• J.E Stanway

Writing Romance and the Fear of Cheese

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Photo by J.E Stanway

Writing romance can be difficult, especially when you want to make it enjoyable for all ages. It can be hard to gauge where sentimentality ends and cheese begins (for all of my lactose intolerant readers, I apologize). I often find when I read or watch "clean" fiction (Hallmark, I'm looking at you), it tends to be so over the top that it becomes unwatchable and/or unreadable.

When I was writing the sequel to The Fields by my House, I faced this same issue head-on in a number of different scenes. I pride myself on being a family-friendly author. I believe modesty to be more romantic than suggestiveness. But when you choose to write modest romance, you have to be more descriptive in speech, and it can be hard sometimes to find a balance between realism and overly dramatic expressions of passion. So, in writing the dialogue between my two main characters, I had to make sure that a) the words matched their personality, and b) that the scenes didn't go on for too long.

I find for myself that over-passionate dialogue comes out when the scene begins to drag a bit. I felt this issue while reading Jane Eyre; I found Mr. Rochester's expressions of love a little too endless to bear. It took me out of the story because I found it to be far too unrealistic. Of course, Jane Eyre is Gothic, and those books are known for over the top jubilations. But when it comes to my own writing, when I read back cheesy dialogue, I absolutely want to throw up.

When I face this issue in my writing, however, I try to go back to stories I know well. Films like Road to Avonlea, Anne of Green Gables, etc are clean and romantic, without being unrealistic or cheesy, and they help me get back into "the zone".

The modern entertainment industry often associates "clean" shows and books with cheese, as if you can't have one without the other. Thus, such entertainment isn't taken as seriously as content that is full of explicit scenes and vulgarity. And that's the crutch for most writers; the fear of their work not being taken seriously.

But a story can be interesting and enjoyable without ticking off fan service boxes, such as the inclusion of drugs, mind games, or suggestive romance. In my personal opinion, and as I said above, it's all about finding the balance between realism and romance. To read a love story and think 'this is something that could happen to me', is where the romance author succeeds. Readers want to be able to relate to the characters they read about, and, in order to do that, you have to make the dialogue believable as well as swoon-worthy.

If you're finding yourself in this wedge of cheese with your writing, read through it. Think to yourself, 'Would I say this to the person that I love? Does it have a deeper meaning to me?', and go from there. You'll find your balance, just as every other author eventually does. As long as you can take your prose seriously, others will also.

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