Today is 20 August 2015. I’ve been running the Brain to Books Blog Tour now since 24 July 2015, but 18 July 2015 was slightly different. In addition to her post, author Rosanna Leo, included this in her post.
I’d like to thank Angela very much for hosting me on this fun blog tour. It’s a pleasure to be here.
A lot of people have asked me why I write romance. My first response is, “Why not? I love it.”
There are still a lot of folks out there who pooh-pooh romance for its sense of fantasy. After all, real life isn’t anything like the implausible scenarios we see in these books, is it? Well, this is exactly what readers appreciate about a good romance.
It’s not real life. It’s something better. Certainly, it’s something different.
Romance provides an escape. I think most romance readers would agree there is almost nothing better than cuddling up with a new book at the end of the day and watching a new set of characters fall in love. We live vicariously through these lovers. We get to visit exotic locations with them and embark on adventures. We get to be someone we’ve never been before.
I love providing my readers with this escape factor. A good romance provides sanctuary from everyday problems and trials. Sure, romance plots can sometimes seem over-the-top. That’s what makes them fun and exciting.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my life. I just like hanging out with sexy shape shifters here and there as well. They amuse me and inspire me, and after closing the book, I return to real life a little happier.
I was so moved after reading this, that I contacted the author and extended my thanks. But it wasn’t just Rosanna’s lovely acknowledgement that warmed my heart. It was what she said about romance.
Romance books take a lot of abuse. A lot. Romance authors are not taken seriously. At all. During the period where I studied writing, I read more than twenty romance novels. In fact, I read two books from every genre to examine the style and the form, but mostly…I needed to determine what I wanted to write. When I dipped my toes into romance, I was floored to learned there were so many subgenres. I ended up reading a lot of romance to determine what I liked.
In the end, I enjoy Karen Marie Moning…and “The Prize” by Julie Garwood. But I am still looking at this genre and thinking, “Why? Why would anyone commit their time to a simple, seemingly shallow story about love? No moral to be learned. No deeper meaning. Just simple, “They met and fell in love…BUT…” Rosanna answers this question beautifully!
I am a multi-genre author who will read…pretty much anything. If the story looks good…and is well written…I will read it no matter the genre. This has allowed me to explore genres like mentor books (Aaron Copeland), memoirs (Finding Me), Biographies (Glenn Gould and Ayn Rand), nonfiction (A World Lit Only By Fire), How-To Books (Gisela Hausmann), science fiction (Douglas Adams and H.G. Wells), Romance (Julie Garwood), Paranormal Romance (Karen Marie Moning), fantasy (Tolkien), horror (Stephen King) and modern fiction (Dan Brown). An open mind opens the door to endless knowledge. (Oooh! That’s catchy!)
This is where I pull on the finest expert I know on this subject. Angela Dukes. Since infancy, this woman listened to romance novels being read to her as a “bed time story.” Dukes has read more than 5,000 romance novels and boasts a very unique skill. “I can match up any woman to a Julie Garwood book.” And she can! She chose The Prize for me and I fell into this historical romance. A lot of this book influenced my own story telling. I adore the book and it is the only Julie Garwood book I love. I loathed all the others and yes…I had to read all the others after reading The Prize.
Here is what Dukes says about romance novels.
by Angela Dukes
Since the 15th century, demand for books has developed into a multi-billion dollar business, strategically evolving to satisfy readers across all genres—non-fiction, fiction, and children’s literature. Most publishing houses can annually rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue per genre, with the exception of one, that can single handedly generate billions. Ironically, this genre is associated with a lot of myths and criticism. That’s right, I’m talking about romance stories.
Romantics, a term used to describe romance readers and writers, are often associated with being excessively emotional, irrational, and impractical. Non-romantics hear the term “romance novel” and ta-bing! their eyes roll as images of half-naked people provocatively posed on book covers filled with sexual euphemisms, such as “throbbing members” and “heaving bosom” form. Non-romantics purse their lips in distaste at the idea of spending time on 200+ pages of serenades, self-proclamations, unrequited feelings, dramatized interactions, idealistic notions, improbable events, and overly embellished sexual acts. Non-romantics think romantics are just dissatisfied females seeking to escape their lives by vicariously experiencing their unfulfilled fantasies through fictional characters.
Criticism for romance novels sprout from multiple directions including academics, other writers, and religious institutions. Some view reading romance stories as a waste of time and energy. Love cannot conquer all. Encouraging this ideology is detrimental. Romantic stories create disillusioned women with unrealistic expectations about the real world, real people, real relationships, and real life.
When I hear this sort of talk, I feel a burning deep in the pit of my stomach. Even after eating lunch, this burning persistently blazes hotter in anger. I loathe misinformation. Therefore, I am compelled to debunk the myths associated with my beloved genre by sharing history and experiences.
