Thursday, January 5, 2012

Realism vs Romance

When it comes to writing romantic relationships in YA, I find there's a line that must be walked between realism and romance. Different people have different tastes in terms of where that line falls. Some prefer epic, sweeping romances, which usually sacrifice realistic problems couples face for the sake of an idealistic relationship. Others want a book that portrays the ups and downs of having a significant other, without skipping the unpleasant details.

Me, I'm a realism girl. I'm also kind of a cynic when it comes to romance in YA. I honestly don't believe that the majority of teens, at 16, 17, 18, have the emotional stability and maturity to form a healthy, long-lasting relationship. Most people don't find their soulmates this young because teens are constantly changing. I'm 18 myself, and I know I'm not likely to find my soulmate anytime soon. How can you expect to commit yourself fully to another person when you yourself haven't developed into the person you're going to be?

In any case, I understand why people enjoy the idealized romances of YA fiction. It's escapism. Something to yearn for. Oh, don't we all wish we had that perfect guy who complies to our every wish, showers us with love and affection, and, of course, looks incredible in a swimsuit. But when I read a book that sacrifices realism for this perfected vision, it jerks me out of the story. I find myself snorting and thinking, "Yeah, right. That's not how it works."

Take sex. I've read a fair number of YA books recently in which the female heroine loses her virginity to the guy of her dreams. It's perfect. It's everything she's ever imagined. He's kind, and gentle, and perfect, and it feels so good....



This is the kind of scene that makes me laugh. I'm not going to get into the anatomy of the female body, but suffice to say that for most girls, losing your virginity hurts. It's not perfect or amazing or even pleasant. There are girls who can hardly walk for a couple days afterward, yet in YA books the heroine always wakes up fine, exhilarated, and ready to go again (or something like that).

Maybe it's just me, but I honestly prefer realism. I prefer to read about characters who are like me. Who aren't perfect. I want characters I can relate to, and situations that mirror, in some way or another, the things I face in everyday life.

What about you? Do you like the grand, sweeping romances, regardless of their accuracy? Or do you prefer stark realism? Somewhere in between?


  1. I'm a realism girl all the way. I scoff at the idea of love at first site. Though I actually have two writing friends who have been with their significant others since they were sixteen, I believe the same as you. They must have been VERY mature because I did a lot of changing from high school till now.

  2. I like a nice balance of the two. Romantic realism :)

    I'm not into cheesy romance.. where it's all pink and fluffy. That just comes across as immature..

    but if it's too realistic it'll border on boring for me. My life is real enough.. I want a little fantasy, a little swoon...but with characters that feel real, not cardboard cut outs.

  3. I'm a somewhere-between-girl. I have a hard time when the romance is over the top. But a little romance mixed with some realism, that's pretty cool.

  4. I can't lie, I'm with you. I do find myself snorting while reading a YA book that has one of those sweeping romances where everything is just perfect perfect perfect.

    But then, I'd be lying too if I said I didn't love a milder version of it sometimes. I think this is where fiction and reality comes into play. I want real characters and a real romance but I still want too much to be at stake for them and whatnot. So I guess it's a balance between the two.

    When it comes to sex in YA. I think the sex could be a little more realistic. With that said, the act itself and whether it's unbearable, bearable but not great, or just great depends on the people having the sex and they're maturity level. The girl for one and whether or not she has a (I'm going to be medical here) hymen to tear. Some athletes tear theirs in vigorous sports. And then the guy and if he knows what the heck he's doing. So while first-time sex can be extremely painful, it can also be not bad, or bad but then good, or just good.

    So I agree that the romance in some YA books could be more realistic but I also think that the scale of what's reality or what's being exaggerated depends on a lot of factors.

  5. I think sometimes we want a sweeping romance to pull us away from realism for a while--to help us escape and "live" a fairy tale. That being said, too many of those sweeping romances can pull us along to where we honestly believe that's what life "owes" us and we're unsatisfied with anything less. I'm a proponent of a balance between the two.

    Another of the things you said shows great insight. You talked about how you can't expect to commit to another person until you have developed into the person you want to be. Too often, people (women especially) feel they need another person to be truly whole. They say they can't be happy until they find their "other half." While I believe that couples can work together to become something better than they could be alone, the idea of putting your life on hold until you have a partner only holds you back. I believe each person needs to know and value themselves before trying to blend with another person. Otherwise, we become little more than a weak copy of whoever our current partner is, with no ability to stand up for ourselves or our beliefs.

  6. I liked this title right away. :P I TOTALLY prefer realism. I'm not cynical-- I'm a total romantic. But one of my pet peeves are romances that make me roll my eyes. It's got to be believable, or I won't buy it or get invested. That's generally my rule of thumb as far as novels. (There may be some exceptions, but I can't think of them right now.)

    Another great post.

  7. I guess I'm a middle of the road kind of girl on this issue. I like romances that are a little more passionate that life sometimes is, but I can honestly say that my teen years had plenty of drama without a writer raising the ante, so maybe I'm willing to accept more dramatics in a novel and still call it realistic.

    The one that always makes me laugh are the characters who spend all their time making out and never seem to have any homework. Not to name any names, but when I see characters doing that, I can't help rolling my eyes.

  8. I prefer realism. But a well written fantasy is pretty good too. I'm reading The Curse of Gremdon by Ciara Knight and she's on the non realism side of things when she writes and does the whole lose her virginity thing, etc. And it's exactly like you described that would make you look up from the book. But for me...I kept reading. So I dunno...there's an audience for both obviously.

  9. Realist girl right here. I hate romance in books and movies, it's always SO unrealistic.

    I watched Love Actually the other day because a few of my favorite actors are in it (Martin Freeman; Thomas Sangster). I don't recommend watching it. I literally got up and left, it was so unrealistic and lame. I returned for the ending--two of the couples were engaged, after only knowing each other for two months. And one of the couples hadn't even talked to each other--they didn't speak the same language. And yet they were getting married. Urg. It's disgusting.

    As you can probably guess, I hate romantic comedies, and when the main character of one of my own stories started falling for another, I quickly ended that by killing the love interest off. Yeah, cos I'm that kind of girl.

    I pretty much hate romance in general, except that I've got a boyfriend. But we're not a typical couple. It's hard to explain. But in the end, "love" isn't a magical force--it's a chemical in your body that's only there for reproduction. The closest humans can get to love is when they like the person intellectually, enjoy their personality, and also that chemical is triggered. But there is no such thing as Disney-Princess love. And you should never overlook someone's faults because "you love them." If you don't love their actions, you don't love them. That's just lust.

    I must sound totally cynical, but everything I said is true.

  10. You have a good insight there. I think it depends on the story and the book and what I want out of it.

  11. You have a good insight there. I think it depends on the story and the book and what I want out of it.