The Travelling Blog Show: Romantic Fiction


WELCOME to Carnivalesque: The Travelling Blog Show! Five writers (Jana, Hayley, Joanne, Janet and myself) are creating a travelling blog show. See yesterday’s post for a more in depth introduction of sorts. You’re invited to join us every Thursday as we pack up our opinions and travel to that week’s host blog. Each Thursday we’ll pick a topic  for discussion.

Yay! This week I’m going to start things off with:

It’s called the romance genre, but what’s romantic about it?

Jana: What makes a novel romantic for me is emotion. It’s all about the feelings the couple experiences as they fall in love. One minute they’re on top of the world and the next they’re totally dejected because they believe their love can never be. I want to feel everything this couple is feeling, and experience all their highs and lows on their journey to love. I want to feel like I’m the one falling in love. A romance novel falls flat for me if I can’t feel those emotions.

Hayley: I’m probably in the minority about this, but my first thought goes to consent. Both partners expressed a desire to sleep with each other in the sex scene? Their attachments formed through natural circumstances, rather than coercion or pressure? Score! That’s so romantic!

So many romance plots (in any medium) seem to rely on the assumption that we, the reader/audience, know those two are going to get together in the end, so even if they’re reluctant in the moment, we know what’s best *nod*. This creates an alarming number of stories involving stalking, one-sided relationships where one partner is just the prize, and sex where one person says “No,” but it’s okay because we know they both secretly want it. Not cool.

In the middle of all this, if I find two people forming a loving, respectful, and consensual relationship, that makes me swoon every time!

 Janet: Back in the day (I swore I’d never use that phrase and, yet, here I am), when you went into the bookstore and zipped to the romance section you were sure to get, well, a romantic read. Virile heroes saving the damsel in distress. Romantic gestures to woo said damsel in distress. And you were always guaranteed a happily-ever-after! Now, I don’t think you can count on that! Some of the recent novels read under the romance genre umbrella lack romantic gestures. Sure, there’s a romance between the hero and heroine, but the sub-plot (because I firmly believe the main plot in a romance story should be the romance), steals the show! So, should some of these books being shelved under Romance, not be better described as, for example, Women’s Fiction with romantic elements? Romance genre = the story of two people falling in love = romantic = my take on the topic!

Joanne: If I was to really think about the word romance, what comes to mind for me is the emotional connection between two people. Wikipedia defines it as:  Romance or romantic usually refers to Romance (love), love emphasizing emotion over libido. The books I enjoy the most always emphasizes the emotional connection rather than the hot, steamy sex. Although having both is fine, as long as sex isn’t the focus.

I find human relationships fascinating. Communication within those relationships is even more interesting; the nuances in pitch and volume, facial expressions, and word choice between romantic partners. The meta-communication that tells you the most about the relationship is often so subtle it would be difficult to pick up as an outsider. Those are the things I enjoy reading and writing about. The complexity of emotional connections.

Karyn: For me romance novels (and I’m not sure that’s an apt term anymore) are about the growing relationship between the main characters in the book. There’s no surprise ending. The heart of the story is in the developing connection leading to a commitment of sorts. But where’s the romance? Because I keep getting stuck on that word.

By far the majority of the books I read have alpha heroes (romantic suspense or paranormal). I love them. If we’re talking fantasies here? Then I want commanding, and I want confident, and damn it, I want big…brains. We’re often talking life or death here. But more than that I want to read about an intelligent and mutually respectful relationship. In and out of bed.

In the end, maybe it’s more about me, as the reader, being romanced by the heart wrenching emotional journey of finding the right partner.

We’re moving the party to the comment section! Please, weigh in with your thoughts and opinions. We’d love to hear from you.


35 thoughts on “The Travelling Blog Show: Romantic Fiction

  1. Looks like we’re all in agreement about the fact romance books should be all about the romance (be that emotional, communicative or consensual)! Does anyone think that the romance genre has lost sight of the romantic elements? Or is it more that everyone has a different opinion of what ‘romantic’ means (kind of like your post a while back, Karyn, about the clothes that make the man – not everyone thinks a suit and tie is sexy – or t-shirt and sweats, Jana, I’m looking at you)?

