Thursday, February 14, 2008

Romance and Relationships

Over 25% of all books sold are romance. Why? I imagine there are a ton of reasons, but mostly, the reader knows up front that the book will end on a happy note.

Real life is often wrought with stressful situations, and relations between friends and lovers can prove difficult on the best of days. Romance books allow an escape from real-life trauma where the tension is only as real as the words on the paper, and any fighting is quickly solved by turning a page. And no matter what happens, true love triumphs over all odds.

So what makes the romance in a story work? There are a ton of great articles on the web that discuss what attracts men to women and vice versa. I read one just last night on the "scent of desire," that women are attracted to men whose MHC genes differ from theirs. Very interesting.

Information like this and other studies on the attraction between men and women provide the writer with tools that help make their stories more believable. Consider the eight stages of intimacy. If a writer has their characters jumping in bed without a good reason, then will the relationship be as believable as one in which the hero and heroine slowly evolve into a couple? Isn't that what romance is all about? The slow building of trust between two people destined to fulfill their heart's desires.

I read romance for the relationship that develops between the heroine and hero. Sex adds a bit of spice and is part of this budding connection, but should not overpower the true crux of the story. At least, that's true for me. I can't speak for others. I write romance for the same reason, to explore the many facets of the characters and their emerging love for each other.

To strengthen and layer, a good writer uses all the senses. Smell often triggers memories and a smell associated with a pleasant memory can make the hero or heroine take notice of each other. Touch provides a great timeline in the evolving relationship. It might begin with a very subtle touch of finger to skin that sends a tingle of awareness along nerve endings. As the couple becomes more comfortable with each other they hold hands and later hug and kiss. Sound can trigger many emotions. I'm very taken by the sound of my husband's deep voice, though I'm not sure why. Some people are more sensitive to sound than others. As for taste, many claim to be "turned on" by aphrodisiacs such as oysters or chocolate. Though scientific evidence doesn't support these claims, a well placed mention of some of these foods in a scene can trigger images in a reader's mind that allows the tension of the scene to mount. And last, but not least, the visual a writer creates enhances the reader's own imagination.

So, this Valentine's Day, I wish you the most romantic day. Surround yourself with lavendar and pumpkin pie, play soft, erotic music, prepare succulant dishes and curl on the couch with your love for an intimate and relaxing evening. But if your honey is miles away, curl up with your favorite romance. Imagination is the next best thing.