The Diversity of Romance – What is Romance Fiction, Really?
Here’s a question for you: Which of the following is a romance novel?
Answer: all of them. And each is a bestselling and/or award-winning book. Did you already know these are examples of the wide variety of romance fiction available, or is your perception of romance books limited to those with covers showing Fabio-esque men embracing buxom women?
I was inspired to write this post about the diversity of romance after reading Kat Mayo’s article on ABC’s The Drum in response to another article about romance feminism. Many of the comments on the articles showed just how many misconceptions there are about romance fiction. Some people look down on romance fiction as being ‘rubbish’, but many do so without having actually read books within the genre, or having read widely enough.
The view that romance novels give women unrealistic expectations about love and relationships and portray women that are disempowered beings desperate for a hero to rescue them is outdated. The majority of contemporary romance novels have empowered, strong, relatable women as characters, and often represent issues and challenges present in real life. And what’s so unrealistic about finding happiness with someone in a romantic relationship? It happens to many. Yes, there is divorce and broken families in society, but there is also love, commitment, respect, and satisfaction.
These books do not give women unrealistic expectations, they provide entertainment, relaxation, inspiration, and an example of what is possible. And they are FICTION. They are not a How-To guide on finding love. Just as crime and thrillers take readers on an intriguing, suspenseful journey with a satisfying conclusion, romance novels take readers on an enjoyable, emotional journey with a happy ending. There is nothing wrong with that.
Everyone is entitled to their own reading preferences of course, and not liking romance (or sci-fi, or fantasy, for that matter) is perfectly okay, but labelling all books in a genre as ‘rubbish’ is an opinion often given without adequate and fair appraisal of a variety of recent books in the genre. In many cases it is based on assumptions and stereotypical perceptions influenced by what people have seen in movies or in the media.
…So what makes each of the above mentioned books a romance? Regardless of the sub-genre or plot, they each have a romantic relationship as a crucial part of the story and a happy ending where the couple ends up together. It is about the journey, not the destination. Without the romance element the story wouldn’t quite be complete. The romance element may be the main component and driver of the story, or it may be a lesser though still significant part of the story.
Let’s look at each example…
Fast Forward is a time travel romantic comedy, with the main plot centring around a 25-year-old model stuck in the body of her 50-year-old self in the future. At first impressions, there doesn’t seem to be anything romantic about that, but crucial to the plot and her growth as a character is the development of her relationship with her future husband. Because the story wouldn’t be the same without the romantic element, it is not only a comedy and a paranormal/time travel story, but a romance. Some may also classify it as women’s fiction or chick lit, because of the story’s focus on the woman’s journey (however, there are male fans of the book too!) 😉
“A wonderful story that delivers a very powerful message underneath the humor and love – it’s not often that a romance novel makes me stop and think of my own life and choices, but Fast Forward does just that, which just adds to its appeal!”
Holiday Affair is a category romance (from Entangled Publishing’s ‘Indulgence’ imprint) in which the hero discovers his new neighbour and co-worker is the woman he had a one-night-stand with on a tropical holiday. A *category romance is a shorter novel (usually around 50,000 words) that adheres to certain guidelines and themes of a particular line or imprint, so readers know what to expect in terms of character types, settings, and/or heat level. In category romance, the romance is the main plot. There may be a small number of secondary characters and possibly a minor subplot, but not at the expense of the main romance storyline. *Note: Many people have the misconception that all romance is category romance – ie, the Mills & Boon type of book. Mills & Boon books are category romance, but not all category romance is published by Mills & Boon.
“A delightful tale of two people who have more in common than they think, but are scared to believe it. Neither one of them trusts that love-at-first-sight really could happen on vacation, even though it’s obvious that they are made for each other. Wonderful descriptions of the vacation scenery and a neat inside look at the academic world. I look forward to more from this author!”
Outback Dreams is a single title Australian rural romance about two best friends with dreams they’re each working towards, whose relationship becomes romantic and changes everything. In comparison to a category romance, a single title romance is a full length novel and contains secondary characters and sub-plots as well as the main romance. Rural romance is a popular genre about the lives and loves of people living and working on farms and in rural communities.
“OUTBACK DREAMS gently highlights the issue of having a family member with Autism and how it can affect the whole family … a perfect blend of romance, believable conflict, perfect miscommunication and a happy ever after”
Half Moon Bay is a romantic suspense novel written by airline pilot, Helene Young, about a woman running from her past who returns home to help her community, and an ex-soldier with secrets and trauma connecting him to her. Just like other thrillers, crime, and suspense novels, romantic suspense has all the plot twists and turns that keeps the reader turning the pages, but also focuses on the developing romance between the main characters as they deal with challenging circumstances that could either tear them apart or bring them closer together.
