And now, for a little romance…

Tell people you’re writing romance, and a good number of them roll their eyes.  We all know why; but in case anyone’s forgotten, here’s a list:

  • Romance novels are vapid
  • It’s just a formula.  That is, anyone could do it.
  • Despite that, they’re badly written
  • It doesn’t explore worthwhile themes
  • It gives women unrealistic expectations of relationships
  • It’s full of cliche – the moon is always full, the members are always throbbing, the bosoms are always heaving, etc.
  • The characters are shallow
  • And this

In his article, Mr. Elsner states:

I have nothing against such escapist fiction in principle. And I guess that women have as much right to enjoy pornography packaged to their liking as men. But I simply don’t find these books romantic.

He then goes on to compare modern romance novels with Pride and Prejudice.  Hm.  Well, here’s what I’ll say.  I seriously doubt that most authors of contemporary romance novels are trying to be Jane Austen.  That is, we know it’s not “literature,” and we don’t care.

Are there many, many very badly written romance novels?  Yes.
Are they all badly written?  No.
Are a huge number of romance novels vapid?  Yes.
Are they all vapid?  No.
Is there a formula?  Well, yes, inasmuch as any genre has a formula.
Can anyone write one?  No.
Is writing a good one easy?  No.
Do they give women unrealistic expectations of relationships?  You know, I really don’t think so.  No more, anyway, than romantic comedies do.  Is When Harry Met Sally realistic?  I don’t think so.  Does that make it less enjoyable?  No, it makes it more enjoyable.

Which brings me to my actual point.  When I’m reading, or writing, a romance, I’m not looking for realism.  The whole thing is about escapism.  I work a stressful, many hour a week job.  Other women are busy, raising families, taking care of elderly parents, serving on the City Council, running companies … when they read, at least sometimes, they don’t always want to have to think about it so much.  They just want something light and entertaining that will most likely have a happy ending.  We all know that isn’t life – that’s what’s so great about it. Life is many things, but it isn’t usually light, overall.

Now, ideally, a good romance will have a bit of depth to it:  characters who are more than one dimensional, a realistic conflict that involves more than “but I thought you hated me,” and a relationship that’s about more than “I thought you hated me, let’s jump into bed.  Holy shit, that was awesome!  I must love you!”

Added to all of that, despite the escapist elements of romance, some of us do actually have good relationships – as good as the relationships in good romances.  So it’s not, in the end, all that unrealistic, though the paths we travel to get to the good relationships might be less straightforward, or less fraught, or less condensed.  But who cares?

Not me!  I love romance novels – easy to read, happy ending … and if there’s some porn thrown in the mix, well, so much the better.


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