Since I’m expecting edits back on my paranormal romance novel Smothered anytime now (as B.T. Clearwater, through Winlock Press), I thought it might be a good time to talk romance a bit. I know the romance genre gets a good bit of snickering and skeptical looks, especially when you toss “paranormal” or “supernatural” into the mix. That’s why some readers used to hide their romance novels with covers from other books, and part of the reason e-readers are so incredibly popular with the romance reader crowd. It allows discretion in the face of widespread derision.
Much of that derision comes from a lack of understanding of the genre itself, and part from the perception that the average romance reader has no romance in their own life and has to substitute fictional romance and love for the real things. Finally, at least among the author crowd, there’s some down-the-nose looks at the genre because it’s viewed as formulaic and of little literary value.
So first off, the genre is one of the most complex out there, with sub-genres like paranormal, historical, thriller-romance, fantasy-romance, medical romance, crime romance, and more. And that doesn’t even get into the types of relationships covered: straight, male on male, female on female, and so on. While there is certainly some use of formula, that’s true of any genre. Did anyone question why Star Wars (IV or VII) was pretty much the hero’s journey from start to finish? Or why the story lines in The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent were so similar? Nope, but heaven forbid romance writers follow a successful formula.
As far as the reader using romance to substitute for something lacking in their own lives, how’s that any different from any other genre? We read to escape our hum-drum lives. Does anyone think a fantasy reader runs around slaying trolls, or that a crime reader solves murders every day? Every work of fiction ever written filled a void for its readers, so why is romance any less valid for filling one?
Finally, let’s not forget that some of the all-time literary greats are romances. Pride and Prejudice, Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, Madame Bovary. Even The Princess Bride (OK, I threw that on there as one of MY all-time favorites). So to say they have no literary value, or to diminish their value based on genre alone, does the genre and its readers a great disservice. In fact, almost every full-length story ever written has some sort of romantic sub-plot in it. Why? Simple–it’s universal in its appeal and its empathy. Everyone understands love and the desire to be loved, so that kind of subplot–or main plot in the case of romance stories–brings people to the story who otherwise might not read it. Or it at least gives readers a story that they’re almost guaranteed to care about, no matter what they think of the rest of the book.
Romance corners something like 65% of the profits in the fiction world, so by sheer monetary value, numbers of readers, and volume of sales, it is a significant genre, like it or not. You can’t just write off numbers like that.
So here’s an exercise for you that should demonstrate the value of romance in storytelling. Make a list of ten novels that contain NO romantic sub-plots or relationships at all. If you can list ten, you’re probably doing better than most people.
If nothing else, it’ll be a difficult thing to do. By the end of it, I’ll bet you appreciate romance a bit more.