I made this helpful flowchart for people thinking about writing romance think pieces. pic.twitter.com/ALDJZxTgTj— sarah maclean (@sarahmaclean) February 19, 2016
Sarah Maclean posted this on twitter and it is glorious. I will proceed most carefully. Romance writers and fellow romance readers please don't kill if I screw this up. This myTake was inspired by similar articles written by fellow Romance bloggers.
Romance is one of the most successful genres in America it outsells fantasy, science fiction and mystery. It has made an estimated $1.35 billion in revenue just in 2010, yet it is purposely excluded from literary festivals and awards. It is also the genre that is most often criticized typically by men, but women are guilty of this as well. Women who read romance novels are often criticized as well. They are ashamed to admit to a love of romance novels out of fear that they will be seen as less intelligent, sad, lonely, unattractive, or sexually frustrated. So in order to shed some light on this often misunderstood genre I will be tackling the arguments I as a fan of romance am the most sick of hearing.
Here is the link to the survey questions for the infographics I will be using: http://www.dangerousbooksforgirls.com/surveys/
It is pretty interesting when comparing the question results of what readers think and what public opinion thinks.
Sooooo what is a romance novel?
A Romance novel and I'm going to quote Romance Writers of America (RWA) on this has, "Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality — ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction." and here's another one: "The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel."
Now parts of that explanation is debatable like whether or not romance novels can have happy endings or if the romance is always prioritized over plot. This often is not the case in a long standing series, there are times when a conflict (sub-plot) first must change a characters way of thinking before the romance can continue. There is a corresponding Romance sub-genre for every genre in fiction but the RWA only mentions 7 sub-genres, but there are even sub-sub-genres or tropes, Time Travel Romance for example. Now that you basically know what a Romance novel is lets move on to the matter at hand.
1. This (insert novel here) is bad so all romance novels must be just as bad.
Yeah I won't even. Check explanation above.
2. They are escapist literature.
Why yes they are as well as a many of fantasy and science fiction novel. Yet no one gets hounded for reading Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia.
Come to think of it that reminds me a certain C.S. Lewis quote from On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature, “Hence the uneasiness which they arouse in those who, for whatever reason, wish to keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict. That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of "escape." I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and hostile to, the idea of escape?" and gave the obvious answer: jailers.”
How do you do Mr. Jailer?
3. They are formulaic.
So have you ever heard of any fantasy novels recently where a youth is tasked to defeat a great evil with the help of a wise old wizard? How about a rebellious teenage girl tasked with over throwing an evil totalitarian government? Yeah that's strange so I have I. My point is all genres have a formula but having a formula does not make them formulaic. A genre is "a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter." after all.
Not all romance hero's are billionaire playboys that are tamed by naive, virginal heroines. I must admit "category" or series romances do follow a strict format these novels are typical published by Harlequin and they tend to be shorter than other romance novels. I resent their predictability so I studiously avoid them which is easy they are not difficult to recognize both the category and publisher is usually mentioned on the front cover. There is nothing wrong with liking a series romance however, some readers like my mother enjoy knowing exactly what to expect beforehand. That's not a bad thing.
The very many tropes and sub-genres that exist in romance is a testament to its complexity. There is most definitely room for diversity of course.
This is a very good article about Harlequin: http://pictorial.jezebel.com/how-harlequin-became-the-most-famous-name-in-romance-1692048963
Series Romance Book covers vs. The Immortals After Dark Paranormal Romance Book covers because I love these cover designs!
4. Romance Novels are like porn for women.
Porn often degrades women and the sex involved is just as often painful in nature. Though this may be true for all porn.There is good porn, but finding porn that does not make me cringe or want to barf is often a feat in and of itself. So naturally I find this comparison to porn puzzling. Not all romances novels even have sex scenes and are very light on sexual themes so the point is moot.
People who make this assumption need to understand not all romance novels or even Erotic Romance novels are like Fifty Shades of Grey (which as many a romance reader has agreed is terribly written). Bad romance novels always get more media and public attention than good ones. If romance novels however, are the female equivalent to pornography I'm not sure its really such a bad thing. Romance novels not only portray heroines with healthy sexual appetites but heroes who are supportive of this.
I must confess before romance novels I never wanted to have sex it always appeared painful and degrading. Sexual vocabulary did not help much with words like, gang bang, screw, fuck, nail. I even hated sexual joke and references. Reading romantic fan fiction helped me a little but it wasn't until I started reading adult romances novels did my feeling about sex truly change. Romance novels, good romance novels have helped me and so many other women take back what porn took away our sensual expression.
The argument that romance is porn rather than legitimate literature demonstrates how our society belittles things that are feminine. Themes with action, crime, science fiction, are more masculine so are more valid than a subject matter that focuses on emotions and love even when the subject matter includes those themes. WTF SOCIETY!
5. Romance novels give women unrealistic expectations about relationships by making women want "perfect" guys.
I have not built an expectation for a seven feet tall centuries old vampire who doesn't look a day over 30 with a huge dick that also just so happens to be a billionaire because I read Paranormal Romance novels (and the Lord knows I do not want an Edward Cullen ew). Not just because that would be stereotyping vampires. How dare I think of such a thing! VAMPIRES ARE PEOPLE TO! (not all PR novels are about vampires anyway) But mainly because I do have common sense and any woman with half a brain would know this as well.
