If love makes the world go round, it’s hardly surprising that romance crops up as a subplot across most genres of fiction. But, as writers, we need to beware of letting the love interest get out of hand and obscure the more complex themes of our novel. As readers, we need to be alert to publishers dressing up a gruelling narrative as a modern Pride and Prejudice because, let’s face it, sex sells.
The more cynical of us might be alert to the sales gimmick, but what about the unromantic writer who deludes herself? Such was the case for me when it came to pitching debut novel, Sugar and Snails, to publishers and eventually to readers. Struggling to articulate the essence of a complex novel in a few snappy sentences, I found myself falling back on the familiar frame of romance. Sugar and Snails follows one woman’s poignant journey from a misfit childhood, through tortured adolescence to a triumphant midlife coming-of-age as she faces up to the secret she’s guarded for thirty years. I’d solved an earlier structural problem by stretching what was originally a disastrous one-night-stand into a tentative romance that provided the skeleton of the contemporary strand of the novel. But that didn’t mean I’d transformed a story about the challenge of self-acceptance into a romance. Yet, until sense prevailed on the brink of publication, I slipped into describing my novel as if I had.
So whatever story you’re writing, whether it be about a North Korean fisherman or emaciated Australian prisoners of war, do try to weave in a thread of romance. But beware of making the mistake that I did and forgetting that that’s only one aspect of what your novel’s about.
As a late addition to this post, I discovered via Sarah Brentyn’s Sunday reflections that February 14 is also International Book Giving Day. I thought offloading stacks of books to my local libraries might suffice but, as you can probably guess from the logo, this is about supporting children, so I made a donation to The Book Bus. But worth mentioning that my lovely publishers, Inspired Quill, are also mindful of the value of books to those who can’t afford to buy them and will soon be unveiling a scheme whereby online customers can make a contribution.