I recently attended a writing lecture hosted by a fairly successful author whose stories I have always strongly disliked. I figured that if nothing else, I could at least gain a better understanding of why I disliked her books and writing style, and avoid them in my own writings. When she opened the floor up for questions, I raised my hand.
“What type of books do you read, and what authors are your favorites?” I asked. One of the best ways to get to know anyone – authors in particular – is to find out what stories grace their bookshelves.
“Well, I don’t really read very much,” she said. “It seems that all of the fiction that’s available these days has romance in it. I don’t read anything with romance; it’s usually not a good thing to fill your mind with. So every now and then I might read a biography, but other than that, I don’t really read anything.”
I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the lecture. I couldn’t even imagine a life devoid of fiction, let alone writing well without reading anything. Suddenly I knew why I’d always disliked her stories – trying to write without reading is like being sent to battle with nothing but a pocket knife. But more than the anti-fiction jab, I was disturbed at the anti-romance ideology that spurred her to set aside fiction in the first place.
I can understand why people would turn their nose up at the genre of romance as such. A great deal of it is horribly inappropriate and immoral. Even those stories that are clean (including those in the Christian book store) are so sappy and shallow that I can’t stomach more than a paragraph or two. But to shun every story that contains a romantic story thread or element is another matter entirely. Granted, the author’s stance was a bit extreme, but she is certainly not the first person I’ve heard express similar ideas. Everyone from concerned parents to macho teen boys to self-disciplined young girls forsake stories that contain romance. “I don’t want my children hearing about boyfriend-girlfriend stuff at this age.” “I don’t want to fill my head with romantic ideas that may never come true.” “Romance is stupid.” Each person is entitled to their own preferences and convictions. Yet if I may, I would like to present a case in defense of love.
Recently, I heard a talk about this very issue: you can listen to the podcast here. It is well worth taking the time to listen to. The speaker, Matthew McDill, laid out the reasons why we, as a culture, are so fascinated by stories. We don’t love just any stories – we love ones with heroes, with good vs. evil fights (where good always comes out on top), with self-sacrifice, with redemption and with love. I had never thought about it until the speaker mentioned it, but almost every good story contains at least a little romance. I can see why the anti-romance author just gave up reading fiction altogether; finding a good book without love would be as hard as trying to find a good book without a hero.
Think about this. All stories follow a general pattern: a hero is presented with a problem and must sacrifice himself in the fight against that evil, gaining redemption (and usually the girl) in the end. This basic story pattern mirrors the Christian view of reality. God created the world and characters to live in that world. The characters fell, choosing evil over good, introducing a desperate problem into their story. God Himself came onto the stage – the author stepped into his own book – and sacrificed Himself for the world. He gained redemption for His characters, showing them how far He would go for love. And in the end, in the very last chapter of the story, Christ will be united with His “bride”, the Church. In other words, He “gets the girl.” Thus all good stories mirror the central Story of life. As McDill pointed out in his podcast, don’t ever think that unbelievers can’t understand the Gospel. They’ve heard it over and over again in almost every story they’ve ever read or watched.
Love is at the center of reality. If God is love, and God is the center of reality, then love is at the very core of what matters most in life. Literature should, as accurately as possible, reflect the way that an author sees life and reality. If I (as an author) believe that love is at the center of reality, and I aim at reflecting that reality in my stories, then it follows that I will be including a good deal of love in my writings. Of course, romantic love is not the only way that an author portraying a God’s love in literature. There are all sorts of other, equally powerful, expressions of love in literature (think of the brotherly love in The Lord of the Rings, the father-son love in Little Britches or the sisterly love in Little Women). But romantic love is certainly one of the ways that Christian authors can – and should – use to give readers a glimpse of God’s love for us. This doesn’t mean that we’re required to write “romances” from now on, or that we’re allowed to slip into the perversions and sappy-ness of the majority of love stories. What it does mean is that romance is absolutely a valid element of story telling. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s a vital element.
In the end, don’t listen to those who tell you that romance is sappy, overdone, unhelpful or just plain bad. It’s not. Not if it is done right, reflecting true Love Himself. Don’t be afraid of romances. Don’t be afraid to read them. Don’t be afraid to write them. Read Austen. Read Dickens. Read stories where the hero slays the dragon and gets the girl. Write stories of your own that reflect this deepest of realities – and love it.