    When I was trying to write my little piece (and having a hard time, might I add), I kept thinking about the country music industry. Everyone and his dog have gotten on that band wagon, country music being the ‘it’ genre in music these days (or, at least, selling the most records). Take Bon Jovi, for example (and wouldn’t we all want to?) – moved to the country music scene. Romance is the top selling publishing section – does everyone want on that train? Are authors writing books that really should be classified as something else, but romance sells? Let’s face it, we can find ‘romance’ in any book – but that doesn’t necessarily make it romantic!

    Going to pour myself another cup of coffee, Karyn – now that I’ve thrown that on the table 😉

    • I’ve go my tea, after taking a break to deal with tax stuff! Yuck. Me and numbers + technology don’t get along.

      I like your comparison to country music, Janet. Lionel Ritchie, Bonnie Tyler – they’re all doing a country type album. And it gets about as much respect as romance. Must be why I love them both! It’s seems like there’s a sub-genre for everything now. Romantic Suspense or Suspense with Romantic Elements, as an example. Two different things.

      When I think of the word romance it’s in the traditional sense. I don’t see a lot of hero’s whipping off their studded leather jackets and tossing them over puddles so the heroine can have a more direct path to the other side, opening doors, pulling out chairs, or showing up with flowers.

      And what does romance even look like in the 21st century? Romantic comedies seem to be more about friends with benefits turning into committed lovers. Is it fair to say there’s less wooing and more, I don’t know, let’s deal with our individual needs first and we’ll figure out how this whole thing is actually a relationship later?

      I don’t know, I’m confused!

      • I hear you about the RomCom Movies (my favorites) – not a lot of romantic gestures – wooing! I love wooing! What girl doesn’t want to be wooed?

        But, then the question is, are romantic gestures changing as the world changes? The “Me” generation is all about individual needs first and foremost! Those who read the books/watch the movies (in other words – pay the money) want that with which they can associate. Maybe why I still gravitate toward historical romance, eh?

        • I absolutely agree that romance as a genre should be defined by whether the romance is the core plot of the subplot. That’s sort of how I explain the difference between urban fantasy (which often has sexy werewolf romance) and paranormal romance (which often has sexy werewolf romance) to people.

          I’m not well equipped to weigh in on whether romance has lost sight of the romantic aspect, but I can at least offer my experience. I read five or six fairly standard romances (no adventures or paranormal, etc) spanning several decades, back in university, and they pretty much all felt the same no matter if they were from the 60s or early late 2000s.

          Romance was the core plot (or the only plot) in all of them, but none of them felt very romantic to me. Part of that, I’m sure, comes from my criteria for romance (there were a LOT of controlling, insulting ‘for your own good’ men in those books), but there just wasn’t enough going on to make the fluttery moments feel appropriately fluttery for me on the outside looking in.

          Perhaps the change also has something to do with infusing extra conflict and struggle, so the characters can come together in the midst of exhaustion and grief at other circumstances, rather than the last dickish things they said to each other?

          • I like how Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance are two very different labels. That way you’re very clear about what you’re getting!

            And no doubt about it, Hayley. There are some real douchebag ‘heroes’ out there. I was reading a excerpt the other day and I came to one line and I thought to myself, he did not just say that!

          • Why not? I posted separately about the problems I find with the notion of chivalry, so I won’t rehash it here, but romance shouldn’t be a one way street. It creates an object/subject mentality, where the woman gets to be the wooed object of the relationship (the prize at the end of the hero’s action movie with explosions and giant robots from space), rather than an equally participating subject.

            If you strip the gender dynamics out of it, why not just have two people who do kind things and gestures of affection to show they care about the other? There’s a line in Pride and Prejudice, I can’t remember the exact quote, but Charlotte says to Lizzie something about how no one can sustain affection for very long without encouragement.

            For a mutual partnership, one-sided wooing doesn’t sit right with me. It creates a dynamic more like “I opened the door for you while we were dating. Now you make me dinner every night,” which smacks of something different than equality.

  2. I think what draws me in to Romance over and over again, is being able to relive the first sparks of romance with a new couple in each book. When we meet and fall in love with our mates, that time comes and we move on to full out relationship mode. We have to leave the “beginning” behind, but often that beginning is such a heady time. Meeting someone and realizing, this guy could be the one is so wonderful.

    I love that we get to do that again and again whenever we read a Romance with a capital R.

