Contemplations on Romance as a Genre

I did a book review a while back on a Nora Roberts book. Someone left a rather snide remark on the shared post on my Facebook page, basically saying I was wrong for enjoying the book. I’ve thought about it a lot since then.

Romance as a genre is often thought about as smut for lonely moms that’s poorly written. I’ve caught myself thinking the same as I read for research. (Despite my passion for dragons and fantasy, most of my freelance work involves ghostwriting romance.) I’ve got plenty of books on the shelf from library book sales or that have been passed on by friends, and I dove into them expecting them to be terrible. I’ve actually found there are some really great stories between those cheesy covers.

Obviously, there’s got to be sort of appeal to the boy-meets-girl story. Even in action movies, the guy has to get the girl at the end, right? I personally find Die Hard to be an incredibly romantic story.

Perhaps the problem isn’t with romantic notions but in marketing. Current romance covers have changed quite a bit, no doubt in an effort to be appealing as a thumbnail for digital purchases. Shana Galen‘s books are an excellent example. I admit I always found the classic covers to be pretty amusing, with Fabio’s hair blowing in the wind and a simpering woman in a gauzy dress groveling at his feet. It’s corny, and it invites potential readers to judge the book by its cover. But hey, if you’re looking to get swept away by a romantic story, I guess that cover says it all!

I think we could also tackle the rather unhealthy relationships that are, well, romanticized in the genre. A couple who doesn’t communicate well enough to admit they’re crazy about each other can’t really have a happily-ever-after, can they? And why wouldn’t any reasonable woman run screaming for the hills when the man who’s so interested in her is known for being dangerous, either physically or mentally? I’ve thought a lot about whether romance creates unrealistic expectations. It might, but I think it’s also important for us to consider that real-life people aren’t perfect. You’ll find any number of people in the world who are bad with money or lose their temper or who suck at communicating or who leave their dirty socks on the floor, and yet they still manage to find The One. Maybe the romances we’re reading about are just far more relatable than we’d like to admit.

If you’re offended by the romance genre because of the sex, then I suggest you sell your television, cut up your library card, and trade your smartphone in for an old-fashioned flip phone. It’s everywhere. I’ve seen ‘worse’ stuff in music videos than I’ve read in some novels. In fact, most romance novels are about the emotional connection instead of explicit bedroom scenes. Sex is used as a marketing tool for men all the time, so what’s the problem if it’s marketed toward women? Would a cheap romance novel be an unacceptable marketing tool for a woman who has a lot of cooking and cleaning to do?

I certainly don’t have all the answers on this, but it’s something to think about. If you think romance novels are terrible, you might want to read a few and give them a fair shake. (Suggestions below) If you have read them and still hate them, then maybe just scroll along and let someone else enjoy the genre. It isn’t as though romance is going away any time soon!

For historical romance, try Shana Galen and Susie Murphy.

For something more modern, Nora Roberts is always a good start.

For fantasy romance, try Susan Carroll or J.R. Ward.

Who’s your favorite romance author, book, or series? I’d love to know!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Siren’s Call, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

3 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, On Writing

3 responses to “Contemplations on Romance as a Genre

  1. I write Romance. It’s all I write… besides the philosophy. Just take a look at my blog. 1,000 love poems in dedication to my beloved.

    Up and down avenues, in love, exist everywhere. Like a road that curves, though you think you’re still going straight. No one recognizes the bumps in the road, until you take a step back from your beloved, and attempt to consider your approach. Respect is just as necessary as the love. Sometimes, a bit of force upon ourselves is necessary so that we don’t end up in a disastrous relationship. Up and down avenues… it’s how I express the “genre” of Romance.

    As for the genre, itself, I do not believe that if it considers love, it will rarely be “realistic”. If tragedy is what a person involves, then it’s not simply to fall in love, though to also fall. We crash. We collapse. In love, we sometimes do that. We get up, with the other person’s help… if they’re still there, that is. If they’re not there, we remain to look upon their shadow. We remain to count the broken fragments of our heart, scattered like cards that never show our face upon the print.

    To what I see of Romance, it’s rarely a realism. It’s most always an idealism. We idealize ourselves, to love, and beyond. The key words, “to ourselves”, because we set standards for ourselves. If we love ourselves, then we idealize ourselves, and we set ourselves up for a trap that we will fall in. Too much ego, and we weigh more, giving us ease to fall through a pit for love.

    Our subconscious ignores what we consciously want, so we go after reflection. It’s when we can see something other than ourselves, in another person’s eyes. Though, it is still both ourselves, and them, looking back. It’s when we can attach our heart to theirs, to make a matching or a oneness.

    One thing I find ridiculous about the Romance genre, is many author’s need to create a fairytale out of a book. A fairytale? Really? When is love not without accepting flaws? One sets themselves up for the destruction of a romance, if they’re not about to understand that love is there to perfect the flaws. Though, one must offer the love to mend wounds, to erase pasts, and to make a future while holding someone else’s hand. A fairytale is a metaphor for a “conflict-free” relationship, which is what most people/readers vainly want/wish for. Again, it is their conscious mind wanting this. Though, when it comes to love, it’s about blending ourselves together with someone else. It’s about our fluids mixing with theirs, in love, opened for both to see. It’s about shared dreams and shared grievances. This “fairytale” concept does not do much to give insight into the realities of any relationship.

    There is no love in this world that has not come without its tears. And, there is no beautiful flower that has ever grown without a storm to raise it.

  2. I think it’s a shame that these types of books are laughed at or mocked. Some of them have amazingly deep themes and tackle significant issues, like body image, working as a single mom, abuse, etc.

    Yes, some unhealthy relationships are romanticized, and I think that mostly plays into the fantasies that some women have about those types of relationships working out. Romance is about escapism to a degree. Women use them (especially those trapped in unhealthy or unhappy relationships) to find their “happily-ever-after.”

    I’m glad that you’re enjoying the genre! It’s my preferred reading genre. Nora Roberts is one of my all-time favorites! 🙂 I also have some recommendations for you:

    Historical romance — Stephanie Lawrence (Her Cynster series is long but good), and Sabrina Jefferies

    Contemporary — Christina Lauren, Alice Clayton, and Jennifer Cruisie.

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