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Reality or Fantasy?
Sunday, May 07, 2006
I've just been discussing romantic fiction with somebody who thinks that romantic fiction clearly portrays reality, whereas I believe it generally portrays a fantasy.

Unfortunately, this particular person feels that her own relationship isn't up to scratch because it isn't anything like those you read about in books. Sadly, I wasn't able to change her mind about this.

I really don't see most chick lit, HMB romance, or other types of romantic fiction as being anything more than modern takes on Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and all the other fairy tales were listened to as children, and certainly don't write my stories from a realistic angle. For me, romantic fiction is a way of escaping reality.

If statistics are anything to go by (and yes, I know they can be misleading), for romantic fiction to portray reality, a fair number of heroines should find themselves at the hands of a terrifying partner who seemed perfectly nice when she first met him; should have their feelings torn apart when they discover that even early on in their relationship, their chosen beau is playing away from home; should meet a man who spends his nights surfing porn sites, calling chat lines and generally being anything but the perfect partner.

Sure, the heroine may well have had those kind of experiences in her past, and the fact that she almost always (remove "almost" when talking about HMB) meets Mr Right in the story brings hope to the rest of us, but I've a feeling that if women really believe these stories portray real life they may well be in for a surprise.

Or is it just me who's too much of a sceptic?

Don't misunderstand me; I'm not sceptical to romance -- I wouldn't be interested in writing about it if I were -- but I am sceptical towards the chances of so many finding the happy ending and wouldn't like to think that there may be women out there living in perfectly good relationships but who are troubled because they aren't living the Cinderella story. Because their "happily ever after" hasn't been quite what they expected.

How much responsibility do authors have, if any? Can we be blamed for giving women the wrong impression of life or must people accept that we're simply offering them an escape from the reality of life?

Posted by Sharon J on 7:03 PM   

Blogger Cherry Rolfe said...

Authors have no rsponsibility towards their readers. If they did, thier work would be muddled and tainted, as there is no such thing as 'the reader'. You must write as you are inspired to do. It is the reader's responsibility to sort fact from fiction, possibility from fantasy. Bridget Jones is not a biography, Harry Potter doesn't go to a normal Comp - Jane Eyre is not a role model. Write YOUR book Sharon - they will come!

8:26 PM   

Blogger Cherry Rolfe said...

scuse spelling

8:29 PM   

Anonymous Sharon J said...

Hi Cherry. I wasn't really looking at this from an angle where I feel I would be doing anything wrong by writing "happy ever after" stories because I do believe in romantic fiction as an escape from the mundane routine that life often becomes. Like you, I personally believe readers are responsible for their own lives and that authors are simply presenting an alternative 'reality', whether that's Harry Potter, Land of The Giants or Cinderella. It's just a shame that too many (or so it seems) believe that because romance is real, fantasy romance must be equally as real.

Spelling 'scused :)

9:28 PM   

Blogger Karen Erickson said...

Hmmm, I've known a few women, men too, who wonder why their relationships aren't as "perfect" as they are in books, movies, etc. I don't think there is anything wrong with looking for an ideal, and some people are lucky to have found their perfect mate and they go on to lead nice, but truly not so perfect, lives.

But perfect isn't real and romance novels aren't real either. And I love a good romance where you know everything is going to be ok. And there's usually a dose of reality, but it's woven into the fantasy and of course, I want the fantasy more than the reality!

People just set up too high of expectations. Life isn't perfect - your relationships aren't going to be either. And that's ok. That's life. Too bad some people don't understand that.

I feel like I rambled and didn't make a lick of sense... :)

4:29 AM   

Blogger Sue aka MsCreativity said...

Hmmm... this got me thinking. I recently remarried. My first marriage was the typical nice guy turns nasty type of thing. I admit that when I used to read HMB I wistfully dreamt of meeting somebody similar to the hero I was currently reading about. But, I always knew I was living in a dream world and reading fiction.
The motivation behind my writing is to take somebody who may be in an unhappy life (the way other writers took me), to a place where they can escape into a fantasy world even if only for a short time.
I feel sad for people who try to aspire to the perfect relationship. It doesn't exist, and it never will while we are all human. :-) Isn't it great to be able to create a dream world though?!

9:41 AM   

Blogger Debi said...

Just goes to show what a wonderful thing a book is! It can provide a total escape from reality (for both writer and reader) or it can make you feel validated by reflecting your reality.
The crucial thing there methinks is that it has intrinsic value either way and neither is 'better' than the other.
I'm not sure I totally agree about the responsibility thing though ... On one level I think as a writer you do need to be able to visualise your reader (even if the person you visualise is the one you see in the mirror cos you're writing the kind of books YOU like to read). I also think we have a responsibility to GET IT RIGHT - whatever that means in the context of your own writing. That's not just a responsibility to yourself.
As a writer you're CREATING something which surely means you have to be careful that your contribution to the world is positive.
I guess the definition of 'positive' is tricky in itself as it's so subjective ...
Ooops I'm rambling ... Sorry ... Displacement activity alert!

10:25 AM   

Anonymous Sharon J said...

Interesting comments, ladies :)

Karen. I think that's the point I was trying to make (notice that even I'm not entirely sure of what I wanted to say), that perfection isn't real in that everybody's perception of perfection is different. As you say, it's ok that life isn't perfect, if perfect means that nothing bad ever happens.

Sue. I have two broken relationships behind me. One marriage, which ended through my own fault (long story, too young, not enough understanding of the other person's needs, blah blah) and one long-term live-in relationship with a man who, like yours, appears to be lovely at first but turned into a tyrant who scared us (that's me and my children) witless. And like you, fiction was an escape route. I didn't believe in perfection - too old and too wise for that, maybe - but I did believe there was something better out there than what I had. And there was :)

Debi. I love your ramblings! I'm not entirely sure where I stand on the responsibility thing, either. I think if we were writing novels for teens there would be more responsibility involved, certainly from my side anyway, but I guess adults should be able to make their own minds up about what is and isn't reality.

12:29 PM   

Blogger Sue aka MsCreativity said...

Hi again Sharon,
Sorry to hear about your two previous relationships. First time around I married too young as well (17!). I married for the 2nd time (after living with him) at 31. That didn't work out primarily because of the pressures that came with me suddenly becoming seriously ill, and having two children from my first marriage...
Now, like you, I'm third time lucky :-). I'd never given up that one day I would find the man for me! Books and my writing are what have kept me going...

12:54 PM   

Anonymous Sharon J said...

Are you sure we weren't separated at birth, Sue? No, couldn't have been - I'm older than you. I suppose you could've been frozen for a while as an embryo. Hey! There's a story in that!

3:44 PM   

Blogger Eva said...

I'm a romantic (again).

In my twenties I gave up on romance novels. I decided if I ever wound up with an alpha male I'd have to slip him arsenic one warm summer's night. After all, who are we kidding, would we actually want to live with such a guy 24/7? Uh-uh.

However, I must say that for me now - I've mellowed with age - reading romance novels brings a little of the falling-in-love magic back. For those who haven't yet found their grand passion - or married a best friend with a body that beckons - romance novels keep the dream alive.

4:20 PM   

Blogger Karen Erickson said...

Love that Eva - romance novels do help keep the dream alive! And there's nothing wrong with dreaming...

I married too young the first time, we grew apart, etc, etc. I lucked out and met a wonderful man at my work and we eventually married. Now we have two children (in addition to my one from the first crappy marriage) and life is good. Not perfect but good. It's hard to find someone you REALLY want to spend the rest of your life with. But it's possible.

And if a romance novel can add spice to your love life, imagination, whatever, then keep reading them!!! :)

5:13 PM   

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