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February 14, 2019

Romance Love: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Single rose close up with text: A Positive Look at the Romance Genre

It’s often not easy to be a romance author. Because we tend to write about women and sex and happiness, too many assume that we’re not intelligent—as though trying to find joy in life means that we can’t also have serious thoughts.

The time around Valentine’s Day can be especially trying. A whole day (or week) focused on love and romance brings out all types of naysayers of the romance genre.

Those who complain or look down on the genre often fall into one of three categories:

The Pearl-Clutchers…

“bodice-rippers”
“porn for women”
“mommy-porn”

Many denigrate the genre due to their assumptions usually based on decades-old stereotypes that no longer apply to 99% of current romance books. Just as society has evolved, so has the romance genre.

Far from the old Fabio romance covers, most modern books in the genre are about celebrating female agency and sexy consent, yet the complainers insist they know the facts despite not reading any recent releases. Or if they’ve read any, it was the extremely problematic Fifty Shades of Grey, and they judge the genre by the worst examples rather than the best (or even the average), despite the huge number of other options.

Some also just don’t like any reference to sexuality, and their insults ignore the existence of a whole subgenre of “sweet” romances, which end with a kiss or, at most, a closed door. And gee, for some reason, romance authors also get more snide comments about whether they test out scenarios from their writing than murder-mystery authors ever do. *sigh*

The “I Could Do That”s…

“unrealistic”
“formulaic”
“easy-to-write trash”

Others put down the genre for traits—like the required happy ending—that they see as “less than.” How can they believe that happiness is “easy” to write (after making the relationship seem doomed) and yet automatically unrealistic when we succeed?

Forget the naysayers, this #ValentinesDay, check out these positive articles about romance... Click To TweetIn truth, every genre has its conventions and expectations. The mystery genre expects the mystery to be solved, etc. Any “formula” is simply part of the nature of storytelling and the definition of the genre. And yet for mysteries, there aren’t scores of people claiming the genre is dangerous to read because it gives readers the wrong impression.

Yes, in real life, it often takes hard work to be happy, but it’d be depressing to insist that happiness doesn’t exist and is, in fact, unrealistic. And as for all those would-be romance authors? Creating happiness in fiction isn’t any easier, as we have to make happiness seem impossible…and then deliver it anyway. *smile*

The Confused…

“like Romeo and Juliet?”
“like Gone with the Wind?”
“like Nicholas Sparks?”

Worse is when the genre is judged by stories that aren’t even in the genre. That required happy ending? Yeah, romance readers are serious about that being part of the official definition. Tragedies might be stories about love, but they’re not part of the romance genre.

So it’s depressing to see scads of articles every Valentine’s Day with headlines like “10 Romance Books to Get in the Valentine’s Mood” and then notice the list is full of tragic titles like The Bridges of Madison County.

Or as romance author and Washington Post columnist Sarah MacLean put it:

Sure, some are always going to be unclear on the definition, but those who write about romance should know better. And if they don’t, romance fans would be happy to share countless favorites that better deserve to be on the lists.

The Bright Spots of Romance Coverage

Yet the coverage of the romance genre in conjunction with Valentine’s Day isn’t all bad this year. So rather than continue with complaints, let’s round up some of the better articles. *grin*

First up is Sarah MacLean’s attempt in her Washington Post column to balance out the scale of bad articles with a better one. She shares 5 legitimate romance novels so she doesn’t have to continue screaming “Not a romance novel!”

Goodreads developed a collection of articles for Romance Week 2019. Their articles include several lists that, shocker, actually lean heavily toward books that qualify as romance:

  • The Beginner’s Guide to Reading Romance
    While not every book on this list is a perfect example of a romance novel (for example, Me Before You fails the test on several levels), most of the books are, in fact, romances.
  • Top 100 Romance Novels on Goodreads
    Ditto for some of the books on this list (Gone with the Wind?) being “not a romance,” and the label of “Top 100” is wildly inaccurate for many of them, but again, most on the list are romances, so kudos.

Some of the other Goodreads articles weren’t about lists, but rather about insights into the romance genre and its readers and authors:

Finally, this article is a bit older and not specifically for Valentine’s Day, but it shares great insights into the best of the romance genre and purposeful depictions of consent:

I’m proud to write romances that highlight the importance of consent and healthy relationships, and I’m proud to be part of a genre filled with so many intelligent, talented authors. There’s nothing shameful about celebrating happiness and love.

So Happy Valentine’s Day! Celebrate by reading some good romance novels and/or good articles about romance. *grin*

Have you seen negative attitudes toward the romance genre? What category did the complaints fall under? Have you seen negative assumptions about romance authors? Do you have any examples of either of those issues to share? Have you seen other positive articles about romance this week?

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Thanks! Romance is still hugely popular but the women tend to be independent and have careers these days. Firefighter, surgeon, veterinarian, police dog handler, computer geek, lawyer…..

Sieran

Jami, yes, I still can’t believe how terribly ignorant some people are about romance. I snort at such black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking. Some people believe that “reality” equals tragedy. Actually, reality is diverse and complex. There are happy endings, sad endings, endings in between, as well as many stories after that “ending”, etc. (E.g. Someone who married their true love may lose them to cancer twelve years later. Or someone who was in an abusive relationship for years, one day escapes and finds someone who is much more worthy of their time. Or someone who had a mediocre marriage, becomes a single parent, but later develops a touchingly strong bond with their children. And these stories go on and on until they die. If you believe in the afterlife, the story doesn’t even end when they die!) Someone may also be having a happy ending relationship-wise, but a tragic ending career-wise. But the word “ending” is misleading, because life is dynamic and constantly changing, not static. Unless you are literally dead, life has no dead ends! And sometimes, bad events lead to good ones, and good events lead to bad ones. Hence the proverb, blessings in disguise. (E.g. You were fired from your beloved job. But then you find another job that you actually enjoy even more, and your colleagues respect you more at your new job.) In conclusion, some people have such a simplistic view of life that I am in awe at their ignorance. Furthermore, there are still people…  — Read More »

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