Sunday, January 4, 2015

Romance vs. love story

This is a summary of a discussion on the Absolute Write forums, where—not for the first time—a love story was confused with a romance.

“Is my love story a romance?”

How does the story end?

“They’re very much in love, and he dies. But from the afterlife, he watches over her and is happy when she finally finds someone else whom she’ll love just as much, in a different way.”

Not a romance. Sorry.

“But I believe in love that lasts beyond death. That’s romantic.”

It is. But you haven’t written something that fits into the romance genre.

“But the characters are happy in the end. She finds someone else and he loves her so much that what he wants most is for her to be cared about.”

In a romance, readers expect the characters to be together at the end. It’s not a romance if they’re apart, even if they’re both happy that way.

“People found Ghost very romantic.”

Of course they did, but movies can’t be classified the same way as books. Besides, people find Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind romantic too. That doesn’t make them genre romances. The story needs to focus on the development of a relationship and the characters have to be together in the end.

“Isn’t it predictable if readers know at the start that the characters will be together?”

Yes, but sometimes that’s what readers are looking for. The same way that readers of mysteries expect the mystery to be solved in the end. What keeps people reading romance is the how of the story, the ways the characters resolve the problems that keep them from getting to their happy ending.

“I heard a romance publisher releases occasional books where the characters go their separate ways in the end.”

Some publishers may have certain imprints where a happily-ever-after isn’t required. For instance, Dreamspinner Press makes it clear that stories in the Bittersweet Dreams imprint don't have the traditional ending of a romance. But such books will be designated as part of that imprint, so readers know what they’re getting.

“Would readers really mind so much if one of the characters died? I could foreshadow this and it could be an inevitable part of the story.”

Romance readers aren’t looking for a gut punch where the hero they’ve been cheering for dies in the end.

Romance readers can also be picky because it’s not unusual for writers of other genres to mistake love stories for romance. Sometimes, writers even try to reclassify their books because romance sells better than love stories in other genres. But this isn’t the way to please readers.

If the character dies an inevitable, foreshadowed death, you might have written a wrenching, compelling love story—but you haven’t written a romance.

“There’s an established author who has a romance where the hero and heroine don’t end up together.”

When you’re an established author, you might be able to get away with this too.


Michelle Athy said...

I followed this thread as well and although I'm not a romance writer, I am a longtime historical romance reader. I like bittersweet endings--in literary or mainstream or historical fiction. But in romance? A happy ending is a genre expectation!

Marian Perera said...

Exactly. And today there's another thread asking whether a book can be called a romance if only one character is happy in the end.

I feel like asking, why do you want to call your book a romance when you don't seem to have read any?

Randall said...

That was an amazing thread. I would once have thought that kind of thinking was unlikely in writers and would-be writers, but time on Absolute Write and the NaNoWrimo forums cured me of that.

Also, you have probably the least intrusive captcha I've ever encountered.

Marian Perera said...

Probably because the writers who ask it just don't read romance. So they believe that if there's a relationship, that's enough. Never mind that romance is about the development of the relationship, with the additional safety net of the story ending happily.

And I just tried out the captcha myself. :) So much better than where you have to squint to read some distorted combination of alphanumerics.