During the past two weeks, two interesting articles have been written about the romance genre being reviled. A wonderful author, Barbara O’Neal, first raised the question in her article, The Perplexing Problem of Romance. This week another writer, Porter Anderson, sought to get answers to Ms. O’Neal’s questions from his readership in an article entitled You Tell Me, Why is Romance Reviled?
After reading both articles and their comments, I don’t have a great answer to the question of why romance is reviled, except to suggest that it is easy to trivialize it because, on the surface, it doesn’t appear to demand as much from the writer or reader as other commercial fiction genres. Spy novels require “research,” mysteries can have “complicated” plot points, and so on. Love…well, that’s not so hard, right? I mean, we all know about love.
However, a well-written love story demands a ton of emotional investment, empathy, and psychological understanding from both the writer and reader. And talent? Let me suggest it is easier to create story tension when you have bad guys on the verge of destroying the planet than when you start with boy meets girl. Plus, every romance writer I know conducts research about their character’s professions, the setting, and other major elements of their stories.
A great romance gets to the heart of what makes life worth living. Mr. Anderson’s “money books” analogy doesn’t work, because money is not what makes our hearts beat. We don’t wax poetic about money. Money isn’t a dynamic thing. And acquisitiveness is generally not a respected trait (who likes greed?), while being loving/lovable/loved IS. Love and sex changes lives—ruins many (look at all the famous, powerful people who end up ruining their careers and families over love and sex)—and is infinitely more challenging and unpredictable than the pursuit of wealth.
To those who call romance “cheesy,” I think they are lumping the good in with the bad. There are poorly written books and characters in every genre, not just romance, so that reason for “hating romance” doesn’t resonate with me. I suspect many people who diss romance novels have probably not read many, or are taking a somewhat snobbish approach to “literature.” Romance novels (whether historical, paranormal, erotica or contemporary/women’s fiction) deliver several hours of entertainment, just like other commercial fiction does to its particular readership.
One response to Mr. Anderson’s post asked how anyone could read about relationships with happy endings over and over? Let me tell you, it is as easy as choosing to read spy or murder mysteries over and again (don’t the good guys usually beat the bad guys in the end?).
Commercial fiction is fun, fast-paced, escapist, and satisfying to readers of the particular genre in question. Romance writers are not trying to be literary writers. They aren’t trying to “enlighten” the world or impress anyone with their unique or profound take on life. They’re mostly hoping to entertain their fans with a fresh story about love.
I know that, as a new “nearly published” author, I still find myself feeling a bit apologetic when someone asks me what I write. Then, of course, I get angry with myself. After reading these recent essays, I’m going to stop apologizing. From now on, I’ll just look for fans who will appreciate what I have to offer, and stop worrying about all the people who will poke fun at my hard work.