Rhobin’s topic this month is: “Whatever genre you write, do you have a different one that you love to read? What do you think attracts readers to certain genres?” However, I have chosen to be disobedient, and to write about what’s wrong with the most popular genre instead.
I am aware that many of my respected colleagues in Rhobin’s Rounds are romance writers, and I hope we can have a vigorous while mutually respectful debate about my outrageous opinions.
Romance is the most popular genre. If you want to make money from writing, your best bet is to write romance. The contest by EPIC, the electronic publishing industry coalition has five different romance categories in its international contest for electronic books, in order to break up romance entries into manageable numbers. Incidentally, this contest is open for entries until 31st July.
Why is romance so popular?
It’s because many people feel the need of a temporary escape into a world where they can find happiness through true love; love forever.
What’s wrong with that?
The romantic myth is incredibly damaging, and causes a lot of suffering. It is an illusion that induces people to look for what they want in the wrong place. It is an application of the consumer myth to human relationships.
The consumer myth is:
- Happiness is a thing/quality.
- I need to find happiness.
- The path to happiness is through obtaining goods and services.
A few examples are:
“I’ll be so happy when we go to Hawaii!” [I am not happy now. I need a holiday to make me happy.]
“Oh, I wish we could trade in this old bomb!” [I am not happy now. I would be happy if only we could afford a new car.]
“Oh God, no, it’s Monday.” [I am not happy in this job. I’d be happy if only I had a more interesting job, or could afford not to work at all.]
“I wish I didn’t have crooked teeth and a long nose.” [I am not happy with my appearance. If only I could change it! But corrective dentistry and cosmetic surgery are so expensive.”]
In all of these, I am unhappy with the present, and unhappy about being unhappy. I believe that I need something outside of myself to make me happy in the future. If I got that, I believe that I’d be happy.
When we go on that holiday, all sorts of things will go wrong, and happiness will recede into the future. I know families who work and save to afford a holiday. They return from it tired, disappointed, and needing to recover from it. Then they work and save for a holiday somewhere else, which of course will make them happy.
A new car will certainly make a person happy, for awhile. But the consumer society is based on dissatisfaction, so very soon this new object will be the old bomb we should trade for something with all the new features. If I stayed happy with the new car, I’d stop buying, and that’d hurt the economy, so there is a huge industry designed to convince me to buy, and buy again. The old must be traded in for the new, over and over. Happiness is always in the future.
This is the damaging myth that’s at the base of a huge amount of suffering and dissatisfaction on the personal level, and is converting nature into pollution on a larger scale.
In fact, happiness is not something you can get, or find, or buy. It is something you DO. It is not in the future, but depends on what you do NOW. And seeking happiness is guaranteed to make you unhappy in the interim. Happiness is not something you can get, but is a byproduct. I can live in contentment, regardless of my circumstances, if I can feel good about myself.
“The purpose of life is to be happy” is like “The purpose of eating is to have a nice taste in your mouth.” No. The purpose of eating is nourishment. The purpose of life is to grow, and that is achieved by looking beyond the self, to be of service.
OK, on to the romantic myth.
The formula for a romance is: Boy meets girl. There may be instant attraction on one or both sides, but there are great obstacles in the way. These are overcome, and then they live happily ever after. A variation (the Harlequin formula) is that the boy is an arrogant alpha male, and the girl shapes him to suit her needs. He of course stays a good boy forever.
This is fine as a fantasy, but people apply it to their own lives. “I want to be happy. I am unhappy now because I am alone (or I am unhappy now with this no-good husband). If only I could have Joe fall in love with me, I’d be happy.”
I am sure you can see the consumer myth in there.
In fact, the key to a happy relationship is this:
She has applied true wisdom to how to be happy: when something breaks, you fix it. This is as true of relationships as of things. I have set out the research evidence on how to have a good relationship, and how to make yourself unhappy in one, at my psychology website.
The way to be unhappy is to focus on “I want someone to love me.” This is taking love. The way to be contented in a relationship is “I want to love someone.” This is giving love.
Love, romance, all the vagaries of human emotions about each other, belong in fiction. They are essential parts of our existence. But the romantic formula, when applied to real life, is a guarantee of unhappiness now, and leads to the trade-in mentality. “I thought he was my soul partner, but he has turned out to have all these faults. So, maybe I was wrong, and I need to trade him in on a new one.”
I have argued before that all writing carries a message about the writer’s philosophy. So, believing what I do about the romantic myth, I cannot write romances.
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