Thursday, January 16, 2014

Following the Rules

Last week I entered a discussion on Goodreads about “Pet Peeves” in romance novels. I shared some readers’ opinions. For example, I hate long, drawn out arguments and witless heroines. Other readers identified things that don’t bother me at all. One can’t stand novels where the hero isn’t handsome and the heroine isn’t beautiful. I like handsome heroes and beautiful heroines but I have read and enjoyed romances where this wasn’t the case. However, I was shocked by one opinion. Essentially, the reader said, Romance novels are all the same. For once I would like to see an arranged marriage that doesn’t end in love, or perhaps for once the villain could get the girl.

My initial response was that if the reader wanted these elements, they might want to choose a genre other than romance, perhaps romantic fiction or simply historical fiction. Interestingly, the reader didn’t know there was a difference. One participant in the discussion very aptly noted that at one time there was no real difference but the “romance” genre has evolved over the last forty to fifty years. Now romance, as defined by Romance Writers of America, centers on two people “as they develop romantic love for each other and work to build a relationship together. Both the conflict and the climax of the novel should be directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters' romantic love. Furthermore, a romance novel must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

I think the last rule is absolutely crucial. Romance must have a “happily ever after” or in the case of modern romance at least a “happy for now” ending. It may be possible to bend all the other rules a bit. I do this a bit in my next release, Highland Courage. Certainly the love between the hero and heroine are a key element, but the conflict in the novel is not strictly related to their romantic love. However if I purchased a book classified as a “romance” and invested time reading it, I would be disappointed and perhaps even angry if it didn’t have a “satisfying and optimistic ending.” I think romances are popular precisely because of the recurring plots and the guaranteed ending. This predictability is not a negative for me. In fact, I count on it and clearly, I am not alone.

Because I read mostly romance and I write romance, I am left wondering if any other genre has a hard and fast rule. Are there strict rules that apply in the genre you enjoy reading or writing?


Liz Flaherty said...

I don't KNOW this, but it seems to me all genres have rules like romance does. Cozy mysteries certainly do, and as I remember Westerns, they did.

I'm like you about the HEA. If it goes away from romance, so do I.

Big Mike said...

Learned early in life, ask 20 people on any topic and you'll get 20 opinions. People expect tons of different angles on novel many being different. It's why some will luv you work while others go yuck.


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I tend to bend the rules on timing, but stay focused on one of the romantic leads and an optomistic or logical ending.

Liz Fountain said...

I write across genres like sci-fi, magical realism, and fantasy. But I speak as a reader here: Break the rules well, with a good story, and often readers will forgive you. Break them willy-nilly for no good story-related reasons, and why should readers forgive you?

Interesting topic, thanks!

Katherine Hayden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katherine Hayden said...

As a professional writer in admission essay writing service, i have helped lots of students in writing and also i have written many novels too. In romance,we all already knows how the book is going to end. it should have a conflict.