Realism in Romance

Love RealismShould romance novels reflect the realities of love?

This is a question I’ve asked many times.  While I’m fairly satisfied with the answer I’ve come up with for myself and for my own stories, I’m sure other writers — and readers — have opinions on this.

Realism in romantic fiction — from my point of view — covers a lot of territory, and from the start, we need to be clear about the differences between reality and realism. They are not the same.

Reality, plain and simple, is “what is”. Realism, on the other hand, gives an impression of reality. It’s the aspect of good fiction that makes us believe a little girl could actually fall down a rabbit hole, that dragons are real, and that time sometimes warps a bit and carries people back to the past — or to the future.

Without realism, stories would fall flat. With it, stories come alive. We’re transported to fantastic realms of the imagination. We can live in the days of the wild west, fall in love on a distant planet, or travel entire new worlds where the rules and conventions of life are very different from our own.

It’s not reality — and it’s not meant to be. It’s realism, and  it’s a necessary component of any well-told tale.

But what about REALITY?

Yes, back to REALITY.  In a sense, no work of fiction presents absolute reality — if there is such a thing. If we wrote only about “what is”, we’d be penning non-fiction, not telling stories we’ve created about people and places inside our hearts and heads.

Fiction is, by definition, not reality.  Even though we may write about places that do exist, even though we strive to make our characters real in the minds of our readers, and even though we may spend considerable time researching to ensure accuracy, our stories are not true. They represent “what is” only in the context of the world we’ve created.

Does LOVE have any reality?

Maybe that sounds like a foolish question. Yes, love is real, and I hope everyone among us has the joy of finding real love in this lifetime, but always that fundamental question arises: What is love?

This is where writing love stories collides with the entire concept of reality because there are no rules about what love is, where it comes from, how it happens. Love is simply a reality unto itself. That is to say, LOVE IS.

One of the most-quoted passages from scripture seeks to tell us what love is:

love is tHIS

Lovely sentiments, indeed, and something to which we can each aspire, but if romance writers adhered strictly to these principles, we wouldn’t have too many love stories to tell.

Love is a process; it’s a journey of the heart. There are no rules; there are no realities. That IS the reality of love.


Yes, there must be a but in here.

Although there are no real rules to this crazy thing we call love, there are a few accepted notions about what it is, what it isn’t, and how we know if it’s true.

Do you share any of these beliefs about love?

  • While some people claim “love at first sight” is real, most of us tend to believe that love takes time.
  • Even though it’s said that “opposites attract”, true love only happens when people share similar values.
  • Young love may be sweet, but it won’t last.
  • It’s impossible to be in love with two different people.
  • Nothing can ever destroy true love.
  • Everyone has a soulmate.

Back to romance novels

Yes, I’ve read stories where couples see one another and immediately fall in love. I’ve read stories where a couple meet, and two pages later, they’re declaring their undying love for one another.  I’ve read stories where young lovers have been separated and have spent years pining over one another, neither one embarking on any other romantic involvements. Of course, we’ve all read stories about outlaws who are “tamed” by the preacher’s daughter, or the incorrigible beast brought to his knees by beauty.


Maybe. Maybe not. Much depends upon the writer, and even more depends upon the characters. It’s been said that a good writer can make anything believable in fiction so long as there’s sufficient motivation provided. But I’m not so sure that’s true with falling in love.

We can’t motivate characters to care about each other any more than we can will people to love us in reality. We can’t explain why our hero and heroine are attracted to one another because there really are no explanations behind it, at least, not at a simple, logical level. There may be valid phsysiological factors at play, but we’re writing romance novels, not scientific texts. Leave the pheremones and other theories where they belong, please.

We can’t have reality, but we need realism.

That’s how I feel about romantic fiction although it’s difficult to draw the lines between what appears real, and thereby believable, and what will leave readers shaking their heads and muttering, “No way would that happen.”

In my stories, I want love to develop from that first moment of inexplicable attraction through a natural process of interest, curiosity, and growing desire. I want my characters to get to know one another. I want them to spend time getting acquainted, discovering common ground, and learning to trust.

Of course, in romantic fiction, the course of true love should never run too smoothly. Love needs challenges in order to prove itself.  There must be doubts, despair, and a whole lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications. There must be disagreements, conflicts, and complications.

But in the end, there must be love. Believable love. A love that has grown from a tiny spark to a warm, glowing fire.

That’s how I feel about realism in romantic fiction.

How do YOU feel? Do you want to be swept away with stories of love at first sight? Are you willing to accept that true love might happen overnight? Do you want realism or are you content with romantic notions? Where do you draw the lines between what’s believable and what’s not?


Let’s chat about it!





3 thoughts on “Realism in Romance

  1. I do believe everyone has a soul mate, and sometimes it’s a best friend and not a romantic one, at all. The love at first sight can happen.. my folks met in a grocery store and fell for each other. I think if respect for the other person’s values is maintained, people in love don’t have to necessarily have to have the same values, though it sure makes it much easier if they do!

    • Interesting points, Mia, about different values. You’re right, it can work, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be easy. Which brings about another interesting question. Should a relationship require “work”? Or should it be easy to be with someone we love?

  2. My mantra for writing, whether we are talking about love or any other element, is to ask, “Is it believable?” As you pointed out, fiction writing is not reality. But, if we can believe it and relate to it, the story can be very satisfying.

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