by Moriah Jovan
Moderator’s Note: This is the first of what I hope will be a series of monthly posts from many perspectives related to romance writing, with particular application to romance as a genre in Mormon literature and/or by LDS authors. If you’re interested in contributing, email Jonathan Langford, AML blog coordinator, at jonathan AT motleyvision DOT org.
A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.
An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.
Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction.
To me, someone who’s been reading romance since I was 11 years old (or thereabouts), the above is a pretty broad and open-ended definition. I’m as steeped in genre romance protocols as I am Mormon culture, thus, being inside it, it’s hard to explain what is and is not genre romance.
The first real criteria is that the romance takes center stage: the meeting, the conflict (first internal, then external), the building of the relationship, the ritual death (aka black moment), and resolution. Yes, it’s true. The dirty little secret of romance is that you know the resolution going in: The couple winds up together, happily ever after (HEA).
Now, here’s what every romance reader knows: It’s not about the HEA. It’s about the meeting, the conflict, the building of the relationship, and the ritual death. In other words, it’s about the journey, not the destination. In fact, that’s what all genre fiction is about: The journey.
The constant complaint about romance (especially among those who don’t actually read it) is that it’s formulaic. Of course it is. So are mysteries. And thrillers. And horror. And science fiction/fantasy (especially if you have a grounding in Joseph Campbell).
Why is the word “formulaic” only applied to genre romance?
I’ll tell you why: Harlequin.
Harlequin has a brand, a brand they’ve successfully built and nurtured over the years. You know what you’re getting with a Harlequin. If you want sweet inspirationals, you buy Steeple Hill. If you want uber-alpha males and impoverished, somewhat powerless females, you buy Harlequin Presents. If you want paranormal, you buy Harlequin Nocturne. If you want sweet-to-steamy Americana, you buy Harlequin American Romance and, if those are too short for you, Superromance. There are 23 “lines” to choose from, each catering to a specific taste. I think Harlequin is brilliant and more often than not, the books coming out of Harlequin are examples of some really good writing. It’s just that critics of the genre have never spent much (or any) time with the genre and so they assume it’s bad.
The next question is why is the word “formulaic” only applied to genre romance scathingly?
I’ll tell you why: Women.
It’s written by women for women, and, sad as I am to say this, I don’t foresee a day when women’s writing, women’s work, women’s interests, and women’s need for a happily ever after are valued as worth anything other than disdain.
Heaven forbid the romance writers of now be given the same respect and adoration Jane Austen is given simply because she’s dead, and who is now being claimed as the Mother of Romance.
Or A.S. Byatt, a contemporary author, wrote Possession, A Romance, which is as much a romance novel as anything else (look! it even has “a romance” right on the cover! and a happily ever after!), simply because it was marketed as literature and not romance.
Ultimately romance is about relationships. If one doesn’t want to read books about relationships and happily ever afters, that’s fine. But it distresses/amuses me when women pick up a romance, then complain about it being all about the relationship.
Yes. It is.
And the events that forged that relationship.
Next time: Romance 101: The more subtle elements of The Formula.
Moriah Jovan is the pen name for Elizabeth Beeton, who created B10 Mediaworx to publish herself. Since then, she’s put out two books of her own, The Proviso and Stay, and assisted in the publication of Peculiar Pages titles The Fob Bible and Out of the Mount. Her third book, Magdalene, will be available on April 24, 2011, and two more Peculiar Pages titles are coming in June and October. At the moment, she’s busy wading through Burke’s Peerage, figuring out the proper address of an Earl, and devouring books on the American Revolution.