikey on April 13th, 2008 01:13 am (UTC)
I'm not fond of stories where a love relationship is the central plot. It's not what I read. A friend lent me a romance once because she knew I was into erotic fiction and she promised me a boy got tied up in it. (Yeah, I'll give anything a chance if some hot guy gets tied up. *SIGH* I'm weak.)

Anyway, the book annoyed the heck out of me because the plot as I saw it ended half-way through. What did I care if hunk-o and princess got hitched or lived happily ever after? They defeated the nefarious schemes of spy guy! Cut to credits!

I do read erotica, and sometimes sorta attempt to maybe write it. And I get the feeling, looking over my flist, that I can separate fanfic writers into a "romance" and an "erotica" camp. Most of the "romance" writers tend to carry their stories on way past my interest... bad guys defeated, Spike out of chains... wait, Spike out of chains? SIGH. What's the world coming too?

"Mad Queen of Cleveland" wasn't a romance, in my mind, so I hesitate to give it a 'pairing' at all. Bad guys are presented, good guys have to team up and defeat them, incidentally Buffy and Spike reunite at the end, but I could just as easily have left that (and the brief encounter between Spike and Faith) out.

It's not that I don't enjoy relationships and their development... but I'm just as interested in friendships or sibling relationships as love ones. Either I'm writing porn to enjoy porn, or I'm not, and for me, I don't care for the porn bits if the partners engaged in porning for me are entirely fond of each other or not. (Ah, there are those chains again.)

So for me, my first instinct is to label only physical pairings, who has sex in this fic, and not who ends up in a happy relationship unless those two also get it on on-camera.

eowyn_315: Thinky James 1eowyn_315 on April 13th, 2008 02:07 am (UTC)
I don't think it needs to be "sexual vs. romantic pairings" - sex and romance aren't mutually exclusive. Nor does one require the other. Personally, I like it best when they're together, but you can have sex without romance, romance without sex, or a combination of the two, and still have a good fic.

First, to define "romance" as it's used to label fics (since, as hello_spikey pointed out, it can have a lot of definitions). In my mind, romance tends to describe a fic that involves a developing relationship. Either one person is trying to win the affection of the other, or two people who dislike each other, or don't get along, or don't know each other develop feelings for one another. It can be the main plot, or a subplot of a fic where the main plot is defeating a Big Bad. (If it is a subplot, though, it should still be prominent. For example, I would agree with hello_spikey that Mad Queen is not a romance since, although there are pairings, none of them is given enough attention to say that the fic is really about a particular couple. Ditto for something like Clocks of the Long Now.) Basically, if it's a romance, there shouldn't be any problem identifying the pairing, and - regardless of whether it's the main plot or not - there should be a distinct thread of the relationship's development throughout the story.

I find that most romances are multi-chapter fics, simply because the development of feelings or a relationship takes time. Romance doesn't have to be mushy - it doesn't need the word love or hearts and flowers. In fact, I prefer my romance angsty. I want their hearts ripped out and stomped on before the couple gets to be together. (I think some of DreamsofSpike's fics could fall into this angsty romance category.) It can include sex, explicit or not, but it doesn't have to, and the sex is generally secondary to the emotional development.

I tend to see the structure of a romance as follows:
1. Some catalyst puts two people together - meeting for the first time, enemies forced to work together, etc.
2. Feelings develop in one or both people
3. Couple dances around getting together, internal or external obstacles keep them apart
4. Couple finally overcomes obstacles and get together

There can be additional steps - often, fics (and every single romantic comedy ever made) will get the couple together, only to split them up again due to some obstacle that is larger than any previous one, and the climax of the story is the overcoming of that biggest obstacle. The story doesn't have to end happily, although it usually does.

I'm trying to think of examples to illustrate what I'm talking about. I would describe a lot of Herself's fics as romances, particularly the Bittersweets series. Forward to Time Past is a romance (at least the first and third parts, anyway). Of my own fics, I'd describe Silence Speaks as a romance, The Fire Within definitely, and maybe my alt season 6.

