What Romance means to me

Before everyone thinks this will be a whiny post about how my husband doesn’t buy me enough flowers or chocolates (he doesn’t, but he’s awesome in other ways), I mean Romance as a genre, not as the stuff couples do for each other.

As a secondary title I should probably add that this post is also about what I want from Romance, since that’s a highly personalised thing.

Anyway, I’ve never really bothered to read a proper definition of Romance. It’s such a huge genre – with so many sub-genres – that I’d get mired in the details and technicalities, and I really have no desire to do so. As far as I’m concerned, whether you’re reading Contemporary, Regency, Historical, Paranormal, Christian, Steampunk, LGBT or Fantasy romance, the book only needs three things:

– A storyline that revolves around two protagonists who will at some point in the book form a relationship

– Some sort of conflict that either keeps them apart or stops their relationship from becoming permanent and/or ‘real’ (eg. more than a marriage of convenience)

– A happy ending, or the Happily Ever After (HEA), as it’s usually abbreviated.

I honestly have no idea whether that matches the ‘accepted’ definition of Romance, but to me a book needs all three of these to be a proper Romance novel. I once read a shitty historical Mills & Boon where the heroine married the hero in chapter three and they spent the rest of the book being sappy at each other while some other random shit was going on in the background. He bought her dresses and a cow, she cooked him meals, and the whole thing bored me to tears, because there was no narrative tension in their relationship whatsoever. I don’t care that you know they’re going to end up together, the book has to at least pretend that that end result isn’t a given. The fun is in finding out how they get to the HEA.

Which brings me to what I want from a Romance novel (and which is therefore what I try to provide in my own writing). I have been following some Romance forums for a few months now, and I’m baffled by the people who post that they’re bored of superpretty heroes or heroines (or both), that they’re bored of alpha males, that they want their romance to be more realistic. One person said that they looked forward to a book that would make them root for an ageing, balding, thick-around-the-middle hero.

Now, everyone has their opinion of course, but for me the whole point about Romance is that it’s extreme escapism. I want a book where I can lose myself in a world where everyone is pretty, or charismatic, or attractive in a rugged way, or whatever. If someone can make a short, bald and fat guy believable as a romantic hero then more power to them, but I’ll be disappointed that my hero isn’t tall, dark and handsome. Does that make me shallow? Quite probably, but I want my book to take me away from the drab reality of average looking men and women and make me swoon over the hero’s rugged manliness.

In my own book I have solved this conundrum by making my protagonists half-elves, which basically means that they look like humans, except they’re really good-looking and have pointy ears. They get their physique from their human parent, and the looks from their ethereally beautiful elf parent. Added bonus? No beards. Not in my world at least. Elves have no facial hair (except eyebrows of course), so neither do half-elves. Why? Because I don’t like beards, and this is my world.

So, while I want my hero and heroine to be at least moderately attractive, I’m also quite picky about the men. I like my men dark, and I dislike blue eyes. I won’t say that I’ll stop reading if the book has a blond, blue-eyed hero, but deep down I’ll be disappointed, especially if he’s otherwise really likeable or swoonworthy. All throughout the book I’ll be thinking, ‘Aww, he’s so awesome! Shame he’s blond…’

Did I mention that I’m shallow like that? I’m not ashamed of it either. The heroes in my book will always have dark hair, and will never have blue eyes. I can confidently state that, since I’ve only written three(ish) books so far. Maybe if I ever become as prolific as Nora Roberts (yeah right) I might throw in some blondies, but don’t count on it.

Heroines I’m not fussy about, but that’s because I don’t need to fancy them. Being pretty is still a bonus though.

Where I want believability is in the relationship itself. I have no problem with love or lust at first sight, or any other cliche you want to throw at me, but I want to believe that there is a reason why the hero and the heroine fall for each other. One of the most common tropes in Romance is the arrogant arsehole hero, and while I have no inherent problems with that stereotype (hell, I’ve used him myself), what does frustrate me is when the heroine falls at his feet in a melting puddle when he’s been nothing but an arrogant arsehole. Show me some hidden qualities, give me some demonstration to indicate that he’s more than that, that there are good qualities lurking beneath the arseholery, and then I’ll believe that the heroine will fall for him.

Similarly, I’m fine with the hero and heroine lusting after each other like rampant rabbits, but don’t give me any shit about how they’re soulmates when all they’ve shared so far are two awkward conversations and a lot of smouldering looks.

