I recently wrote an article about how I fell in love with romance novels. Namely, how romance made me feel: the breathlessness at the beginning of the attraction, the physical ache in your chest when it seems the hero and heroine won’t end up together, and the near heart-bursting joy at the end of the book when they do. I was thinking about this, about all three of the feelings that–in my opinion–are requisite for a wonderful romance novel, and I realized something.
A lot of romance novels I’ve been reading over the past few years simply don’t meet all three requirements. And–also sadly–I have to admit that even my books to date have focused on one or two of these rather than all three.
Digging further, instead of “romance novel”, a lot of books that I’ve read in the past few years could be described as “lust-sex-heartbreak-HEA” novels. To me, they’re not the same at all. Part of it, I think, is that we as a society have become more skeptical and cynical in this first decade of the 21st century. It’s easier to believe in the heartache of a romance novel than in the actual romance (and please understand that I’m not talking about the HEA, but the journey of the couple to that HEA). I recently read my first book from a bestselling contemporary author, and I loved it. It didn’t need an intricate plot or anything extraordinary, because what made me fall in love with the characters and the book itself was how romantic it was. Imagine that. Yes, there was sex in it as well, and well-written sex, but the main focus of either character was not how to get into bed with the other; the focus was on their relationship and their growing love. It seems lately that I’ve read too many romance novels (and I’m not talking about erotic romances) where more attention is paid to physical desire than emotional development (i.e., turning the reader on instead of creating those warm, gushy feelings that made me fall in love with romance in the first place). I, like most readers, enjoy great sex scenes in the romance novels that I read–I believe they’re an integral part of the love story–but I want to see more from the relationship, to be honest.
This perspective has already changed my view toward my own writing. Recently I was plotting out a novella that, for some reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on, didn’t feel right. There was something missing. I knew there would be angst (lots of it!) and sex (of course), but something felt as if it were lacking. I would like to say that this was a momentary obtuseness on my part, but the truth is that until I wrote the above-mentioned article about why I fell in love with romance novels, I didn’t realize that the plot was focused more on heartache and lust than romance. And I’m a romance writer!
I truly felt as if a lightbulb had gone on in my head. When did the genre start moving away from the romantic side of romance? I’m certainly not saying there aren’t any books out there that are focused on romance (other JQ authors have wonderfully romantic books!), and I’m not even saying that this is prevalent among the genre–but it is something I’ve seen increasing lately. And it’s something that I’m committed to correcting in my own writing from now on.
Perhaps this is an epiphany only for me, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, as either a reader or a writer. Have you noticed a declining trend in the romance in romance novels? What are your requirements for a satisfactory “romance novel” that truly fits the term? Thank you for your comments!