A PWP is most likely not a romance, particularly if there's no explanation of why/how the characters are together. PWP is primarily about sex, and often lacks the emotional development that is one of the main components of a romance. I would also not describe your fics as romances - not because there's no emotional component, because there is, but because your fics tend to be about a moment in time, rather than the development of a relationship.
hello_spikeyhello_spikey on April 13th, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC)
woah. Now THAT is a thought-out post! *bows and worships*

If I could sumerize - a romance is a story in which the central relationship is integral, the story cannot stand without it?
(Take the Spuffy out of the Bittersweets series and... and I can't imagine what would be left.)

I think I was a little harsh above, decrying all romance. I do like reading 'romantic' stories, despite myself. Just the really good ones, I don't notice that's what I'm reading. ;)
eowyn_315: Tabula Rasa kisseowyn_315 on April 13th, 2008 04:34 pm (UTC)
Haha, thanks, though it probably means I have too much time on my hands. :)

I think you've summed it up pretty well. In some cases, maybe it's not that the story cannot stand without the relationship, but that without it, it's not the same story. For instance, to go back to my fic, Silence Speaks, which I labeled a romance. It's a Spuffy rewrite of Hush. The story obviously works without the pairing (just watch the episode), but the addition of the Spuffy turns it into a romance, rather than just a horror/drama.

I went back and reread your previous post, and I think you do bring up a good point about the story going on past the point where you lose interest. In my opinion, a GOOD romance will align the romantic arc with the other plots. In other words, we should be defeating the bad guy at about the same time that the couple gets together. If you've beat the bad guy, and you're only halfway through the romance arc, then you probably need another bad guy to occupy our heroes while they sort out their feelings, otherwise it's all navel-gazing and sappiness.

One exception to that rule is hurt/comfort fics. Generally, the structure is such that the bad guy does the hurting, there's a rescue where the baddie's defeated, and then comes the comfort, which is the main thrust of the relationship arc. But even then, I've read some h/c fics where the "will they/won't they" part just gets dragged out way too long.
they call me genius jengirlpire on April 14th, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
this is an interesting question. i suppose i've never thought about the definition of romance before because i never use the word. i don't tend to genre-label my stories unless they're PWP's - although if something's sad, i'll sometimes put an angst warning. when i pairing-label a fic (ie. angel/spike), i feel that is sufficient to explain to the reader what the story is about: the relationship between the two characters. the rating, warnings, and summary ought to indicate something more specific about the relationship that's being explored. it'll say whether or not there's sex, whether or not there's fluff or angst, etc. so whatever your personal definition of the word romance is, you'll most likely be able to tell just from the fic heading if my story will be romantic to you. see what i mean?

the only time i can remember ever having trouble with this is when i first started posting my spangel story "friday." i had posted the first two chapters, one of my friends recced the story in her journal, and in the comments to that post, a girl had said that she really enjoyed the first chapter of the story (which was very plotty/exciting) but sort of lost interest during the second chapter because the relationship between angel and spike was growing emotionally deeper than she was comfortable with - because she's not a fan of the spangel pairing - and so she was disappointed. the review made sense, but at the same time, i was a little niggled by it. the story was supposed to be plotty and exciting of course, but it was first and foremost a love story. the plot was basically a vehicle to get the characters to fall in love with each other. that was like, the whole point of it. you know? i suppose now it might have been a good idea to label the story as a romance so the girl wouldn't have bothered wasting her time on it, but i had assumed the pairing, rating, and warnings would be enough.

that said, i'm going to go with the definition of romance being any story where the main characters fall in love with each other. doesn't have to be happy or fluffy or even sexual, but it does have to be mutual. otherwise it's just angst.
Barbrahirah on April 15th, 2008 02:48 am (UTC)
I'd agree that romance implies two characters falling in love - romance can include sex, but doesn't have to. Personally I prefer it when it does include sex, because one of the things that really irritates me is the whole "physical love = dirty and bad, spiritual love = good and virtuous" trope that permeates so much of Western literature. (And BtVS is no exception, Ghod help us.)

