Romance · Writing

Romance!? AHHH!

Some people avoid romance novels like the plague, and some people really enjoy them. So what is about this whole genre of story telling that gets people up in arms or excited with giddiness?

Desperate Housewives!

Okay, my lame attempt at humor aside, I frequently wonder this. Now granted, my demographic is a single female, so I know why a romance novel might appeal to me more than to someone else. In fact, the entire genre caters to women minus a few exceptions here and there.  Or at least, that’s been my general experience.

To be fair, I myself wouldn’t say that romance novels are the best stories in the universe, not by far. They’re whimsical, entertaining, and if they have any long lasting impact on a reader, well, it’s not usually a life changing impact, nor is it a story the reader will likely remember as one for the ages. They are what they are in most cases – entertaining reads with no greater meaning attached to them other than artfully depicted true love.

There’s one of the issues. Many romances cater to just that – romantic thoughts of true love – OR, an author takes to extreme the dramas that can come along with it so harshly and turn the story into such a sour experience that by the time the main characters get together at the end of the story, I’m seriously disenchanted and wondering why the hell they stuck together at all with everything they’ve done to one another.

So there’s well balanced stories to be had, and then there are stories so over dramatized in context that even YOU need an anti-depressant.

Seems like a good romance novel straddles the line between these two worlds. Or at least, that’s been my experience. One of my favorite authors, Julie Garwood, has had some good ones in her tenure. Most of her stories contained a good bit of both worlds, that being struggle between the two characters, as well as opposing forces beyond the character’s control. Now sometimes, there would be a fight between the two characters over an issue I didn’t think was worth fighting over, but in the end, I was usually satisfied by many of her reads. (If you’re a romance reader, try The Secret or Guardian Angel for starters. I also enjoyed Honor’s Splendor.)

But I honestly think the real problem with many romance novels would be their presentation. As much as I like a good love story, I hate the covers they produce on the books. Once again, Julie Garwood has some really well done covers.  But presentation goes far beyond the cover as well. In fact, it goes from the name of the story (Her Deepest Desire – seriously, this name screams desperate housewife) all the way to the origins of writing romance stories.

When you think of these stories, many times you remember the bargain bin at your local dollar store filled with titles like “My Secret Lover” and covered in, well, I’ll just say suggestive poses. This bin, whether you know it or not, represents an ever continuing effort of publishers to appeal to readers through sex without putting too much work (work meaning money by the way) into their productions, because, and let’s be real here, there’s a good shiny penny to be had off of romance, even when the story is as cheesy and half-baked as the cover.

Sadly, this kind of image has stuck even if the genre of romance has evolved greatly over the years and does include some very good works.

In fact, this genre is nothing like what I remember it to be from my youth. The description has gotten much more intricate, the language bolder, and honestly, I’ve been seeing more and more situations where we don’t get the needy, helpless heroine who has to use her wits to survive behind the strength of a good man.

Example? Kresley Cole. Her heroines, well, let’s just say most of them would rather spit in a man’s face than look at him on many occasions. (Maybe not quite that extreme, but read one of her stories and you’ll see what I mean.  They’re definitely strong female leads.) Though I do admit, her stories seem to suffer from the presentation issues listed above (ie. Titles and covers).

So, we’re left with an impact of cheese even though the formula (or the flavor) has changed.

Then another argument against romance novels is that they’re predictable. No matter what the two main characters go through, you know they end up together in the end. Well, it wouldn’t be romance if they didn’t, right? So why buy the book at all? Just read the synopsis on the back, and come up with your own story of how they get together.

On the flip side, many readers like to say that it’s the process that they go through that’s the hook, not the ultimate goal. I myself have to say I agree with this. You pick up the book knowing that someone’s gonna get hooked up. This is common knowledge, and this is what, I think, romance readers want – to see two people coming together in love and how they fought to do it. It’s an escape from the realities of the world we live in where, and let’s be honest, the things that happen in these stories just never really do. That’s why it’s called fantasy.

So it might take a certain mindset to read these stories, but it’s easy to see why they have such an infamous rep. In fact, I know women who love romance stories, but refuse to buy them due to the cover or the title, afraid of being looked at as desperate when they check out. I have to admit, I don’t blame them.

As for whether or not romance is actually a good genre, well, I’d like to think of it as any other genre of storytelling. You have your good books, and your bad, and then you have the simply and plain old terrible. As for why it gets pinged so much more than other genres? Well, it’s romance, and sex being the huge topic of controversy that it often times is, why wouldn’t it be put under such a large microscope?

On a side note, I half wonder if the people who claim that romance novels should be burned aren’t all just curious themselves, but too afraid or proud to pick one up and read it.

With that all said, I leave you with this site: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – All of the romance and none of the bullshit.  I’m not affiliated with them, but I’ll be damned if I don’t just love the design of it alone. Check it out, it’s not too freaking bad!  Cheers!

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