Disclaimer: I am entering “lecture” mode.
Myth #1: “Romance stories offer an escape.”
Truth: Romance is entertaining.
“Romance stories offers an escape” is a catchphrase created by publishing advertisers from the Great Depression Era. The catchphrase was part of a marketing strategy to increase mass market book sales. Anything that provides a getaway from daily routine is offering an escape. This includes sports, entertainment, a nap, or even spending time with friends. Marketing geniuses, your ploy worked amazingly! Romantics are not even aware of why they are enjoying themselves, instead they automatically responding with your catchphrase.
So, if it is not for an “escape”, why are romance stories so popular? Romance stories are mental amusement parks offering simple and pleasurable entertainment. Prior to strapping into any amusement ride, an adventurer already knows the outcome. This is true for romantics, who know from page one that the lovers live happily ever after. There is absolutely no pondering over the story’s conclusion. How can that possibly be entertaining? Any adventurer or romantic knows the thrill is in the journey, not the destination.
Myth # 2: “Romance is chick lit.”
Truth: Romance stories are not determined by the sex of the romantic.
Romance and chick lit are different, unrelated genres. Chick lit (yes this is a real thing) is a sub genre of women’s literature. Women’s literature is specific to female-related concerns and challenges such as secular success, sexual exploration, health or cultural issues, or spiritual enlightenment, and self-discovery. Neither women’s literature nor chick lit require the presence of romantic elements.
Romance is perceived through sexism-tinted glasses. It is one of the few forms of entertainment that changes people’s perception of both product and consumer. Romantics are generalized as females or to be involved with “female thinking”. This mentality is popular despite contrary information. Not only do men indulge in romance stories–almost a fifth of today’s buyers– they also represent an increasing percentage of genre writers.
Romance stories have been around for ages, tucked away in recounted fairy tales, mythologies, and chivalrous stories such as King Arthur or Tristian and Isolde. Some of the greatest literary novels were romances written, not just by women like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, but by men like Homer, William Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, and the Grimm Brothers. Even today, we have successful male romantics contributing to the genre like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Boris Pasternak, Nicholas Sparks, and Harold Lowry, a best-selling romance author and former president of Romance Writers of America.
Myth #3: “Romance stories are all the same.”
Truth: Variety exists among romantic stories.
Okay, technically, this one is a half-truth, but please, stay with me on this and you will understand why it is included. Any story line can include romantic elements. This is not what makes the story into a romance. The romantic relationship between characters can be some of the events included within a larger story arc. Take some of these familiar fictional couples, Superman and Lois Lane; Han Solo and Princess Lea; Arwen and Argorn; and Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, the love between these characters was not the central theme of these tales.
Romance stories are complicated constructions with rules including structure, sub-genres, and form. Along with the basic elements of storytelling, romance story arcs must maintain a strict foundation consisting of four elements:
- Theme: the romantic relationship between two characters is developed throughout the story line.
- Co-protagonists — People that a romantic can relate to and wishes to spend hours with believing in and supporting even after the story ends. They often are attractive people with endearing personality traits, realistic flaws, and problems.
Note: a skilled writer through detailed characterization can create balance for the reader: attraction to the co-protagonists and the idea that achieving long-term happiness with each other.
- Traditional western romances co-protagonists are heterosexual Caucasians. In more contemporary writings, the couples can be of any race or sexual orientation.
- Conflict: the story line must contain at least one literary conflict–man vs. self; man vs. environment; man vs. man–which is the obstacle to the lovers being together.
- The heart, (pun intended) of the story are these conflict(s). Think of the adage: “It’s a classic tale of hero meets heroine. Heroine/Hero is placed in a distressing situation by an antagonist. Heroine/Hero go through a series of challenging events and learn about themselves to help defeat antagonist.” If the theme was the story arc it would be: “Hero meets heroine. They live happily ever after. The end.” Dull.
Note: Writers can create as many complicated, insurmountable conflicts desired. Some writers choose to resolve conflicts through the protagonist’s personal growth and development or direct confrontation.
- Emotional content: Personal feelings are explored. True happiness or contentment is discovered, then achieved.
- Love is the primary focus, secondary to achieving eternal happiness. Writers delve into the psychology of attraction, sex, relationships, and falling in love. They touch upon Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the philosophy of happiness, and the dichotomy of single life vs. partnered life. Without some basic concepts of behavioral and cognitive psychology, the created emotions can seem implausible disintegrating the romantic feelings.
Note: The majority of romance writers are not psychologists, however, they do spend a lot of time inside the minds of their characters to create a feasible romantic relationship.
- Conclusion: the major conflicts must be resolved and the ending includes the couple’s reunion.
- The writer’s conclusion must be emotionally satisfying. Some stories can overflow with emotion. Love between the characters is acknowledged by both, life-long commitments are made, and all major conflicts resolved.