I suppose what I like are stories which include romantic/sexual relationships rather than romances per se, if one considers genre romance to follow the structure outlined above. The 'romance' part, to me, is just the beginning. But whether such a relationship is all hearts and flowers, or full of prickly silences and desperate sex... that really depends on the characters and the circumstances. With BtVS, at least, we've seen most of these characters in love at one point or another. We've seen how they act when in love with A, and can make reasonable extrapolations about how they'd behave if they were in love with B. There are some combinations of characters for whom hearts and flowers make perfect sense, and others which are all about the prickly silences. And of course, as a writer, you can make some pretty unlikely things seem plausible if you're willing to spend the time showing us how the characters get from the prickly silence to the hearts and flowers.

Things I look for in a romantic relationship - first and foremost, some sense that the characters would be better together than they are apart. If they're not, then why should I care whether they get together? I prefer romance as a subplot rather than as the whole story. (Though in the case of fanfic, a romantic fic can be seen as existing in the context of a larger, non-romance story. But in any case, your emotional arc and your plot arc ought to reinforce one another and culminate together - if they don't, your pacing is gonna be all off. But I digress.) I like romances that don't isolate the characters - relationships don't exist in a vacuum; I want to see how the characters getting together affects their other, non-romantic relationships. I like the couple to face real obstacles, which can't necessarily be solved and disposed of in one story, and I like opposites-attract stories, where one of those obstacles is some basic incompatibility of temperment or worldview between the characters. Humor is a must, whether it's slapstick or snarky or dry. (And man, I wrestle with what constitutes a plausible happy ending, because I'm writing a pairing for which a lot of readers would claim that any happy ending is de facto implausible.)

And I like long-term relationships. I like to write humor and schmoop, but I like to earn that by dealing with the bitter arguments and angst as well. I like to get my characters together and follow their trials and triumphs over years or decades, see how they deal with getting older, becoming parents, becoming The Man they once rebelled against - and I want it all completely integrated with the fantasy/metaphorical aspect. I can remember being deeply disappointed with many mainstream stories which would get the characters I was interested in together, and then promptly shuffle them off-stage, skip twenty years, and write a sequel about their angst-ridden teenage offspring. I like first-time stories just fine, but once you've gotten your starcrossed couple together, then what? What really interests me are stories that take the old "A bird and a fish can fall in love, but where will they live?" proverb, and show how the bird and the fish cobble together a flying aquarium, and what happens when it springs a leak over the Mohave. I don't find them very often, since most readers and writers prefer first times, and I guess that for a lot of writers, stories about established relationships are harder to write. In fact, I've known people who claim they can't be written at all.
The Anti-OTPsnowpuppies on April 16th, 2008 09:51 pm (UTC)
Mostly, 'Romance' is the genre I stick on a fic that doesn't really fit anywhere else. LOL. (That, and 'Drama')

'Romance' is a title I give to a piece with a significant emotional component between two people (of course, this is a romantic component, not a platonic one). Sex or no, if the story is about that emotional connection, it gets labeled 'Romance'. I also occasionally use it as a secondary genre, like 'Comedy/Romance' or 'Angst/Romance', in which case there is easily identifiable funny or rip-my-heart-out-and-make-me-cry elements throughout the piece, with the emotional component as secondary.
Shapinglightshapinglight on April 21st, 2008 08:27 am (UTC)
Hmm, reading these comments, I can see that yet again this is a subject I've never really thought about at all.

I don't think of myself as a romantic but on the other hand, my stories are usually more emotion-driven than plot-driven, I think, so I must be more of one than I thought.