Fast Food Love Stories

By: Dennis Bates

One of the problems I have as a writer is defining my audience and my genre. There is a reading population that insists that it know beforehand what the structure of a story is going to be and ultimately how the story will turn out. I call those people fast food readers.


I really mean no disrespect toward those people. They just prefer to know that the burger and fries that they order in New Mexico will be substantially the same in New Hampshire. They don’t want a culinary experience; they just want to be assured they won’t be surprised or challenged by what they eat. Full is fine as long as they know bite by bite how the food tastes at both the beginning and the end.


Everybody likes a burger like that now and then, but some of us want more than that. We want layers of taste, texture, and a meal  that will still respect us in the morning. It isn’t enough to know that the first and last bites in New Hampshire will be gut filling just like they were in New Mexico. We want to learn something in the process, have our taste buds challenged, even assaulted, and we want some sort of intellectual and sensory experience.


That doesn’t make us bad people, nor does it make the fast food people stupid or inferior. It just makes us different at least in this particular area of life.


So, when I say I like to write love stories from a male point of view, the last thing I want to hear is somebody saying, “Oh, you write romance for men.” If that statement didn’t have such a Big Mac connotation to it, I could live with it, but generally when people say that about me they are trying to pigeon hole me, and that means I’d better produce an acceptable Big Mac right down to and including using the same special sauce.


For the record, that isn’t what I write.


Books written to fit the Romance genre follow a pattern and they always, always, always have  an happily ever after ending. I like those. I may even prefer happy endings most of the time, but I can’t write them all the time, no matter how hard I try, so I don’t force them that way. If they come out that way…fine. If they borrow large chunks of the formula for the romance genre…that’s fine too.


However, I think a better way to describe what I write is to say I write love stories, and even that is too restrictive. Sometimes love hurts…bites even. It’s as simple as that, and that means it doesn’t always have a happy ending by romance genre standards. What I write always involves some aspect of love, and I try to write things from a male perspective by either using a male voice or describing things the way men would want them to be.


I don’t intend to change that. Why should I? One of the greatest and most copied love stories of all time is “Romeo and Juliet.” It doesn’t have a happy ending unless you call vials of poison and daggers to the heart instruments of endearment. Can you imagine some modern day critic saying you can’t have them die; it’s just too sad?”


Worse, can you imagine some well meaning evangelical saying, I can’t recommend anything that has suicide as a theme? Hello. The theme of Romeo and Juliet isn’t suicide; it’s love. Tragic love, to be sure, but it’s still love. There are also wonderful layers and subplots that spin off of the major theme, like the total lunacy of killing each other just because our names are different. What happens when honest communication breaks down, etc.


But the theme is love, in this case between two young innocent lovers who were doomed from the very beginning, sad as that may be. That’s why it’s a tragedy. Man is felled by his own tragic flaws. Women too.


Should we change Romeo and Juliet so it ends happily? If we do, then we have another very forgettable story about boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, boy and girl have one final challenge that they overcome, and then live happily ever after.


Not exactly the classic that Will Shakespeare penned, not nearly as interesting, and besides…I think I’ve seen that one before.


One Response to Fast Food Love Stories

  1. Wayne says:

    Mr. Bates is, as usual, exactly right. Okay, mostly right, but I strongly agree with his point that much of our alleged creative material has become totally formulaic. An excellent example is the recent Twilight series directed at young readers, in which (basically) vampires suffer the teen angst found in TV series such as Orange County or 90210. As a fellow writer, I find this approach to selling books appalling, except that I can’t totally fault anything that gets today’s youth to read something besides labels on video games or (literally) fast-food menus.

    By way of full disclosure in this comment, I am personally acquainted with Dennis Bates, but that in no way has diminished my admiration or respect for him.

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