Romantic genres fluctuate and evolve with time and trends. Genres can decided by specific story elements such as the characters, setting, erotic content, or story arc.
- Historical Romances: take place before 1950. (This marker can change as time progresses.) These stories often include detailed descriptions regarding the period, social issues, history, and culture.
- Dark Ages-Renaissance Ages: usually set in a European country. Popular choices include stories featuring Vikings, Highlanders, or the higher lords of feudalism.
- Age of Exploration: Pirates, explorers, or invaders.
- Regency Romances: Victorian England with a lot of focus on marriage for social status vs. romantic love. These stories often include descriptions about social practices of high-society England.
- War: Major conflicts from 18th century to 20th century
- Westerns: Western Expansion in America
- Contemporary Romances: take place after 1950 to present. Most contemporary storylines focuses on internal conflicts impeding the couple.
- Time-traveling Romances: one of the protagonists are shifted to a different time period where they meet and fall in love with the other protagonist.
- Suspense/Thrillers: story arc is built around crime solving or surviving a perilous situation.
- Inspirational: spiritual or religious beliefs are major part of theme and/or story arc. These can include exploring personal relationships with God or personal spirituality.
- Paranormal: — major story line may include non-human characters or other fantasy/sci-fi elements. Characters can have super-human abilities like telepathy, immortality, or flying.
- Mythological creatures
- Erotic:–major story lines include frequent, explicit sexual encounters.
- BDSM: includes elements of sexual fetishes
- Young Adult: features teenagers as the co-protagonists.
Simply put, a writer could create a story line involving teenage vampires, who are thrown into separate dimensions and centuries due to an enchantment by an unknown witch. As long as the story line is within the romance foundation, all is well.
The last distinction among romance stories are the formats: category and single-titles. This is a distinct publishing feature, identifiable by romantics, even if they are unfamiliar with the proper terminology. The most recognizable category romances are the ones published by Harlequin Enterprises. They are distinguished by a number on the spine, indicating they were part of a publication series, and their mass market sized. The book is approximately 200 pages or 55,000. Category romances can easily be found in the book aisle of any grocery stores, library carousels, and bookshelves. Single-title romances range from 300-400 pages or 100,000-110,000 words. They can be published as a hardcover, mass market, or e-books. Some writers will produce subject series or multiple single-titles with interconnected characters. Some romance writers collaborate with each other to create an anthologies.
Myth # 4: “Romance stories are just sex on paper.”
Truth: Sexual content is not a requirement for a romantic story.
When I was ten years old, I would swap category romances with my mother and fifth-grade teacher. By my third book, I had figured somewhere between pages 88-101, I could read kissing scenes. By the time I switched over to single-title romances, I was a veteran, a romantically well-versed thirteen-year old and realized some stories exclude sex. Sexual content was the writer’s discretion and could be used as part of the relationship’s development. To find the books with the arousing scenes, I would break the cardinal rule of reading– cover judging. Cover art could reveal the sexual content awaiting inside for me. Every detail, including clothing provided hints. I had it down to an indisputable science:
- Fully clothed couple flirting = 0-1 scenes none – minimal descriptive language.
- Scantily clad couple embracing = 1-3 scenes minimal -mild descriptive language
- Sexy topless male posing = 1-3 scenes mild-explicit descriptive language.
- Innocent landscapes or objects = 3+ scenes explicit descriptive language.
- Vintage costumes or older hairstyles = no premarital sex.
Retrospectively, I can tell you my science was not exact. Cover art changes, it’s part of the marketing strategy to attract readers. The only way to know how erotic the book can be is to read it or be familiar with the author.
Sex scenes are influenced by current social paradigms. It used to be common for the hero to rape the heroine. This reflected a social viewpoint that only immoral women have premarital sex. Currently, sexual exploration is more acceptable. Sex scenes are bolder in language and action and between two consenting adults with various levels of sexual experience.
Myth # 5: “Romance stories make readers unrealistic.”
Truth: Romance stories make readers happy.
Romance stories offer something personal to each reader. This could be arousal, empowerment, enlightenment, or encouragement. Once the story concludes, the romantic walks away smiling and amused.
Converting non-romantics into romantics is not on my agenda. Instead, I hope to stop a few from smirking at romantics, by providing them with insight about the popular genre.
Back to Chrysler…
After my literary wanderings (yes…there is such a things), I have located my own style of romance and part of me craves to write it. Mine is a colder, harsher reality for my lovers. My happy endings have to be earned…if they happen at all. But their love is deeper, strong, immortal. Only through their love for each other can they hope to gain immortality. The depths of love can’t truly be tested or felt without the bitter taste of pain. This is my idea of a romance…and I’m going to write them!
What do you think?
The views expressed herein are the views and opinions of the authors only and do not reflect the views or opinions of others.