For those venturing unwary into this realm, be aware the meaning of romance has changed a lot in the last few decades…. er… century, whatever.
In my grandfather’s day what Dumas wrote and what Sir Walter Scott wrote were romances. They were more or less what we’d call “fanciful adventures set in another time.”
Now things have changed, but perhaps not the way you think they have.
PARTICULARLY if you’re a man who has never given a thought to reading romances, and for whom romances are pink-covered books in some woman’s shelf (in Portugal they were mostly blue covered and at least the imprint my older cousin read was mostly about bullfighters, or at least that’s what I remember. Also the Portuguese notion of happily ever after is that he dies a brave death, possibly because of her, and she mourns him the rest of her life and possibly becomes a nun. Chacun son gout) your notion of romance is possibly completely far afield. As is your notion of erotica, I might add. (And since this is mostly about placing things on Amazon where potential readers can find them, please don’t tag things “erotica” of mature content. Put some warning on the description, but do not tag them that way, or no one will be able to find your book, sometimes not even with a direct search. You’ve been warned.)
Romance is not just a story in which two people find each other. Or even a story in which there is a couple who fall in love. Those do not count as romances, and please don’t even SECONDARILY tag them as romances, unless you REALLY like a lot of bad reviews.
Romance is THE story of two people finding each other. All other plots (and there are often a lot of them and I’ll get into it in later posts. In fact, when historical mystery was declared no longer welcome in traditional publishing, 12? 15? years ago, a lot of the writers moved on to historical romance. I was delighted to find them again, and didn’t mind that the thrust of the book had changed. Of main importance now was the romance, and the mystery was the subplot.
Mind you, some authors balance it so carefully that you have to think hard whether it’s romance or mystery, and it could be both, but if you’re aiming to write (and tag) a book as romance, you still need to give the romance AT LEAST equal weight.
We all know the plot of romance, right? Boy meets girl (or boy. Girl in this case just means the love interest, same as boy. It’s easier to do it this way, but there are plenty of m/m and f/f romances out there. And some of them even sell) boy loses girl, boy gets girl.
This plot sketch is about as accurate as saying that science fiction is about “new gadget changes things; guy solves gadget problems; guy is hero” or mystery is “Murder happens; person solves murder; the end.”
There are beats in romance, there are cookies, there are various things the readers expect. Romance stretches from historical to near erotica (erotica is something different) and they’re no more the same than the various type of sf or fantasy or mystery.
Romance is normally despised, not particularly because it’s a genre for women, but because it’s both a genre women like and that intellectuals and feminists despise. My brother, one of each, ditto, told me romance was the opium of womanhood, and that I should not read it, with the result I didn’t find Heyer until my friend Dave Freer shoved her under my nose and demanded I read her, well into my thirties.
I’m not a hundred percent sure why this is, except that feminists seem to believe a “perfect” liberated woman is a sort of ersatz man. They’re caught in the cross hairs of women being better and being EXACTLY like man. I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it.
Several tests have shown that women (STATISTICALLY, this does not mean the woman down the street or any woman. It means the statistical woman which means perhaps nothing for one woman, a little bit for another, and a whole lot for another. Not understanding and yet using statistics is the bane of our age) PREFER stories about people and interconnections between people, while men prefer stories about events. When teaching writing (voluntarily) to my sons’ classes starting in elementary I can tell you that preference starts very early, and no, I’m not going to discuss whether it’s innate or not. It’s lots of fun to discuss “if we made society gender neutral” but cultures are not so easily taken apart and replaced with another and all events in which this was tried throughout history ended in mass murder. So it’s a nice thought experiment, but no. If it happens it will be over millenia (and it might, since safe, reliable contraceptives have changed that equation and if we get artificial wombs it will change again more so) and is of no interest to us just now, except to those who write such speculative things.
There could be said to be evolutionary reasons for that too, but a lot devolves into just so stories.
Anyway, so, women who like romance don’t like it because it’s fluffy, or silly, or whatever the few remaining chauvinists (some of them male feminists) think, but because it is about the relationship between people.
And for those of you who are smacking lips, waggling eyebrows and going “eheheh relationship. Is that what they call it now?” Stop that.
Romances CAN be near erotica. They can also be “traditional” or “sweet” meaning ALMOST no sex. True, traditional publishers (no doubt afraid of being considered prudes) gave these short shrift, but they’re blooming in indie, like other despised genres such as historical mystery and military sf.) Don’t assume “romance” means erotica. That’s a stupid assumption.
So what defines a story as “romance” across the various subgenres?
Well, you remember that formula above? Find, lose, win? What it’s missing is the connection between those. A romance is the story of two people becoming worthy of each other and of loving each other through and despite trials and flaws.
The BIG emphasis in romance is character growth. Now, it’s specifically character growth with a view to love and happily ever after, in this case. But it’s the psychological growth of both that makes it a thing.
Next up: Jane Austen, mother of the romance genre.