“I, too, have shied away from the “romance” genre, thinking Mills & Boon. However, I am now a convert to the romance / suspense genre, especially Helene Young’s books. Handsome men, whose characters develop into more than just a pretty face, alongside strong independent intelligent women are characters you will connect with.”
The Rosie Project is a hugely successful romantic comedy about a genetics professor with social difficulties who creates a questionnaire to see if he can find a wife, and one who is perfect for him. His perceptions about life and mishaps along the way create the comedic element, and with the plot revolving around finding a wife, romance and finding out if he’s capable of true love is a big part of the story.
“It is not the typical boy meets girl love story formula, and that is what makes it so good. What a refreshing take on the autism spectrum: it is varied, complex, but real and workable for many individuals. Lastly, what hope this book delivers: there is someone out there for everyone.”
…As you can see, there is much diversity in the romance fiction market, and these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Romance spans many other subgenres including historical, steampunk, paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi, erotic, contemporary and more. It is written mostly by women, but also by men, and read by both men and women. It can be about the variety and complexity of life, career, family, war, illness, history, time travel, mystery, or sexuality, with the uniting factor of how love impacts on the challenges and choices people make in life. Romance is diverse, and so are its writers and readers.
I’d like to propose a challenge for anyone that perceives romance books as ‘rubbish’: Read several current books in the genre before making that claim. Try the ones mentioned in this article, or read the winning books from the Australian Romance Readers Association Awards, and if you still think they’re rubbish, fair enough, at least you’ve read enough of a variety to make that personal judgement. But maybe these stories will entertain you and enlighten you as to the variety and depth of talent and storytelling ability in the romance fiction industry, which, by the way, keeps the book industry alive.
Happy reading! 🙂
Posted on April 19, 2014, in Books, General and tagged fast forward, half moon bay, holiday affair, misconceptions about romance novels, outback dreams, romance, romance books, romance feminism, romance fiction, romance novels, romance readers, the rosie project, what is romance. Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.
Well said Juliet. I would also like to go further and point to a blog I did a week or so ago that pointed out that classic novels and films are romances too. Currently I’m watching Ben Hur – a classic romance in the chivalric mould, Ivanhoe is another classic example – heck even the film Die Hard is a romance.
Why? Because romance explores the human condition at a visceral level. It encourages men to explore the full extent of the virtues of their masculinity – bravery and honour and women the virtues of their femininity – courage and compassion.
Life is a romance if we only open our eyes to it.
Well said too. There is romance in most fiction whether it be books or film, and it adds an element that connects people with human nature.
Excellent post Juliet. Great idea to show rather than just tell us just how diverse the Romance market is. A lot of people don’t realise that their fave movie, tv show or mini series also started off as romances written by romance writers.
Thanks Cassandra, that’s true.
Perfect. The world needs more explanatory posts like this. And also to learn the difference between erotica and romance…
Thanks Devika. Exactly… there is a big difference.
Since I made a change in genre from general/literary type fiction to romance, I find my former buyers don’t want to see what my new style is. There is implicit judgment that I have lost my wits and gone senile!!
That’s such a shame, it’s unbelievable how many misconceptions there are!
I still can’t help feeling sad at the sheer ignorance of so many “literary” commentators about the romance genre. Thank you for such a clear response, Juliet. I’ve shared this on my Facebook timeline but of course had to remind readers of my own sub-genre, inspirational romance.
Thanks for sharing the post, Mary. I think books that inspire hope and happiness are good for the world!
Great post Juliet. As you say the romance genre is now a lot broader than it used to be and not as simple as the girl meets boy and lives happily ever after mould it used to be. Hopefully with posts like this and the current discussion that’s taking place romance and romantic elements novels will soon be more widely appreciated.
Let’s hope so, Pamela! 🙂
Reblogged this on doingsomereading and commented:
Something helpful for those who’re curious about what I read.
Thanks for reblogging 🙂
Bravo Juliet! Great post!!
It’s a never ending battle. They (the gatekeeps of literature) just don’t see womens fiction as readable. It makes me sad that the romance genre is not recognised on the same level as other popular fiction.
We just have to don our armour and fight a harder battle.
Thanks Efthalia, we’ll keep reading what we want to read 🙂
Fantastic post! We all have romance in our lives, why not celebrate it?
Thanks! True, books are a great way to celebrate good things in life. 🙂
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