Writer’s Tip: The Qualities of an Ancient Romance

Romance, we love them as much as we want them. They inspire us to find the happy zone in our relationships and sooth the savage beasts. But how we aspire to feel in our comings and goings with others can be difficult to translate into a novel. 

Tropes establish the criteria of a romance, but don’t necessarily fulfill the emotional journey a reader craves. The conception of romance writing developed from laying out the desirable qualities of a man and woman before tropes were categorized. It began with a man having the pressure of behaving a certain way when circumstances would lend to his reacting selfishly. 

One thing I’ve noticed in recent years is how often I hold the door open for men. It’s really a test I conduct and I’m surprised by how may males fail. Yes, I am aware about the conflicting feelings felt by mankind on the topic of gender, yet, as a Southern gal, I still find value in chivalry. If nothing else, everyone prefers associating with others who respect their place in life and who are polite and kind, which is exactly why romance novels feed us a dose of healing energy. If we can’t find that civility amongst our social dealings, we certainly can tap into that burst of glory in the well-planned organization of words.  

The Inspiration for Romance

Romance novels solidify the qualities of chivalry. It began with man’s guilt. For eons, as early as pre-historic eras, man sought to find patterns between his choices and natural disasters. Imagine those men in sheepskin leaving offerings at the base of active volcanoes. 

Basically, man felt responsible for the weather and nature’s conditions. With man’s tendency to view the universe as revolving around himself, he developed a fear in nature inflicting natural disasters on him as punishment for his foolishness. If you think about it, this is an incredible amount of pressure for a man to take on. His hometown will be scorched in lava if he kills more rabbits than his family can eat. A tidal wave will crush his neighbors if he thinks about dating a woman who is uninterested in him. 

Cause and Effect

The Greeks clarified the expectation that conducting oneself outside the perimeters of acceptable behavior results in destruction and suffering. By then, man had developed desires outside the instinct to survive. Where man had walked miles to find drinkable water, he then acted on impulses to murder a relative in order to gain a political advantage. He fled responsibilities when faced with temptations, which on the surface seemed selfless and ideal, yet resulted in fate still torturing him. 

Self-Indulgence in Motives

Fate was introduced as the element of life man is unable to control. No matter how practical and disciplined he behaves, fate continues on its pre-ordained course. The underlying message is that man can’t undo what is pre-destined. Thus, he might as well reap and sow to his heart’s content.

Sensuality in Expression

The 12th century French court enjoyed convenience and comfort. By now, life was about more than finding food and running from severe weather. The questions became, what was man to do with his keen intelligence and free time? 

He devised fashions and decorated castles. He planned parties and designed communities. He invented gadgets for improving the standard of living. With all the pruning and prepping, he noticed how much effort a lady put into her appearance and presentation. There were those who adhered to the rules of courtesy and hygiene, and those who stuck with barbaric tactics. 

Rules of Behavior

As the population increased, the need for respect increased. As man’s personal space was encroached upon by another, the more aggressive he became in protecting what he considered to be his stuff, otherwise known as, an extension of himself. The greater his aggressiveness, the more guilt and rules of behavior were piled on to establish which men deserved more leeway in his extensions and which should be limited. 

The more man valued another’s territory, the better they got along. This idealized conduct was emphasized in writing, and the birth of man’s own words describing his relationships with others became simplified into the romance genre with boundaries of chivalry.

Story Arc

Man remained the intelligent survivor he was back in the pre-historic day, yet, his increasing free time left him feeling vacant. He had additional hours where he wasn’t testing his brain. 

Writings shifted from being about the words to telling a story. Narratives altered the purpose of words so that the meanings challenged man’s intellect. British literature provided depth to the medieval narratives by idealizing the  love affair and implementing turning points. They mastered the simplicity of plotting, and stories no longer conceptualized what man viewed as reality. Instead, the stories were meant to elevate the standards of behavior practiced by man. 

Emphasis on Surroundings

The setting plays a strong role in romance novels. Just as the French aristocrats invested their creativity and wealth into decorations and fashion, a romance gives the promise of fantastical descriptions of where the characters meet, live and present their complicated feelings. Where other stories mention what is in the room for the value of the characters having props to carry out their intentions, a romance seasons the scenes with fuzzy blankets and enticing colors. Anything to emphasize the sensory preceptors, and kickstart the hero opening up about how he feels and what he thinks and why he wants things to change. 

Quality of Setting

The surroundings gauge the mood and emotions of us all. A sterile white room reminds us of doctors and medical treatment. An ivory interior at a ski lodge brings on thoughts of staying warm after long hours on the invigorating slopes. 

As you write romance, include the details in the room, those that invoke feelings, good or bad. Whichever emotions the characters are expressing determines the items you bring into focus. At times, you will want to match the comforting textures with the buildup to a trusting relationship. 

Other times, you should contrast the adversarial context with poignant elements around them that emphasis how wrong the situation is. A heated scene with a disagreement between the hero and another is a perfect time to have expensive items to be damaged. You can show how important a feeling is to a character by having his actions take precedent over the value he gives to material things in the extravagant setting.

Quality of Words

The language used, the selection of words and the pattern for organizing the order of those words, creates a romanticized quality. By having the characters speak one way with the sub-characters be in contrast with the way he speaks to the love interest when no one else is listening elevates the significance of his interactions with that one person. 

In general, man’s defenses are lower when his vital life force and standard of living are not threatened. If a stranger breaks in line at the grocery store, it is less of a statement against one’s livelihood than if the love of his life never speaks to him again. The hero will respond to a slight with an exaggerated flare when committed by the woman he is pursuing.

Primitive Guilt Shifts to Judgment

The same way man originally felt guilt for his choices, he evolved to measuring the behavior of others. In a romance, the hero explores how he feels about being slighted. When a stranger is rude, most of us don’t bother to analyze how his behavior relates to our childhood. But to have that one person we believe fulfills a hero’s sense of lack devalue him creates a threat to his concept of wholeness. Where a civilized person ignores a scuff by a person who doesn’t have a value in his life, a romance novel provides a forum for a civilized person to experiment with the outcomes of his expressing a wide range of feelings he isn’t allowed to share in reality.

The romance hero is given a stage where he can safely share his thoughts about the one he loves. He can explain why he is such a klutz when it comes to sentimentality, and justify why he gets confused by her conflicting messages. 

A romance allows the hero to be open with his feelings before he responds to the unfair situations thrust upon him. Keeping these expressive qualities of what created ancient storytelling in mind keeps the romance alive, in books as well as life. 

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