(by Ethan Cobalt)
Romance readers catch a lot of flack. Romance writers, doubly so. The stereotypes abound: the authors are hackneyed. They just use sex to sell books. The books are emotional fluff. The stories are formulaic. But what Romance critics fail to realize is that the genre’s community is both vibrant and intelligent. I’d even argue there are a plethora of aspects Romance excels in.
Toward that end, I’ve outlined just a short list of things I believe the Romance Genre does better than anyone else:
This one should come as no surprise to anyone who has cracked open a kissing book. The stories are filled with main characters from every walk of life. This fact was accentuated to me, recently, when I read The Kissing Quotient by Helen Hoang. The book stars a woman named Stella, a brilliant protagonist who also happens to have Autism.
This divergence from the neurotypical is just one example in a genre that celebrates diversity. Gone are the days of Romance’s infancy, when all the men were muscle-bound hunks north of 6 feet tall. Nowadays, the MCs (men and women alike) are as eclectic as their authors, and that’s so refreshing to see!
2.) Relationship Dynamics and Nuance
Long before I started reading Romance novels, I had some unfair assumptions. I expected them to revolve around a singular love story between a man and a woman, and not much else. In reality, Romance novels explore the human heart from all angles, and are as likely to dive into platonic or familial relationships as they are a romantic one. The brotherly love expressed in The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary is one excellent example of this.
In all the best Romance novels, there are layers upon layers of relationship dynamics that inform the decisions of every character. The genre has a rich history of this: from Jane Eyre to Pride and Prejudice, the genre has shown time and again that it is capable of transcending labels and sitting comfortably on the shelf as “true literature.”
3.) Inviting Outsiders with Open-Arms
I think there’s an “underdog” mentality that has allowed romance-readers to be especially welcoming. Genre-fiction as a whole tends to be looked down upon by those with a little intellectual snobbery. Many critics will unfairly assume that anything that can be classified by genre isn’t “literature.” Undoubtedly, romance faces this unfair criticism at a higher clip than any other genre.
Perhaps because they’re so used to being looked down upon, the romance community has developed a thick-skin and a willingness to welcome new-comers. To tell you the truth, I was nervous to enter the community. As a man in a woman-dominated industry, I’m keenly aware of the fact that I could be seen as an “outsider” to many. To my gleeful surprise, the genre as a whole has been incredibly welcoming and supportive. I feel at home, and I owe it all to this wonderful community.
4.) A Critical Eye for Injustices/Power Imbalances
This is a converse point to number three. As open as the community is, Romance readers are also quick to level criticism against those who violate their moral-compass. I’ve partook in many great conversations about problematic Romance novels and which aspects of a book might be improved. Pleasantly, these conversations were always solution-oriented and used as learning experiences for all involved. I’ve had the chance to bear witness to authors learning to do better, and committing to doing so. That’s a magical thing to behold.
5.) Eternal Optimism
Romance writers craft stories with a happy ending. Whether it’s a HEA (Happy Ever After) or a HFN (Happy For Now) the community as a whole is committed to the glass-half-full attitude. This is a breath of fresh air in the gloom-and-doom society we’ve found ourselves mired in.
And it’s not just rose-tinted glasses, either. In Romance novels, some heavy stuff happens. Within the pages of a Romance novel, you can find problems as raw and gritty as the world can offer. But more often than not, there’s a relentless pursuit of happiness. Hope triumphs over despair.
So there you have it. In my opinion, Romance has the edge on all other writing and reading communities in those five aspects. Do you agree with me? Any you disagree with? What would you add to this list?