This one really isn’t about the actual novels, but about those who criticize Romance as a genre. In recent months, various people, from writers of literary fiction to someone calling herself an expert in psychology, have publicly bashed Romance.
Romance novels have been called everything from unrealistic and unimaginative to outright dangerous. The image of romance readers as vapid housewives fanning themselves and eating bonbons while reading about a pirate ravishing a virgin still prevails in some minds. The so-called danger comes in with accusations that Romance novels cause readers to have unrealistic expectations for their relationships. Readers supposedly expect their balding, slightly overweight accountant husband to behave like the virile, dashing hero. When the hero doesn’t fulfill those expectations, the reader becomes dissatisfied with her life.
While other genres are allowed to be blatantly unrealistic, with elves and fairies, aliens and spaceships, Romance is criticized for being unrealistic. The characters and relationships, the central focus of the book, bears the brunt of this criticism. A hero who is willing to listen to his heroine, or put her before himself, or even have her best interests at heart, is too unrealistic, as is the man who swoops to the rescue. Well, duh! The idea is to take the reader to a different place, where her dreams of the perfect man are realized, not where the man would rather watch the game and drink beer than spend time with her. The heroine draws her share of the hate, too, never mind that she’s meant to be the kind of woman the reader can wish circumstances allowed her to be.
And then there’s the belief that all Romance novels are written by the same formula. The only thing that changes, such critics say, is the name of the characters and details of the circumstances or conflict. This one is hard to refute at times, especially when some writers believe it as well. The fact is, some writers find a combination of factors that works for them, and continue to use it. Others start from scratch every single time. Part of what perpetuates this myth is that, in order to be a Romance, the focus of the novel must be the couple and their developing relationship, and there must be a Happily Ever After, or Happily For Now ending. Regardless of what other elements are present, if those aren’t there, it isn’t a Romance.
One of my favorites is the belief that Romance novels are easier to write than any other genre. People think all you do is plug the variables into the equation, add an exotic location, and viola, you have a Romance novel. Sorry, just not true. It doesn’t work that way. If anything, it’s more difficult to write a good romance, especially one of the many sub-genres. The author has to combine the romance with elements of another genre in a way that’s balanced, and satisfies the reader. A plot is absolutely essential. There has to be a source of conflict, either from outside sources, or internal – and in some cases, both. And the conflict must have a satisfactory solution.
And everyone knows Romance is full of poor writing and purple prose. Again, just not true. The quality of the writing in a Romance novel is just as high as any other genre. Sure, it might not be full of convoluted sentences and obscure words, but the standards are high for both traditionally, and e-published, novels. (Just like in any genre, self-published, or indie, novels vary in quality, depending on the ability of the writer and whether they’ve put the in the necessary time and work to prepare the book for publication.) As for the purple prose – yes, Romance novels written 20 or more years ago commonly used euphemism and purple prose to refer to the body parts and actions in intimate scenes. Social mores were different then, and the frank language of today wasn’t tolerated as well then. Today’s romances are written with mature language and eschew purple prose as much as any other genre.
To all those critics of Romance as a genre, I say: Our readers are educated and accomplished, from powerful CEOs, trial attorneys, teachers, parents and grad students. Our characters are as solid and well developed, maybe more so because of the very nature of Romance, as those of any other genre. Our stories are as well plotted and imaginative, and well written as those of any other genre. Our vocabulary is as complex and varied as as that of any other genre – with the possible exception of the fact that we don’t normally use obscure words that require our readers to stop every few sentences to refer to their collegiate dictionary. Yes, we write about fantastic heroes and heroines that our readers can imagine themselves in the place of. Rather than creating unrealistic expectations of relationships, our stories often inform readers of the ideal relationship. Sometimes, they have no other point of reference for ideal relationship standards. Yes, we do write fiction that allows our readers to escape their every day life for a while. Doesn’t everyone?
The following links are from both detractors and defenders of Romance as a genre.
- http://www.likesbooks.com/elaine.html is about a sociologist’s study of romance novels
- http://www.ajc.com/blogs/content/shared-blogs/ajc/woman/entries/2007/06/27/romance_novels.html is commentary about how ‘harmful’ romance novels are, and a rebuttal.
- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-elsner/how-romance-novels-take-t_b_377839.html How Romance Novels Take The Romance Out Of Romance
- http://www.ksl.com/?nid=1010&sid=15609384 Romance novels can be as addictive as pornography
- http://intrestingfactsandthoughts.blogspot.com/2011/07/romance-novels-harm-womens-emotional.html Romance Novels Harm Women’s Emotional Health ( a rebuttal)
- http://press.psprings.co.uk/JFPRH/july/JFPRH1100152.pdf a piece from the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, by a person pretending to be a practicing clinician to which there are numerous rebuttals all over the web
- And finally, http://www.readreactreview.com/2011/08/03/susan-quilliam-an-expert-in-what-exactly/#.Tjn4MU40DFg.twitter a writer digs into all of Susan Quilliam’s supposed credentials
What do you think? Are the critics right about Romance? Is their position founded on fact?