The conflict is a bit of a tricky one though. I’m always amazed at the many different variations authors can think of to keep two people apart, and quite often it’s all a matter of extreme miscommunication. Again, I can’t pretend that I have a problem with this, because this too is something I have used myself. Where the difficulty lies is in how believable the reason for the miscommunication is. Sometimes it works, and sometimes you end up going through the entire book wanting nothing more than to smack the hero and heroine’s heads together repeatedly. (As my writer friend so eloquently puts it: you want to kick them until the stupid falls out.)

I suppose that level of believability was the hardest thing for me to put into my own book. My hero is an arrogant twat when you first meet him, but he’s also drop-dead gorgeous, so my heroine melts into a puddle of lust at the sight of him, then spends most of her time being incredibly annoyed at feeling that way, because he’s a twat. But when her feelings change (and I hardly think I’m giving away spoilers here when I say that they most definitely do), I hope people can understand why. It’s the same with the miscommunication thing. I suppose I’ll succeed with some people and I won’t with others, because that’s the way the cookie crumbles, but I just hope I’ll have more people in the former camp than in the latter.

Apart from that I’m pretty easy in my Romance wishes. I prefer books where the heroine doesn’t end up pregnant, or isn’t a single mother or something, but that’s just because I really don’t have a thing for children. I also realise that there are many, many women out there who love children, and who read a lot of Romance, so I’m really not going to quibble about the fact that the genre caters for them.

There is one thing that I do very much prefer in my Romance though, and that’s sex. That subject is big enough to warrant a post all by itself though, which is what I intend to do soon. Maybe next week, though probably not.

So, Romance readers, what do you want out of your genre? I’d love it if you commented to let me know.


6 thoughts on “What Romance means to me

  1. Kira Lyn Blue

    “… don’t give me any shit about how they’re soulmates when all they’ve shared so far are two awkward conversations and a lot of smouldering looks.”

    This! Yesyesyes, this! I also heartily agree with the arsehole who’s softer side is brought out by the female protagonist. I’ve come across quite a few romance books lately where the man’s a jackass with few redeeming qualities and the “heroine” still turns to goo around him. I could actually make an argument for this being all too realistic, which makes me sad. I don’t really want “realism”, just believable relationship issues to work through and sexual tension.

    I do need my romance characters to be hot and don’t care if it’s shallow of me. However, I also prefer them to be broken and/or flawed. I like seeing how two messed up people work past their issues and become something better when they’re together.

    1. Erica Dakin Post author

      I’m so with you on the redeeming qualities. I still don’t get why everyone gets so mushy about Christian Grey when I couldn’t find a single thing to like about him. I don’t necessarily need my hero(ine) to be broken though – just not perfect.

  2. tktrian

    Good post! I don’t really read romance, mostly because that type of escapism just doesn’t appeal to me. Juliette Benzoni’s Marianne books have won my heart though. Marianne, as a heroine, is just amazing. I mean, she kicks ass even though a lot of really bad shit happens to her. I also like a couple of Margit Sandemo’s novels. That woman has pretty much led the life she portrays in her novels. I prefer realism, characters I can relate to, so if the story has some overtly pretty protagonists who are awesome at everything, I put the book down. No thanks, boring. I’m a monogamist, but it’d be interesting to read a romance about a polygamous relationship.
    -K. Trian

    1. Erica Dakin Post author

      Just read your post on that, that series looks interesting! Might have to put it on my ever-growing ‘to read’ pile. (Sometimes I kinda regret joining Goodreads.)
      As for the Romance thing – it’s not for everyone. That said, my characters are definitely not perfect, just pretty. =)
      Polygamous relationships are interesting, and I wish there were more of them in books (or maybe there are and I’ve just not found them yet). I might try my hand at it sometime!

      1. tktrian

        I think I’m just of the type who prefers genre-benders. I love a realistic heavy-action story which is also romantic. I think that was one reason why I really liked Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy: characters’ romantic needs were also taken into account amidst all the sword-play and magic. Maybe that’s why Marianne books appeal to me; there’s lots of violence and political turmoil as well. Besides, 19th century Europe makes a charming setting. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Guilty Pleasures: It’s Roman Historique, Not Chick Lit! | T. K. Trian's Literary World

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