Romance and the Smooch

I’ve been using the word Smooch a lot on this blog this month and part of why I do that is because I figure if I keep using it, you’ll at least be able to extrapolate what I mean by it. Conventionally, the category of stuff I file as ‘smooch media’ is ‘romantic’ media, at least if you pay attention to Netflix categories. I resist that description, though, and it’s partly because Romantic is a term that means something else, in my mind.

This is a problem when it comes to talking about it in general, because a word’s usage is determined not just by the person saying it but also by the people hearing it. If you say ‘romantic media’ I don’t tend to think you mean it the way I mean it, but I tend to use it to try and introduce this idea.

What I mean, typically, when I say romantic media is the idea of media where the logic of the universe is predominantly related to the feelings of people. I like this term, I need a term like this, because I want to be able to draw a circle around the kinds of stories that are often easier to write when you’re focusing on feelings. It’s not to say feelings-first writing needs to lack verisimillitude, but a lot of romantic storytelling is at its strongest when it can recognise what matters to its type of story.

It’s not uncommon to hear criticism of Hamlet and Romeo And Juliet where people are snared into stupid situations and the tragedy so unfolds where if they communicated better or more meaningfully, or if people took notes, or if the government behaved like a government might, you’d be left with a situation that, more realistically, would result in a story that doesn’t end with piles of bodies on the floor. This criticism is something that I myself levelled at these plays when I was a child (in part, because I was a child).

It’s kind of a categorical failure of examination. The reason these stories don’t take the most logical path, or a path that can be ‘proven’ in some way is because the important things in these stories are human feelings and the failings of those feelings. Hamlet doesn’t confide in his mother in a way that solves the problems tidily, because his inability to communicate with her is one of the things the story is about. Those feelings drive the way the story works, not vice versa.

It’s also useful for talking about media that isn’t just about people kissing – smooch media, as it were. My friend Caelyn Sandel writes regularly what I’d consider romantic urban fantasy, not necessarily because it’s always about characters kissing (though there’s plenty of that), but because the urban fantasy (and superhero and classic fantasy) she works on, the magic or superpowers or supertech or mutation or whatever is a way of examining feelings. Feelings about bodies, feelings about systems, feelings about power – but the feelings are there foremost, and feelings hold a lot of ideas together.

In a lot of ways, Caelyn is a sort of romantic radical, where she uses the model of romantic narrative (ie, stories about feelings) to drive other stories.

So, when I want to talk about stories where the important thing is the characters smooch, or don’t smooch… I’ll say it’s smooch media.

I hope it’s not too annoying. ♥