What Makes A Romance?

Okay, so I just finished a read-through of Houses of Cards, and I wrote up a loose outline of the relationship/romantic elements in the manuscript so far, sent it on to Pot, as I am wont to do. Her initial response

Ok, the first thing that comes to me as I’m reading is that some of this isn’t really icky love stuff, it’s more story information. Some of it seems very cerebral.

Blink. Okay…leftover hazard of the old day job. I’m being clinical and dispassionate again. This is the point at which Pot, who I think shall now be dubbed The Romance Inspector, starts tapping at me with her little pink hammer.

Don’t forget to remind us how they long for each other, how they don’t touch but want to, each for their own reason. Etc.

(Because she’s really really great at noticing these things and reminding me to put them in).

What? Touches? Looks of longing? Did I look for any of these (or places to add them) in this last read-through? Noooooo! I was too busy keeping an eye out for my serial killer and making sure my hero doesn’t wind up dead. I mean I read through and made lots of clinical notes about where each was emotionally at varying points in the story and showing how they move emotionally toward each other and apart at differing rates, and of course hit the high points with first kiss, first love scene, etc. But I did not naturally pick up on the stuff she was pointing out. This is partially because I don’t think I have ever trained myself to analyze the things that I read for the elements of romance that “make it work”. At least not at the same level of clinical analysis that I apply to suspense, crime, mystery, and the like. I think with the romance, I am more apt to get caught up in the romance of it, because it does emotionally effect me and to analyze it would take me out of that big happy sigh place.

In the conversation that followed, I made a startling realization. Well a few startling realizations.

1) There is a difference between romance as a noun and Romance as a genre. A book can have romance in it as a primary element and not be considered a Romance.

2) I do not have the same definition of Romance as a genre that she (or the genre) has. For me, if there is a good love story that plays a primary role in a book, even if it isn’t necessarily the number one focus of the book (as in the relationship develops as a result of other stuff going on in the story), that’s still a romance.

3) I am not a romance writer. A love story with a happily ever after is a given in any of my stories. But the relationship is rarely the single focus. It’s usually couched in some sort of drama, suspense, paranormal event, etc. Houses of Cards is about the heroine outsmarting a serial killer. She has a bunch of relationship issues she has to deal with on her way to the HEA with the hero, but that’s secondary to the whole keeping him alive thing. Whether this is going to remain the case, I’m not sure. I need to let the idea gestate a bit.

I think, in general, I am annoyed by the concept of genre. I don’t like the idea of pigeon-holing books. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series defies classification. There’s romance; there’s time travel; there’s history; there’s drama; there’s suspense. And I love that. I love that those books break a lot of rules. I like a good story. I don’t have to stick to a particular genre to get it, though I admit to leaning toward romance and mystery. Some people like genres. They like the classification because it makes it easier to track down books they are more likely to like. And that’s absolutely fair. If you’re going to spend your hard earned cash (and time) on a book, it should definitely be something you’re going to like!

I don’t think in terms of genre norms and conventions when I write. I don’t consciously set out to write something that fits a mold. In our earlier discussion, Pot and I were listing some sort of “rules of Romance.” I started out with 1) a happily ever after, 2) heroines that are not too stupid to live, and she added (because it didn’t occur to me) 3) no infidelity, 4) no multiple partners, 5) no abusive significant others (in terms of heroes). The latter 3 didn’t occur to me because those are just morally wrong in real life and it wouldn’t cross my mind to use them in a book unless I was showing the negative side of some character. When I get the germ of an idea for a book, it often begins with either a character or a scene. And I’ll see these two interesting people and know that they’re going to be together and wonder how they get there. But I don’t have a real system or method in place for making it a romance or some other kind of story. It’s all kind of organic, I suppose.

In any event, it’s given me a great deal of food for thought, and I wondered what everyone else thought. How about the rest of you weigh in? What makes a Romance?  For Pot’s rebuttal, go here.

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4 comments

  1. ok, now that I’m done banging my head over your ability to distill what I said into absolutes I didn’t really mean… *g*

    I thought we had a difference of opinion about the term “Romance”. Now I realize we probably have a difference of opinion about the term “primary”.

    I’m sitting here debating whether to try to comment to this here or post a rebuttal.

    Ok, I’m going to try taking it home to my blog and seeing if I can get my thoughts in order.

    Ping ya later!

  2. All good points, but it’s true if you try to force your book into a particular niche you’re not comfortable with it can show. If you are not feeling the romance in the story, it’s tough to weave in. IMO, for single title, there’s not too much of a required guideline as category romance. ST is more open, you can spread out more. Good luck!

  3. I feel woefully uneducated within the genre of romance. I grew up with the naive understanding that a romance was a book with a good love story (well I suppose good is subjective). I’d never even heard of category romance until this year! It really illustrates that when I do get ready to shop it, I’ll have to do a LOT of research to find somewhere that’s a good fit for my book.

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