Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Realistic Romance

Is there such a thing as a realistic romance novel? People usually perceive romance novels as flights of fancy. However there are a number of authors who explore real life issues within the context of a romance novel, and do it very well. One such author is Iris Bromige. She wrote numerous novels from the 1940s to the 1990s and I’ve read as many of her novels as I could find in various libraries. (Unfortunately, her books are out of print and are only available in libraries, so I don’t own my own copies).

I read somewhere once: “Choose an author as you choose a friend,” and I believe I did that when I chose to read Iris Bromige. When you invite a piece of fiction into your life, either you’ll “click” with the author or you won’t. Sometimes, you won’t understand why you don’t enjoy a book (the writing is good, the characterisation is excellent) but there’s just a missing element that you can’t put your finger on. That missing element is “book chemistry”, if you will. This applies to friendships, as well. We don’t choose our friends because of their excellent characteristics or their fine qualities, but because we click with them on some level; we have something in common with them and can identify with them to some degree. The same applies when you choose to read the work of an author in its entirety. If you choose to glom an author, you’ve chosen her/him as your “book friend” for want of a better expression.

Iris Bromige wrote gentle tales of love, family life and friendship. Her books are philosophical on a number of levels, and she portrays a wide spectrum of emotions. Greed, revenge, jealousy and hatred are themes she includes in her writing, and her books, although romance novels, are not romanticised. Instead she includes all aspects of human nature, writing about its many foibles in a perceptive, interesting way. I’ve learned a lot from her – and her gentle wisdom is something that I value.

When I first read one of her books as a teenager, I remember being a little disappointed. At that age, I liked reading romantic fiction that was very romantic, and Iris Bromige was a little too… well, unromantic for my liking at first! Strangely enough, a number of her female heroines tended to be idealistic and romantic in their outlook on life, while her heroes were invariably extremely realistic and matter of fact. This created balance in her books - between fancy and fact, romance and realism. However, as I read more of her work, I started to enjoy her writing more and more, as I realised I’d found an author that wrote romantic fiction with a realistic twist. Her characters are usually professionals, and I identified particularly with the female characters to a large degree.

It’s interesting to read the work of an author when it spans across decades. People no longer speak of “the permissive society” today, but in the sixties and seventies, this was something that was discussed and debated to a large extent, and Iris Bromige wrote about the changes she perceived in Britain as the years went by. Her books were always set in the year in which she wrote them, and they give a certain insight into the attitudes towards love, marriage, sex and family life in the society in which she lived.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Selfish Love And The Big Misunderstanding

It is often said that there are two sides to every story, and it could similarly be said that there are two sides to every romantic relationship. That’s what makes writing romance novels so interesting. Look at any piece of romantic fiction and you will find situations where a female character sees something in a certain way while her male love interest has a completely different point of view. It’s all about how individuals uniquely interpret the facts of a situation.

Often in romance novels authors will engineer a deliberate misunderstanding (aka The Big Misunderstanding) to give their story a twist, but an author doesn't need to rely on a contrived and trumped-up misunderstanding as a plot device – rather there are numerous natural misunderstandings that happen between members of the opposite sex all the time which could be utilised to drive the story forward, and these are often a result of characters interpreting situations purely from their own perspectives.

As an author, you are constantly trying to understand your characters. This might sound silly as it could be argued that once you’ve created a character you should understand your own creation. But this isn’t necessarily the case… In the current book I’m writing I’ve created a male character that I don’t understand all that well. He started off in my mind in one way, but when I tried to develop him further, I began to have doubts as to what motivated him, and I had to go back to the drawing board (or in this instance the writing pad), and reassess my portrayal of him.

Authors are forced by their art to learn the skill of putting themselves into the shoes of others. That’s why writing creatively can be so draining – you’re creating a separate reality for each character in your book and in order for your story to pull at the reader’s heart-strings and come across as authentic, each character’s reality has to be convincing.

However, no matter how draining it is, I infinitely appreciate how writing has trained me to see real-life situations in a more objective way. Of course it’s possible to attempt to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and still horribly misunderstand their perspective, but at least trying to understand someone else’s viewpoint (even if you don’t succeed every time) is an incredibly important skill to learn if you’re intent on building happy relationships with people.

The idea of selfish love – where you believe that your desires are naturally the desires of other people – is a trap that everyone falls into at some point or other, I imagine. But once you realise that your dream date (a candle-lit dinner with romantic music in the background) could be completely different from your partner’s dream date (going on a day-long hiking trip in the mountains) that’s when the fun can begin as you put yourself in shoes you never expected to be wearing (hiking boots instead of high heels!) and set off on a journey of exploration.