Romancing the Genre: That “Guilty Little Pleasure”

Sharon's Heart Logo for WebI’ve written some sweet romances, but I found I prefer my romance a bit stronger. For whatever reason, I just happen to love writing about sex. Maybe because in real life I love it, too. Back in June, I wrote an initial piece about the romance genre. As recently as August, Sister Caryn considered why people trash such a popular genre. During the economic downturn, romance novels were selling when many other books weren’t.

Romance is a category easily dismissed by others. Men expect women to want romances, the happily-ever-after kind with the impossible-to-emulate hero, so some of them feel free to ridicule the books and films featuring a love story. Women of a certain bent disdain romances as shallow, poorly written excursions into pulp fiction, demeaning of women as equal to men.

And some of that is deserved criticism. But that criticism can be aimed at any genre novel. Trite, clichéd story lines exist throughout published works. Character tropes who are hackneyed and unoriginal. Those books are predictable and don’t sound genuine, authentic. But it’s not just presesnt in the romance genre.STITCHES-1

Let’s face it, love is central to many stories whether it is the major plot line or a sub-plot meant to elaborate characters and make them multi-dimensional. There is more than one love subplot in sister Kathy’s new book, Stitches. Some of the love is healthy and some is not. While categorized as women’s fiction, rather than straight romance (ooh, that could be taken more than one way!), still there is romance aplenty.

The best way to think of it, in my opinion, as a Libran finding balance, is that romance in books is on a continuum. There are the traditional, dare I say, Harlequin romance books at one end of the continuum that has women’s fiction on the other end. In between, there is chick lit. Chick lit has romance, and the woman is in search of it (Harlequin leanings) but she finds who she really is without needing that to depend upon her love interest (women’s fiction leaning). In chick lit, the romance finally found is the plus in her life, not her whole life.

So are we agreed romance is highly visible in real and fictional life? Of course there are a few books and movies without a romance element, but, in reality, it is a reality that human relationships and interactions are part of life. Thus, they show up in various media over and over.

One of my dear friends, while suffering from chemo effects, didn’t want serious or tragic stories to watch or read. She chose romances to read, light, quick, guaranteed happy ending (Harlequin end of the spectrum). On an even closer front, when DH was recovering from eye surgery, he couldn’t watch or read serious or tragic stories. Same syndrome. Now he didn’t choose romances, but we did watch a Muppet movie and some stupid sitcoms. He couldn’t tolerate drama during that phase.

And what’s wrong with that? Not a thing. Escapism has always been the purview of literature. Romances touch something in us that is life-affirming. It will work out. There is a solution no matter how grim it gets. The sun will shine again.

The focus in a romance novel, as opposed to a novel with romance in it, is the centrality of the romantic relationship between two people that results in an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending”. The biggest difference on the romance continuum, as near as I can tell, is the role of the heroine’s partner. In Harlequin-type romance, the partner is a major piece of the final happy ending. In women’s fiction, the partner might still be around as a romantic element, but happiness doesn’t depend on the partner. The woman’s journey and change are the biggest elements.

I have to tell you, I have friends who would take that definition to the woodshed on more than one count. The first trip to the woodshed, is for the traditional “optimistic ending.” The HEA ending (Happily Ever After) is de rigueur for many.

Those who write series romances say each book doesn’t necessarily have to have an HEA for each book as long as the series wraps up that way. That a “Happy For Now” ending (HFN) is good enough. But the series has to end with marriage or a commitment to remain together. Preferably marriage. Others disagree. Life doesn’t always have happy endings. Sometimes love sucks, but the ending must be appropriate to the story. In any genre, by the way.

The other woodshed trip some of my friends would take me on related to the definition is “between two people.” Polyamory is all the rage on TV and in books. Why does love have to be limited to two people, they would ask? Romance writers have included GBLT and BDSM for some time. Can polyamory be far behind?

Traditionally, the romance genre has not garnered much literary cache. Some would say that romance books are the woman’s equivalent of men’s pulp fiction or genre westerns of the past. All highly read. All dissed by literary critics. And you know what the Write on Sisters think about snobbish literary critics, those self-appointed arbiters of my reading tastes!

Let’s all just play nice together, okay?

Who cares if you like romances and I don’t? Really, who cares? I almost never ask someone what the genre is for a recommended book. I want to know the premise. I read a good book because it is a good book no matter the genre.


Author: Sharon Arthur Moore

Sharon Arthur Moore is an intrepid cook, who has lived in every region of the country except the Pacific Northwest and loved every single one of them.

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