Saying that Romance novels give women unrealistic expectations about relationships is like saying people who watch Criminal Minds all want to become serial killers (Shh... I won't tell if you don't). Not only is this belittling it is down right insulting. Besides not all romance heroes are perfect, far from it actually and can have deep emotional flaws. Flaws that can often be traced back to event that took place in their pasts which can be as tame as a previous failed relationship or a promiscuous past, to the traumatic loss of a loved one, or even childhood sexual abuse. If the characters are perfect it really wouldn't make much for a story. Good romance heroes and heroines have flaws and together they make each other better.
Here is an article about how some romance authors have attacked writing about sexually abused heroes: http://happyeverafter.usatoday.com/2015/02/10/kennedy-ryan-be-mine-forever-sexually-abused-heroes/
Then there are novels with socially awkward heroes or introverted heroes like Ivan from Delphine Dryden's The Theory of Attraction or Judd from Nalini Singh's Caressed By Ice.
6. Romance novels encourage abusive relationships by making women want "bad boys".
Hello, do you know the person who came up with argument #5 by any chance? This is no less insulting both are based on the same deluded misconception that romance readers cannot distinguish fact from fiction. Good romance novels tend to have the opposite effect by showing what a positive relationship can do. I'll address that in a minute but first look at this image:( https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/read-for-pixels-2016-iwd-edition#/)
The Pixel Project is a global effort to raise awareness about domestic violence against women and girls. This image is from their International Women’s Day edition of “Read For Pixels" for 2016 year not all but most of these writers write romance. These award winning authors donated not only merchandise but time spent on doing a google hang session to discuss why they support ending violence against women. No genre of fictitious literature arguably (though I highly doubt it) addresses the issues of domestic or sexual violence as often as Romance novels do from the female perspective. The character's experiences may strike a chord in women who even may be in abusive relationships and not even know it. (http://booksbywomen.org/when-love-twists-into-abuse-by-chantel-rhondeau/)
So good Romance novels can actually do a lot more good then anyone can imagine. Just seeing the strong stable relationships depicted in romance novels may give them the strength they need to leave a abusive relationship. I have seen quite a few accounts of this actually taking place rather than encouraging abusive relationships romance novels appear to have the opposite effect. Now I have read of some women complaining about it affecting their marriages which makes one wonder. Did it have something to do with the heroines finding fulfilling love, having orgasmic sex, or being happy with their lives? Maybe all three?
7. Romance Novels are stupid.
There are some bad written books in romance just like any other genre but stupidity is subjective and this generalization implies by extension woman who read romance novels are stupid.
I don't think I can refute this better than in this article by Anne Browning Walker here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-browning-walker/romance-novels-smart-women_b_1660308.html
or Sarah Wendell's cause she's a badass: http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/2014/09/in-defense-of-romance-novels-or-imma-read-what-i-want/
8. The characters are physically flawless.
Uh kind of, sort of, generally, not really. Look, I really only pay attention to physical descriptions when I feel like it because by the end of the book the only thing that really matters is the love between the hero and heroine. However, if you must know there is such a thing as a BBW Romance where the women is plus-sized this trope is most easily found in the paranormal and erotic romance genres. I know the Paranormal Romance author Milly Taiden loves writing these things.
As for the hero...
One must remember when a heroine describes her male as perfect it is according to her own preferences. Heroes tend to differ in physicality much more often then in heroines from my experience. There are a lot of warrior heroes with scars or maybe some rough around the edges heroes whom may have had there noses broken once or twice and have permanent stubble no matter how often they shave. Then there is Zsadist from J. W. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood who is all kinds of fucked up. To each her own I suppose. As for characters with disabilities those exist as well. I think there are about 616 books shelved in the Popular Disabled Hero Books on GoodReads.
9. The heroines are weak.
Ah. We have a name for that the infamous too stupid to live or TSTL heroine how I loathe them so. Those exists but so do the kick ass and independent heroines. There are so many kick ass heroines in romance I can't possible name them all. I admire them just as much as I admire the weaker yet intelligent heroines. There are so many great female characters in romance novels these days. I also must begrudgingly admit even TSTL heroines like Sookie Stackhouse possess an indomitable will no matter how many times they make me want to shout. WHY?! WHY SOOKIE? WHY MUST YOU KEEP DOING THE THING?! YOU SHOULD KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DO THE THING SOOKIE!
Ahem, but I digress....
10.Romance novels are not real literature.
Yes, yes they are. They can deal with vast complex issues have intricate worlds full of meaningful characters. They can make you laugh, cry, scream. They can make you feel. If that isn't literature I don't know what is.
"Romances tackle divisive issues like class, love, women’s sexuality and pleasure, rape, virginity, money, feminism, masculinity and equality—and ultimately how they’re all tangled up with each other. These books promote a woman’s right to make choices about her own life (and body). They take longstanding notions of masculinity and turn them around. They promote a different image of what it means to be a happy, desirable woman—one that doesn’t rely on the right shade of lipstick, but internal qualities instead. These books celebrate women who get out of the house and do all the things that, traditionally, young ladies and good girls don’t do." Maya Rodale from Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained