Drivers License update: Sooo, I got 11 questions wrong and 36 right and didn’t pass the drivers test today 🙃 Next Tuesday I’m going to try again and hopefully do better next time. Luckily you don’t come to me for driving advice because I don’t have any. Today is going to be short and sweet (probably) and about genres.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the found family trope, how it borders on being a genre, and said I’d talk about other fictional categories at length later so: Tadah! Essentially I’d say Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, and Comedy are the most basic genre’s though any good story has a combination of at least two of them. I’m going to focus specifically on romance right now since it’s one of my favorites and because I’ve got a lot to say about it.
Google search: Romance (it’s gotten a little more diverse)
Typically romance is marketed to women and written by/for them in the mainstream though plenty of men write and read the stuff as well. Despite the fact that I find many books/ movies in the genre to be very similar (more on that soon) everyones relationship with romance in fiction is different. I’ve mentioned my intersections before, but just to remind you in case you’re new or you forgot, I’m black (though very light skinned), bisexual, I’ve got anxiety (and sometimes depression), and I’m 22 (yes that means I’m a millenial). Therefore what I like to read is not necessarily what my mom does nor can I be lumped in the same category as (for example) a straight, neurotypical**, older Asian woman (I mean probably who knows what we have in common).
The reason I bring this up, is because from experience romance is a genre that is sorely lacking in diverse voices in the dominant media. Think of literally any popular rom com or iconic love story and it’s pretty much mostly white, cis, and straight. Plenty of Barnes and Nobles still have a separate section for Urban fiction (🙄) and LGBTQA+ stories and very few of those get mixed in with the main romance section. Also if you’re not black or white, you’re going to have to do some google searches and browse through amazon unless you’d rather go author to author and shelf to shelf to maybe find a book where you fit.
My point being, if you feel you’ve got a new perspective to bring to the table: bring it! I know I’m not the only person in the world that would love to see more bi characters front and center, so for the most part almost all my protagonists are bi. For me and my friend group that’s not an anomaly that’s completely realistic. I’ll never tire of reminding people that representation matters especially when it comes to love. There are also way more love interest options besides the millionaire, playboy, philanthropist that are just as appealing if not way more to readers (actual nice guys don’t finish last!). And don’t get me wrong some of the classics are such for a good reason (though often times the reason is that they’re the most used and sorry but generally speaking white canon being praised above all else), but there are ways to add nuance to tired tropes without recycling the same old characters.
Take for example the above trope (the picture). One of my pet peeves is when a white person from America travels the world and meets the only other white person in another country and falls in love with them. Aside from this trope usually being very heteronormative and somewhat racist (to be honest), for how often it’s done it’s not really relatable. One of the beautiful things about traveling is seeing new faces, places and things, and it says a lot about our society that we can appreciate the beauty of literally everything except the people when we leave the country. Therefore one solution of course is to make your couple interracial (which doesn’t necessarily mean either character is white) or to have a person of color travel to their parents/grandparents country of origin and fall for a local there.
Another interesting change would be if the protagonist wasn’t straight which adds another layer to their trip. How is their sexuality treated in other countries and how does that effect their safety (this can actually apply to race too)? All those things add a new level of interest to what would otherwise be a pretty standard story. Even though on a basic level human needs are the same, we are all different and navigate the world differently. Therefore even in romance something as simple as changing a characters race, gender identity, or sexual orientation can give you a completely different story.
Another way the genre could (and should) be freshened up is if we retire heavily sexist tropes and (as I kinda brought up earlier) love interests that are inexcusably toxic. Feminism and Womanism are made up of a lot of contrasting opinions as is the nature of any movement with more than one person, so for me the basic rule of thumb is to make sure consent is featured, or at least heavily implied in some cases, and that your female character whether they’re the heroine or love interest has agency and a life outside of finding love. For more I’ve got a whole post about the Strong Female Character Trope, but essentially look up common abusive behaviors and make sure your character is not doing those things.
Bask in the healthy relationship that is Amy and Jake. BASK!
Due in large part to the target audience, I don’t think romance as a genre get’s enough credit. Sure it has it’s flaws, but it can be just as unrealistic or exclusionary as any other fictional category. I personally enjoy it most when it’s a part of a story that also has other plot elements going on, but I’ve also loved plenty of books/films that were completely focused on the lovie dovie stuff. As with any category research is your friend and statistically speaking someone’s going to want to read it regardless of whether it’d fit in the current mainstream or not.
*Featured Image: One of my first and favorite pairings Sousuke and Kaname from Full Metal Panic!
**Neurotypical: Just means someone not mentally disabled.
***I know of Beverly Jenkins work, but I haven’t actually read the three books pictured above just fyi.