Okay, sometimes fiction and “escapism” is a good thing. Sometimes…it isn’t.
Here are a list of lies novels tend to tell us that I think can be quite damaging when they’re part of a trend:
- Relationships aren’t built, they happen, preferably within the span of Book One. See: montages.
- The first guy/girl who walks across the stage of your life is the one you should end up with, for sake of (plot) tidiness and as the key to your (predicted) ultimate happiness.
- Singlehood is a state to be bemoaned and feared.
- You should also be too busy saving the world to have a good relationship with yourself. (Maybe that’s why there are so many love triangles in novels? They simply don’t know who they are or what they want and they don’t have the time to stop and find out.)
- To be a strong woman, you must look ultra-feminine but behave as masculine as possible. Also, exert your worth and independence at every opportunity.
- Only women who are feminine are beautiful. Only men who are masculine are handsome.
- You must be the ideal beauty in order to be a hero or heroine.
- People shouldn’t rely on each other, they must solve all of their problems by themselves.
- Intimacy within a temporary relationship is just as emotionally safe and stable as in a mutually-promised, committed, trusting, long-lasting one.
- Relationship growth ends at marriage. (“And they lived happily ever after”)
- The only interesting or fulfilling relationships are romantic ones.
- Romance, attraction, sexual tension are enough to base a healthy, functioning relationship on.
- You can get away with lying to yourself and/or lying to others and still have healthy close relationships.
- Vengeance and justice are the same thing.
- Mercy and passivity are the same thing.
- People are only interesting when they’re young, preferably between 16-19 years old.
- White Americans are not interested in reading about different peoples, cultures, races, nations, times, histories, diversities, languages, so these shouldn’t be published, they won’t sell.
If I have an agenda in writing, it’s to write (and explore) relationships in my fiction. Each of my novels thus far has come at it from a different angle. Queen of the Eight Banners is about the protagonist’s relationship with (mainly) herself, discovering who she is and what she’s capable of, which is far more than she thought possible. The Witch’s Tower explores several different mother-daughter relationships. Otherside explores two sets of atypical romantic relationships, alongside the other plot arcs, of course.
So perhaps “agenda” is the wrong word. “Experiment” or “exploration” or “fascination” would be closer, but I do want to do relationships better justice than I’ve seen them in many…many books. Mostly I think this happens because relationships are side-lined to make room for other, flashier plot elements (which makes sense since no one book can do everything), or because, well, the authors themselves simply don’t know how to make them work. Most of the time it feels like they’re just sub-consciously rehashing formulas they’ve read because I can name several books that go along with each statement.
Which is a shame, considering I think our relationships are the trickiest and most important part of life, so getting them right can really “make or break” our own happiness.
I don’t want to imply that all books proclaim these things. For every “lie” I listed, I can think of a book that happily disproves it, but I don’t think there are enough of these truth-resonating books, and all of them are daring in one way or another…which is probably why there aren’t enough of them. “Daring” books aren’t exactly typical in the industry. (Note the difference implied here between “daring” and “edgy.”)
Thoughts? Additions? Subtractions to the list?