Romance. What’s it good for?

I am not one of those website owners who is good at discussing opinions. I don’t think I’ve ever waxed poetic about the future of speculative fiction or (insert cataclysmic, genre specific topic here). I’m not good at it. That, and I enjoy reading books more than pondering my navel. Anyway, Bastard Books asked me a little while ago to write a thing about why I don’t like urban fantasy. I had a very hard time with coming up with the deeper reason why the genre bothers me so much, but I eventually came up with something and wrote about it.

This got me thinking. I also really, really don’t like romance. I mean, really. However, I’ve never really read enough of it to understand why I don’t like it, or grow any form of respect toward the genre. That in mind, I decided it was time to figure out why romance bothers me and in order to do this fairly, I have spent the past few weeks reading paranormal romance books, and fantasy romance. It was thrilling, let me tell you. However, this did accomplish the two things I wanted it to accomplish. First, I have a bit more respect for romance in general and secondly, I have figured out why I really don’t like it.

I guess today I will ponder my navel and let you know the various conclusions I have come to by reading something(s) that I normally wouldn’t, with a somewhat (okay, I really tried) open mind.

First, I have come to the conclusion that I take romance books way too seriously. Romance books, in general, are meant to help readers distract themselves from reality and really get lost in a plot that will make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Romance truly seems to be that one genre that is all about not thinking and just feeling. While I tend to struggle (and always have) with that kind of thing, I can see the appeal. I can also see how it could be hard for authors to write books that are realistically romancy (is that a word?) enough to really engage readers.

This leads into my major beef with romance. Much of it tends to be very similar, and after actually reading plenty of paranormal romance and fantasy romance books, I can attest to this with some bit of confidence. It’s got to be hard for authors to come up with a fresh, new and invigorating storyline that will truly engage readers while making them feel like they haven’t read it a hundred times before. The plots in many of these books follow the same patterns:

  1. We are introduced to a troubled girl with a dark/mysterious/depressing past
  2. We are introduced to a hunky guy who is equally dark/mysterious/troubled
  3. Hunky guy inevitably is ranked high within the social hierarchy.
  4. Girl and guy meet and are forced to work together to overcome some incredible chaotic and horribly stressful event.
  5. Despite much admiration of each other’s physical attributes, they realize that there can never be love between them.
  6. Through working together, they realize that they can’t live without each other. Cue sex scene(s).
  7. Problem is resolved and love is declared.

Really, I tried very hard to find a different general plot path than that and in every single book I read this was the structure. Perhaps this is my real issue with romance. While I might claim how unbelievable it all is, or that it’s a bit too warm and fuzzy for my taste, I actually found very little to complain about with the romance itself and found more to complain about with the structure of the books and how incredibly similar they are. I felt like I was reading those fill-in-the-blank word games. The adjectives, verbs and nouns were all different but the stories really weren’t.

It’s too bad, and I’m not sure the reason why the plots are all so similar. It must be harder to write unique romance than I expected. Some of the authors really do have an incredible flair for writing. I read some very descriptive, chilling and heart wrenching scenes which deserve the praise they are worthy of. However, they are all held back with these paint-by-numbers plots that allow for very little variation.

There is a difference between paranormal romance and fantasy romance that I did notice, and it was quite obvious once I thought about it. In PNR, the heroines tend to prove how tough and independent they are by quipping their way through the book. Fantasy romance tends to be much more serious. The struggles are more down to earth and while they (as I said above) tend to follow the same plot threads, there is very little look-at-how-tough-I-am-by-checking-out-my-hardcore-one liner moments.

This, also, got me to appreciate fantasy romance more than I appreciate PNR, which, probably due to the horrid one-liners that pepper the books, come off as being incredibly cheesy and very unbelievable. Fantasy romance came across as still cheesy in many respects, but also much more interesting. The authors have to not only develop a romance, but a secondary world, cultures and everything else that entails. This must take a lot more effort than their PNR counterparts, and it shows in their books. While they are (like everything) varying in levels of quality, they generally seem to take themselves a bit more seriously and the heart and soul moments of the book are easier to swallow and appreciate for that.

So, will romance books ever be my cup of tea? I doubt it. However, by reading a wide variety of romance I no longer run from them screaming. Yes, I know what to expect from these books and no, they don’t scratch the itch that I generally need to be scratched, but I can appreciate them more than I could before. It’s got to be hard for authors to write up a good romance where romance books are overflowing and being popped out like a polygamist’s babies (Okay, bad analogy. It’s the Utah in me.) by authors like Sherrilyn Kenyon and her ilk. (Really, how on earth can anyone write that many books, that fast?)

The thing is, people read these books to leave serious thought and reality behind. Romance readers tend to want to be swept away, to feel things that they forgot they could feel and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There truly are some good authors hidden within the shelves of factory written crap, and those authors deserve to be recognized and appreciated for their talent. It’s just unfortunate that they are so easily overlooked by shelves and shelves full of the same exact book, just with different titles and character names.

(If anyone is interested in seeing just what romance books I’ve read for this personal challenge, you can check out my “romance” shelf on Goodreads by clicking here. I tried hard to vary my selection of books to help me gain a more full understanding and well-rounded opinion of the reasons behind my obvious discrimination.)


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