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Writing the Romance Novel: Why I Read and Write Romance

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why would someone purposely write in a genre that is the most criticized, most reviled, least respected, and most belittled out there? A genre that not only draws pitying looks (or the nudge-nudge-wink-wink reaction) but gets the author rejected by all but one graduate-level creative writing program in the country.

Because I’m in love with the idea of falling in love.

Extreme-sports participants get a rush from flipping three times in the air on a motorcycle or jumping off a cliff with just an elastic string tied to their ankle to save them from a grizzly death. That’s what they need to get an adrenaline rush. All I need for the same “thrills and chills” is to sit down with a great romance novel.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m not talking about the titillation that comes from reading the more explicit books in the genre. I’m talking about the true rush of emotion that comes from following the heroine and hero along on their romantic journey—experiencing the first tingle of attraction, feeling my own heart beat faster with the heroine’s whenever the hero walks into the room, grieving with her when it seems all is lost, then rejoicing at the happy ending.

Most critics say that romance novels set up unrealistic expectations in young women about what love/romance/relationships are really like. But those critics don’t really understand what the romance novel is truly about.

The romance novel’s main purpose is
imbuing HOPE into readers’ lives.

Hope that no matter what we’re facing in our real lives, we can still find happy endings along the way. Hope that comes from the sense of control we can regain in our own lives by reading about spunky heroines and warrior heroes. Hope from knowing that things aren’t as bad as we think they are—after all, look at what these characters had to go through and they still managed to find happiness.

When people find out I’m a writer after they’ve known me awhile, many are surprised to find out that I write romance. You see, I’m not a “girly” girl. I love action movies and have to be dragged kicking and screaming to most chick flicks. I’m an LSU football FANATIC—and can tell you what the call on the field is usually before the referee announces it. Though I have a few cute handbags, I don’t obsess over them—nor over shoes or clothes. I’m more likely to watch ESPN or the SciFi channel than E! or Style. I hold my emotions in, abhor public emotional scenes (from me or anyone else—which includes crying in movies), and find it hard to discuss my feelings.

Yet whenever a story idea crosses my mind (which is several times a day), it’s always about how something I’ve heard or someone—either a real person or a character in a show/movie—can become part of a romance storyline.

There may be a good reason for this . . . you see, in my almost thirty-seven years on this earth, I’ve only experienced falling in love once—and it was completely one-sided. I’ve never dated. I’ve never been kissed. I’ve never been “in a relationship.” While I’ve never had any of those positive relationship experiences, I’ve also never had any of the negatives that sometimes come afterward. The breakups, the loss of ideals of what romance is really supposed to be like.

When I start developing a new story idea, it’s usually because I’ve become obsessed with (i.e., have a crush on) a template for a hero character—remember, I “cast” all of my characters from Real World Templates, usually actors I’ve seen portraying a character that speaks to me. I allow myself to fall in love with my hero as he develops, which is why my heroines tend to share several of their personality traits with me—because it is my emotions for, my reactions to the hero I’m putting out there on the page when I do start writing.

I believe in true love—and that two people can love each other passionately for a lifetime. I believe in instant attraction as well as attraction that happens after people have known each other a long time. I believe in passion—the kind that makes the spine tingle, the hair on the back of the neck stand up, the heart race, and the brain falter—and it doesn’t even have to come from sexual attraction. I believe that someone’s intellect can be more attractive than their outward appearance (or can, conversely, be a great deterrent to someone’s attractiveness). I believe, most of all, that it isn’t the hearts and flowers, the candlelight and music, that make a real romance—real romance is companionship. Lifelong, I’ll-always-be-here-for-you companionship.

That’s why I read and write romance.

For Discussion:
Why do you read and/or write romance?

  1. Wednesday, May 21, 2008 2:01 pm

    I love walking in someone else’s shoes for a while and being absorbed into their world. For me, romance is the best escape on that front. While I love suspense and thrillers, it’s not quite the same as walking in the shoes of a romance heroine.


  2. Wednesday, May 21, 2008 4:30 pm

    I write romance because I too believe in true love. I’ve married my hero and I love him passionately. I love the hope that romance inspires, the way the lives of the characters have to change, to adapt, to forgive, to see another’s point of view, and to be vulernable to another. Great stuff!


  3. Carol Collett permalink
    Wednesday, May 21, 2008 9:29 pm

    I live a romance novel! Really. Daniel is my hero, my best friend, my knight in shining (dented, but shining) armor. He’s always on my side even when he knows I’m wrong. Okay, so now I’m wondering why I don’t write romance and why I don’t often read it…
    But I do respect the genre and believe it serves a wonderful purpose.


  4. Wednesday, May 21, 2008 11:03 pm

    I keep thinking that maybe, once I meet my future husband and fall in love, I’ll be able to start writing in other genres—like women’s fiction or even fantasy or general fiction.


  5. Chuck permalink
    Thursday, June 19, 2008 7:48 pm

    As I always say, you can live in a fantasy world, but you’ll live there alone.

    Sorry it’s taken your own failings in real life to inspire your creativity. But then again, is there any other way?


  6. nicole permalink
    Friday, May 15, 2009 1:42 pm

    My grandma has been happily married to the love of her life for over 47 years. They are an adorable couple and very much in love. That said, she plows through 3-4 regency romance novels per week, reveling in the consistent good news of a happy ending, and enjoying the wit and humor, the play on words, that Georgette Heyer and others offer.

    Romance Novels Rock! and I am in the process of writing my first, so wish me luck! 🙂


  7. Christina permalink
    Wednesday, February 20, 2013 6:17 pm

    Hi Kaye! Thank you for sharing this post again. I really identify with what you wrote. I am 33-yrs-old and often struggle with the whole will I find true love thing. I think the reason I love to read romance are for the same reasons that you stated in this post. I love watching the long time best friends suddenly notice one another or the instant attraction when eyes meet. Even more than that though, I love the hope that the books instill in me. There are so many times when I wonder if I am invisible to guys. Do I have a neon sign flashing around me saying “Beware?”
    I take a step back and realize that God has a perfect plan and if I am meant to marry, it will one day happen and even if it’s for a year or God willing 30 years, the man I marry was worth the wait. I sometimes joke that I may have to be pushed down the aisle in a wheel chair because I’ll be 80 and if that’s the case, then I’m ok with that.


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