You know about the bestselling book, Fifty Shades of Grey. No need to dissect it here. Decide for yourself if it’s erotica, or pornography, or just a really really sexy love story. The fact is it started off as Twilight fan fiction, and fan fiction has rather elastic standards in storytelling. Twilight itself (the first book in particular) is an old school Harlequin-style romance, just with vampires. Give Edward the vampire an Italian accent and a title, and he’d fit right into the pantheon of dominating Harlequin heroes. In my opinion these two bestsellers have their roots firmly in romance, however far they may have strayed.
One book doesn’t do it for me. I don’t know about you, but I have read more than fifty romances. I have read thousands. Some have been sexy, and some have not, but I never, ever have read a romance looking for a cheap thrill. Never. Few people do read romances for such reasons, because romances are too emotionally complicated for mere thrills. When you read as many as five books in one day, you’re addicted. But what is the addiction? Not to sex. No, the addictive quality of romances is their deep exploration of people’s emotions when trying to complete connection with their soul mate. Or to use a simpler term, it’s courtship. Romance is courtship, and the entire purpose of courtship is discovery. Do I like this person? How does this person treat me in public and in private? Can I see myself with this person for the next fifty years?
There’s that fifty word again. An unfathomable number, really, yet if we are lucky, we might live long enough to celebrate fifty years together with someone. If we find the right person. A romance novel is an exploration of what makes someone the right person for a particular someone else. We as readers get to tag along and experience it all for ourselves through the heroine.
Emotions play a role in other kinds of novels, but in a romance, the emotions are the story. I can show you fifty different kinds of romance story arcs but it’s all the same underneath, the development of the heroine’s love for someone, the conflicts that complicate it, and finally, a resolution with a happy ending. Some people may read romances for whatever sexual thrills they can find in them, but those can be few and far between. Despite the sexual openness of many romances today, many other romances are being written featuring sexually reticent characters and circumspect behavior. Readers simply looking for a cheap thrill have a long wait to find one in a romance. They’re much more likely to encounter an emotion first. Characters have to be introduced and relationships between the characters developed, and complications must then ensue. Who would hang around for a couple hundred pages just to experience the heroine finally getting a kiss out of a hero in an Amish romance? Does the heroine with faerie powers have time for a lot of sexual hijinks while she’s saving the world from demons? Are the fans of evangelical Christian romances, the ultimate in chaste storylines these days, addicted to the nonexistent sex in them? Oh, please.