    • That’s a very good point, Lynne! I didn’t think of that but it’s very, very true. There’s nothing so heady as that beginning, that discovery period. Or reliving it. That’s a perspective I needed. And those are my favorite books, too. The ones with the Capital R!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

    • Hey, Lynne – your comment reminded me of an old friend who loved new relationships. While we’d all be lamenting over nerves, stressed over whether the guy liked us or was going to call, she was in her glory with a new relationship for the exact reason you mention – that spark, that excitement! So very true about romance novels – the thrill of a new beginning every time!

  3. Romance does often focus on the physical part of the relationship more so than the discovery and the bonding of the heroine and hero. Sometimes we wonder where are the hearts and flowers? Where are the endearing little actions that create those “awwwl” moments? You’ve presented an intereesting question to ponder…and now I’m off to my WIP to insert a few of those romantic bonding elements.

    • Hi, Vonnie, and welcome! That’s something I’ve been wondering about. Where does the ‘romance’ show up in my own writing? Where are those ‘awwww’ moments? You’re right, if we can take those bonding moments and up the romance factor, the story will benefit. Romance with a capital R.

      Happy writing!

      • Good reminder to all of us writing romance to include those ‘awww’ moments (love that phrase) – something to give the reader goosebumps!!

  4. I didn’t mention the spark that has been discussed already, but yes, reading about the high of the infatuation phase is wonderful, and probably one of the reasons I return to reading romance.

    • I’m with you, Joanne! There’s nothing like that high (can I call it a high?) of initial attraction. I guess that’s why we close the page at after the seal of commitment. Too keep the fantasy going and not mucking it up by having to incorporate all those mundane, real life, please for the love of Mike put the cap back on the toothpaste challenges!

  5. Pingback: Carnivalesque: The Travelling Blog Show | Hayley E. Lavik – Fantasy Author

  6. I think it’s interesting the way chivalry starts to come up in something like this. The prospect of respectful gestures, kind treatment, and romantic regard is, of course, very appealing, and a good part of any relationship, but I don’t call that chivalry. Chivalry is a different beast, and something more nefarious.

    I don’t want someone to open a door for me because I’m a woman, and by extension less capable of opening the same door. I want someone to open the door, or hold it open behind them, because they’re a considerate human being, the same as I will hold doors or open doors for other people to be a considerate human being. A lady opened a door for me the other week because my hands were full from a coffee run and she saw I’d have to shoulder my way outside otherwise. No one calls that chivalry, because a man’s not involved. It’s just two people being considerate people (I said thank you, that’s my part).

    Chivalry feels different from plain old considerate people. It feels, to me, like something’s owed. It’s not just about a door held open or a chair pushed in, and the recipient saying thank you. It carries an implication that all these nice gestures should be repaid with something other than a thank-you.

    Chivalry isn’t a great thing, to my eye. It’s just a benevolent form of sexism, which is not a good thing despite the sound. The individual acts, such as giving a person flowers or walking someone home, are lovely in the context of two people who enjoy and appreciate those things. I’d just rather have plain old considerate people, who will also allow me lift things and do things, and not label me as delicate or needing special treatment on the basis of my plumbing.

    • OMGosh, I think we ran out of space above. It won’t let me reply to the ‘wooing’ directly under the comment! Love the Pride and Prejudice reference which is very true.

      I see it all the time, people helping other people out no matter their gender or age or whatever. I put that more in the good manners category. If we’re talking within the context of a relationship, I will admit to wanting and enjoying special treatment from my significant other because of my plumbing. I’m a girl and to me that means sometimes I want to be treated like I’m special or hell, even fragile (for lack of the right word, which I can’t quite put my finger on at the moment). Even though I’m not. Just thought I’d clarify 🙂

      • “cherished” – that’s the word I think of when I think of a woman being treated royally!

        Great Pride and Prejudice reference, Hayley (love it). And, yes, the heroes need seducing, too – hmm, is it wooing or is it seduction?

      • I can see where you’re coming from, Karyn, but my feeling would be that I want special treatment from my significant other because he’s my significant other, not because of my gender. I want to feel special, the same as I make sure he knows he’s special to me. I like cherished, as Janet says. Everybody deserves to be cherished by someone who truly values them and respects them, and does not take them for granted.

