It’s February and with Valentine’s Day giving the month a romantic flavour, it’s a good time to talk about romance in fiction.
I’m not a Romance reader, but shhh! That wasn’t always so. As a teenager, I used to enjoy a good Romance story and if I’m honest with myself, I still do. Far be it from me to insult a genre or a reader who enjoys it!
The thing is, for me to call a Romance story a good Romance story, it has to satisfy the criteria for a good story. I don’t make allowances for genre. And quite honestly, Romance stories that focus exclusively on the romance aspects of the story don’t often qualify for the standards I set for any genre.
We’ve all heard of the imprints that churn out simplistic stories to feed a hungry readership for a quick emotional romantic fix. Let’s call them H and M&B. They are ever popular and have been around for decades, so there are a lot of readers who enjoy what they supply. I think most of us have at least had a look at one to see what they’re like. I have friends who read them regularly and I would not disparage their choice.
However, when I was in hospital a few years ago with a broken ankle and bored out of my mind, I wandered into a day room and found just one book sitting on a table, an H Romance. I tried to read it, I really did. I made allowances and even tried to convince myself that out of professional interest, I should try to look for the appeal. Half a chapter later, I decided I’d rather sit quietly and look at the wall.
The thing is, Romance doesn’t have to be insipid or thinly veiled soft porn. Yes, there is far too much of that sort of thing on the market and it makes it hard to find a book in the genre that might be a really well written story. Romance is well represented in the Classics; Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, even Shakespeare, Daphne du Maurier and Leo Tolstoy have written popular books that fall into the Romance genre. One of my favourite historical Classics, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, is basically a Romance story placed onto a historical background.
Apart from that, an element of romance can be found in most stories of other genres, whether movies or books. Where would Star Wars be without the romantic element between Han and Leia? Would Lord of the Rings suffer if we didn’t see Sam’s motivation for making the world a better place in his love for Eleanor? What about Tom Sawyer and his budding relationship with Becky Thatcher? Surely they marry as adults!
In many of my favourite Fantasy stories, including Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, a romantic entanglement between characters is woven into the overall story as a sub-plot. It gives a story depth to have more than one thing going on at a time. Saving the planet from a natural disaster, the relationship between dragons and riders and the attraction of two human characters makes for a nice balance.
A little romance can liven up most stories. A story about a romance can be well-written. I know this because I’ve read them, mostly in my younger days. Some have even stayed with me over the years, though I don’t remember titles. It is, after all, a key motivator in the human equation.
The self-publishing boom has seen an exponential rise in the soft porn end of the spectrum, which I personally have no interest in reading. There are many readers who seek it out though, so I expect it’s here to stay. Somewhere between the teen stories found in the ‘clean Romance’ category and the Romance stories with the isolated graphic sex scene that has become a sort of joke meme, surely there must be some good Romance stories like the kind I used to read. Perhaps we need a category for clean Romance directed at adult readers?
Somewhere within the slush of billionaires, highlanders and rakes, there must be some excellent stories of the ilk that become Classics. After all, everyone has a little romance in their soul, don’t they?
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