The lighthearted historical: I’m not fluffy, I’m just described that way

This week I’ve been battling a major case of writer’s block. Not the ‘what to write next’ kind, though.  I’m at a major scene—the first kiss. I know what I have to set up, how it’s all going to unfold, but for some reason my hero and heroine keep resisting all attempts to give in to their attraction for each other.Writer's block cat

It’s not that they don’t want to kiss;  they’ve been waiting most of the story to give free reign to their feelings. They simply don’t want it to happen my  way. Despite warning them that I can turn this story into a whodunit and terminate their very existences, they will not budge.  “We deserve better than this paltry effort,” they keep saying. And so I dutifully keep rewriting the scene.

When I’m not procrastinating.

Whilst successfully wasting time the other night, I happened upon a website that purported to be a ‘guide’ to romance novels. In its section on historical romance, it warned the reader up front that there is a lot of rubbish in the romance genre, but if you look hard enough, you can find some decent stuff amongst the excrement. The article became particularly scathing when it came to what it called the “light and fluffy” variety of historical romance.

Well, that left me a little discombobulated.  Apart from the disdain that the writer of that guide showed for romance of all kinds, despite purporting to be a fan, her contempt for lighthearted historicals was breathtaking, and almost offensive. It wasn’t about historical accuracy, either; it was simply about tone. The use of the word ‘fluffy’ particularly irritated me. Obviously, it is meant to imply something unsubstantial, trivial and unworthy of being taken seriously.

This is not the first time, mind you, that I’ve read such sentiments.  Even diehard fans who would never write anything uncomplimentary about the genre itself occasionally let slip a comment that makes it clear they think intense, emotional drama is superior to lighthearted romance.

From the 1940 film adaptation of P&P. The costumes are all wrong, but Garson and Olivier make an interesting couple. And this still is beautiful.

Why is ‘emotional’ used as a synonym for angst-driven, anyway? Doesn’t every writer strive to create emotion in the reader? Why is it assumed that darker, more serious romance is necessarily more emotional, and therefore, superior?

I suspect the assumption stems from the fact that it’s easier to spot depth of emotion when it’s presented in terms of a character’s pain and yearning.  Humor, or a lighter tone, may seem to belie the pain or make light of it, when, really, it handles it in a different way.

Or maybe it’s because laughter is a powerful cathartic agent, and we feel better without even realizing we’ve been through the emotional wringer to begin with.

Or could it be that, as when we marvel at a spectacular wedding cake, it’s easy to overlook the craftsmanship that went into building the structure and see only the decoration?

Lighthearted doesn’t necessarily mean devoid of substance. Take Pride & Prejudice, for example. Jane Austen combines social satire, witty banter and acute observation of people’s foibles with a satisfying romance. Would anyone dismiss this classic as ‘fluffy’?

Fluffy alpacs slippers

Now these are fluffy! Courtesy of

It seems to me that romance and comedy go hand in hand. Let’s face it, the whole process of falling in love is absurd.  I adore reading and writing about the foolish, hypocritical, self-delusional things people do when they meet their match. I want the hero and heroine to be blithely unaware of what they need in order to be truly happy. I want them to rage against their fate. And I want to enjoy watching them squirm.

If you prefer your heroes and heroines to be tortured differently, that’s fine too. It’s all about horses for courses.  But, please, don’t use the word ‘fluffy’ around me, unless you’re talking about my cat, my slippers or my hair back in the eighties.


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