        I just don’t like bringing gender into it. Being a woman has nothing to do with deserving love and kindness from my partner, beyond the kindness I might receive from a stranger in a mall. It’s being in a relationship that’s the distinguishing factor. I do expect my partner to treat me better than the anonymous courtesies people sometimes extend to each other in public, but I don’t want the motivating factor to be because I’m a woman. I want it to be because I’m me.

          • See my comment below about ‘soul-mates’ – in a romance where the plot is about the relationship, that relationship has to be cultivated by both parties (unless you’re writing an 80’s bodice ripper – and, OMG, I may be guilty of that 😉

  7. Sorry I’m late coming to the discussion today! I love the idea that the wooing should go both ways. I think it goes back to the the question that romance writers need to ask as they’re writing: What makes this person different from every other person the hero/heroine has met before? What makes them so special? It can’t be just their looks. Something in the this person must speak to the heart and soul of the hero/heroine. Writers who this well get my vote for most romantic novel!

    Great discussion!

    • Great point, Jana. How is this relationship different from every other one they’ve had? That’s the challenge isn’t it? Creating memorable characters that will stick with the reader long after they lay the book down. Whether there are flowers and candy gestures or not, it’s the emotional journey (as Joanne mentioned above) that makes the story.

    • “Soul-mate” – as described in The Princess Bride, the one true love!! I think the questions you’ve raised, Jana, need to be front and center in every romance writer’s motive for telling the story – and both hero and heroine need to ‘woo’, because ‘true love’ does not come easy (ie: fire swamp, dread pirates, death).

    • Really love this, Jana. It’s a great way of keeping on track and not falling into generic ‘fill-in-the-blank’ acts of romance.

      I remember back on the Prairie Chicks, there was a discussion about the five love languages. The sort of romantic gestures I love to see between characters are the ones that really shed light on those particular characters. Some people appreciate gifts as a means of conveying love, others express themselves through actions. I love to see signs of affection that show me how a character who struggles to express herself with words can still show her love through a caress. Likewise, seeing a character who learns his partner well enough to know what gestures will speak to her, not just what he tends to do…. you give me both halves of that, man, that’s a lot of great character development.

      When two people are soul mates and know how to speak each other’s languages, that’s so much more insightful and meaningful than a series of acts everyone’s expected to fulfill 🙂

  8. Interesting discussion. I’ve been wondering if my current WIP is a true romance. There are a lot of outside elements that take center stage. But, I’ve been trying to present them as a stumbling block on the road to HEA for both the hero and heroine. I don’t mind stories that aren’t 100% focused on the h&h’s relationship as long as I know their feelings for each other are there, simmering in the background, growing and progressing. That’s my take!

    • Hi, Jannine. Welcome and thanks for sharing! Your story sounds intriguing with lots going on. I don’t mind those kind of stories either, and why writing romantic suspense appeals to me. Sounds like through it all they’re working on their relationship and making it a priority. For sure it has romantic elements. Good luck working everything out and getting your hero and heroine together!

      • And I have no problems with that, either, Janine and Karyn – the relationship flourishes as the story unfolds! But I wonder about those that balk at the romance genre – do they not see the ‘romance’ in all books they pick up? Of course, that’s a totally different topic I’m sure we’ll discuss.If the major question is “Will the H/H find each other at the end of the story?” – that’s why I read romance – that’s my ultimate question when reading romance!!

  9. I was going to apologize for having two cents so late in the day, but I’m pleased to have had so much to read before leaving my own comment!

    The thing that really lifts a story for me: when one reads the other so well that a small, but truly personal, action (or comment) elicits a blink of surprise, like asking a waitress to bring steamed milk rather than cream for the other’s coffee. One could be a happy accident, two and you start realizing the giver of these various gestures really “gets” the receiver. It’s a very subtle way of wooing, that offering and then quietly waiting for recognition. If the small gestures come first, the bigger advances feel appropriate.

    • Hi, Lynn. We’ve had quite the lively discussion here today! Glad you could join us.

      I think that’s very true! It’s a special moment when one character knows the other person’s been paying attention to they’re actions or truly listening to what they’re saying and acts accordingly. Then it builds from there. And, as you say, what comes next will feel like a natural extension of what’s come before. Building a relationship that can be ‘felt’ by the reader!

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