Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Is This a Kissing Book?

By Julie Wright

I was a guest speaker at the LTUE symposium a couple of weeks ago and oddly enough, was placed on a panel dealing with romance in the science fiction and fantasy markets.

The room was full. People wanted to know how to include good romance in their novels and what consisted of good romance. I was surprised. I didn't think anyone would show up to that panel.

What made the panel extra cool (aside from the fact that I was on it) was that Tracy and Laura Hickman were on it with me. These are people who are universally acknowledged as brilliant writers. They've won the accolades of generations worth of readers. In short, they know what they're talking about.

And the discussion went to the basic human need to be part of a companionship. Humans need love. They need to give it and receive it. And all things at their core come down to that one amazing word: LOVE.

It is no wonder that an infant deprived of affection will literally perish from a syndrome called "Failure to thrive." At the beginning of the last century, the mortality among children under two years of age, living in orphanages in Europe and in North America, was almost 100%. These children were being well taken care of physically. They had all the food and health care they needed. Yet hundreds of those babies died. At that time, they feared touching the babies would spread germs and infection. That was changed in 1920 by a pediatrician who made a rule that all babies get a certain time allotment for "mothering" every day. The mortality rate dropped dramatically. The babies only needed love in order to survive.

Love is so wired into our basic needs that we will die without it, much like we will die without oxygen and food. So, should your book have an element of romance? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends if you want to relate to your reader at a very basic emotional level or not. Part of your job as a writer is to make certain your readers can relate to the characters. If you have aliens, you can't make them so alien that the reader cannot connect with them, or you fail as a writer.

At the beginning of Princess Bride, the young sick boy interrupts his grandfather and says with a great deal of accusation, "Is this a kissing book?"

When Grandpa gets to the kissing part, he stops reading, but is encouraged to continue by the same child who had already declared he wanted nothing to do with kissing. Why the change?

Because even at his young age, and feeling a little hesitant to step into something that might brand him as a sissy, the child recognized that true love really does conquer all.

And I'm not saying you have to have kissing and sex in your novel--I'm saying you need love. That love can come from a relationship between a man and woman, a mother and daughter, two best friends willing to die to save each other--it can come from any relationship where two humans let go of their own pride long enough to find something worth living for.

You might find yourself saying, "Well, this is a historical book." What? People didn't love each other historically? Or maybe you're writing a war novel. Do you think people give up their basic needs just because they are in a war?

Even the Grinch needed his heart to grow in order to find his happy ending.

No, you don't always have to include romance (in the strict sense of boy meets girl), but if you want your book to strike that perfect chord of poetry where you have spoken to your reader in a language they will always understand, you'd better make certain to remember Love.


Heather B. Moore said...

That was a really great panel, and the ironic thing was that Tracy said he wrote the romance and his wife, Laura, wrote the action scenes.

Kimberly said...

Talk about striking a chord. That was beautiful.

David G. Woolley said...


That was terrific. Thanks for sharing those ideas. They were really helpful insights. Well done. Wish I could have heard you speak at the conference.

Keep the great posts coming.

Josi said...

What an excellent explanation, Julie. and why would they NOT put you on that panel, you are fabulous at writing in just enough romance to capture us, but not overdoing it so that we roll our eyes or get distracted from the story. Great post.

Nikki said...

I couldn't agree more.

Don said...

This sounds like a good panel. I'm sorry I missed it. Thanks for sharing the information on your blog.