Recently, fellow Bristol based author, Thomas David Parker, reviewed my novel and gave a great write up on his blog. One thing he mentioned that I was really happy about, is the lack of romance in the story. I was especially pleased with his comment that “it was far more effective by not having a romance at the centre of it. The character dynamics are far more interesting and makes the outcome far less predictable.”
I made a conscious decision not to have romance in About the Nature of the Creature. The story has gore and violence but it doesn’t have romance. There is intimacy, there is also a hint at sex scenes happening behind closed doors, but I wanted to avoid erotica and even more so, romance. If there’s a complaint I can level at most books I have ever read which feature a female character in a non-romance genre is that there is romance, and often just for the sake of it. Why does there had to be romance just because the main character is female? This is especially infuriating when that character is going through a potentially life changing event where many women in reality would not be thinking about romance at such a time. I didn’t want that for my protagonist – she is not a romantic figure, she is an anti-hero that barely understands human emotions and romance has no relevance in her story. Far from not adding anything to the story, I personally feel it would gut it.
In the past I have written erotica, including a prize winning story and a regular gig with an adult toy producer. It is fair to say that I am both not a prude, and reasonably skilled at writing erotica. Even so, I don’t enjoy writing romance, and will never write it for the sake of writing it. Arguably my sales would improve if About the Nature of the Creature involved a romantic element or fell into the “paranormal romance” genre, but that’s not what this story is.
That said, it’s not that I’ve never thought about including romance, or even that I wouldn’t include it in the future. In the currently work-in-progress sequel there is something that might almost border on romance. But it is not romance in the conventional sense given that the protagonist would struggle to understand the emotions involved, and it is a very small element of the story.
For me, a good story that will keep me enthralled, has to have cause and effect reality. Even if a science fiction or epic fantasy – there has to still be real world cause and effect. If you do something, there has to be consequences good and/or bad. I’ve read many female lead novels in the last few years in several genres where I find the sudden turn to romance jarring because it doesn’t feel seated in reality. I don’t mean it lacks reality because the characters are (for example) a unicorn and a mermaid (though try and work out the logistics there!) but because in the real world most women aren’t likely to fall for the brooding, controlling, overprotective jerk (*cough*toomuchMills&Boon*cough*), especially whilst experiencing the trauma of a death or a loved one/having to save the world/on the run in a dystopian wilderness. So even if the character of Connie might be open to a romance, it would only happen when it would make sense and in a way that would fit with reality. In About the Nature of the Creature, the closest she comes to romance is the close and intimate relationship she develops with one of the other characters out of a pure need to have a connection – something necessary to a werewolf and thus seated in the reality of the story.
Interestingly, whilst out with friends recently, I revealed over my second pint of cider, that there had been a sex scene in About the Nature of the Creature that I cut from the first draft. It was more sex than romance but with the hint that something might develop in the future. Ultimately I cut it for two reasons: firstly because it didn’t really further the story and characters; and secondly, because it didn’t really suit the characters. I knew that I was selling my story short because these two characters in reality would never end up together sexually or romantically. Whether true for others or not, I felt for me that adding just that one scene would change the nature of the story and weaken Connie as a character. She’s strong but in some ways vulnerable which I hope is clear in the story, but no matter how I wrote it, that scene would always diminish one or both of those aspects of her, changing the nature of her character entirely.
My friends joked that I could instead release the scene as a piece of About the Nature of the Creature fan fiction. I laughed. It’s an interesting idea, but for now I think Connie is happy enough being single and with that the singular focus of the story, and I’m happy that this hopefully makes for more interesting character dynamics with less predictable outcomes!