My Love/Hate Relationship With Romance

I'm not a Romance fan. But I enjoy Romantic subplots. Do I contradict myself? I don't think so.

Romance novels are required to have the Happily Ever After ending. You pick up a new Romance genre book, and without peeking, you may correctly assume that both the heroine and the hero survive until the end and become a permanent couple (or threesome, alien-creche-parents, legal partners, or whatever term applies to them). The genre is formulaic in this way; if you do not provide the reader with a HEA ending, it simply will not be classified (by readers!) as a Romance. And they'll complain and never read your books again.

So, without that HEA, what genre is it? That depends. My first guess would be Chick Lit, but it could also fall into Literary Romance or Women's Fiction. Stray too far (i.e. less than half your plot concerns the relationship), and your book could be Romantic Suspense, Romantic Fantasy, Romantic Comedy, Romantic Adventure, etc. You want to cash in on the vast Romance market, you need to put in that HEA.

For me as a reader, it is the formulaic nature of the Romance genre that turns me off. It's the most restrictive genre I can think of. Romantic characters enter the plot at the beginning, various delaying/distracting stuff happens to them in the middle, and at the end, they always, ALWAYS, end up together. It's far more strict than even Mystery, in which you always know the crime(s) will be solved at the end. With mysteries, you don't automatically know who will be guilty of the crime, and every book is a new puzzle to solve. There's no such appeal in a Romance. You know who the romantic players are.

I suppose it's a combination of my own past romantic life, my love of the unknown, and my cynicism that makes me disinclined to read Romance. Many people who read this genre do so purely for the happy ending, the fantasy of the HEA. And I get that: I want happy endings in the books I read as well. But the shiny pink glowing happiness at the end of every Romance book ever just says to me, "If only you were as awesome as we were, then you might get some of this for yourself. But you're not. Poor you." And I must emphatically reject that notion, because I am neither more pitiful than nor less awesome than fictional characters. I'm not inclined to follow the lives of the rich and famous in the real world, so why would I want to read about fictional people with glorious, perfect hair and D-cups* getting exactly what they want? How does that make me feel better about myself in any way whatsoever? It seems like some bizarre literary addiction, in which I'd need to pick up another Romance right away lest I realize how sucky my life is in comparison to the fictional couple's.

All that said, let no one confuse my distaste for formulaic love with a hatred of the romantic in other genres. Romance in a plot is like an ingredient from a recipe. If it's all you have, all you get is flour, or lemon rind, or BBQ sauce. But add the other ingredients back in--suspense, mystery, historical drama, adventure, sci-fi--and you get a more balanced--and  to me, palatable--recipe. Romantic subplots enliven a whole book. I've got three or four of them in my own adventure fantasy series, Legend of the Shanallar. Romance will play a distinct part in my upcoming Mystery series, Margarita Williams Geocaching Mysteries, too.

Romance should be a natural extension of the rest of characters' lives, as they interact and suffer hardships during the advancement of the plot, not something forced into corsets which artificially shape the body of the story. Or whatever they think will make them look hottest. Come on, Romance genre, whatever happened to loving yourself for who you are?

I know, Romance books sell like hotcakes, but I'm a waffle girl. Give me dimension, texture...and then give me that whipped cream. ;)

* Yes, I know what you're going to say. But you should know what my reply will be. :D


  1. Oh come on now Miss Jasmine! Romance rocks!

    I love that HEA ending, but I put my poor guys and gals through the wringer to get there. It's not gonna be easy for them, nor perfect.

    I like to experiment with some plot devices that aren't seen as much in "traditional" romance. Like, the girl's not always a virgin. The guy gets rescued by the girl. The girl makes the first move. The ending may be restrictive, but how you get there doesn't have to be.

    I like waffles too, by the way, with lots of sickeningly sweet syrup :) And I'll be watching for your next book and eagerly awaiting the romantic sub-plots.

  2. I knew I'd hear from at least one romance novel fan. :D Thank you for not disappointing, Mysti. Please don't misunderstand my post; I adore a good romantic tale. I like HEA endings, for romantic couples as well as protagonists in general. I just protest the formula that leads to the HEA, within the Romance genre specifically. I just can't suspend my disbelief if that story is all there is. Wrap it in adventure, spies, detective work, outer space exploration, something. I just need something else to engage my rational mind (bombs! wizards! buying a pizza place!) while my goo-goo mind is fawning over the handsome hero. :D I can't separate the halves of my brain, I guess. They're no fun at movie theaters either. I talk to the movies about what I'd like them to work on. :P

  3. Hey, I have wizards in A Ranger's Tale! And pirates. And attempted kidnapping. And battles and death and missing people. That's good, right? :)

  4. @Mysti: That is good! I was under the impression that you didn't write straight up romance, that it was romantic fantasy. In the technical, genre-label sense. Is that right? I'm totally fine with romantic fantasy. My next book, Oathen, could easily be considered one (if you include "epic" and "adventure" in there too). It's probably my favorite romantic subgenre, because fantasy is my primary genre of choice for reading. :) It's the formula of the Romance genre that stands out. There's no mystery, no unknowns, there's just two people who will inevitably get together. I needz moar!

  5. I definitely call it romantic fantasy as opposed to fantasy romance, since the romance is a major basis for my stories, and they do have the HEA ending. But, yeah, I try to add a lot of fantastical elements in there.

    My writing is pretty light and straightforward. You have the epic thing down pat. Your attention to detail and language is amazing, and still offers a smooth reading experience. I hope I can learn from your style!

  6. Tsk, flattery will get you a free review copy. :P Thank you, seriously. It's always rewarding to hear that someone enjoys what I write!

    IMHO, light and straightforward is more accessible to more people. It's easy to read, and that's what a lot of people look for. What I write is a little more complex, because that's what I like to read.

  7. You gotta write what you like. I don't care for heavy sci-fi or crime thrillers, so I don't write those.

    I'm glad to see, though, the romance genre as a whole, branching out into different venues. Back in the 80's/90's, it was much the same. Virginal weak women, velvety shafts, and brooding male chauvinists abounded. I'm not too crazy about the over-saturation of vampire/werewolf stories, but fantasy elements of all kinds are becoming more popular in romance. It gives me hope :)

  8. I like that the female characters in romantic plots have independence and brains appropriate to our culture nowadays. Reading the books from my teenage years just hurts my head. Although the "how dark can we make our hero and still let the woman redeeeeeeeeem him" isn't to my taste. No one can change a bad guy's mind but the bad guy, no matter how buxom or sweet or kick-ass people are when they try. How many guys did I fall for in RL before I figured that out? Too many. :P