Why fanfic writers (and readers!) should read romance

Fanfiction and Romance novels share a great deal of similarities.

It is strange, then, that I hear many fic readers and writers not only have no interest in Romance novels, but actively avoid them. I am guessing they do this out of some misplaced assumptions about the genre.

Romance gets a bad rap, just like fanfic. Both genres are heavily populated by women – in the case of fic, young women – and this goes for writers and readers alike. If you think that fic is unfairly denigrated by the masses, perhaps you might consider that Romance is, too. Like in both genres, there is good and bad.

There are also internal similarities.

All Romance, and a vast majority of fanfic, deal with two characters falling in love. I know this is not true in all fic, but it is where much of the most voracious readers and writers lie. Also, both are heavily reliant on tropes. All those ‘fake dating’ plots and ‘surprise baby’ stories are common in both romance and fanfiction. If you like certain tropes in your fic (like we all do!) then it would be easy enough to find a romance novel with the same trope in it.

Even the AUs, so common in fic, have their counterpart in Romance.

For example:

  • Highschool AU = YA romance
  • College AU = New Adult Romance
  • Domesticity AU = Sweet Contemporary Romance
  • Historical AU = (of course) Historical Romance
  • Space AU = Futuristic Romance
  • BDSM AU = Erotic Romance
  • Fairy Tale AU = Fairy Tale/Fantasy Romance
  • And many more!

So, due to these similarities, I believe that people interested in fic (both reading and writing it!) would enjoy reading romance.

However, quite apart from the enjoyment, I think it would be useful for those writing fic – particularly those just starting out – to read romance novels as a learning exercise. Many now-published romance writers got their start in fanfiction. I don’t just mean those ‘pulled to publish’ books like 50 Shades, but also stories that had always started as original fiction.

Many fic writers currently learn how to write fic by reading fic. This is fine! I think it is a good way to learn. But I think sometimes people learn the wrong lessons and repeat the same mistakes, because it is quite an insular community. Writers build on what has been written before, often intentionally, which means that some of the issues people perceive in fanfic are being perpetuated throughout stories.

Really, Romance novels are just a master class on how to write fic.

If you are writing romantic fic, romance novels can teach you how to build a relationship convincingly. This is all down to how you structure your story, how to integrate the romance with the plot, and what kind of scenes work in establishing a connection between the characters.

Romance novels can teach you how to write sexual tension. The kind of language to use, the push and pull between the characters, when to push forward and when to hold back.

And, of course, Romance can teach you to write really great smut.

It can even teach you new and interesting ways to use those common tropes.

I’m not saying that Romance is intrinsically better than fic. But Romance writers, particularly those that are traditionally published (that is, those professionally published by a large publishing house) have the benefit of experienced editors that can correct a book’s flaws and polish it so it shines.

Fanfic writers only have beta readers. Who are great and amazing! But often live on the same diet of fic, without learning beyond those borders. They, again, contribute to this cycle within the fic community.

So, if you want to expand your horizons, and start writing at the next level, I would recommend you read Romance.