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I’m in the midst of writing an article about Fifty Shades of Grey and realized, much to my dismay, that I remain woefully ignorant of the tropes and standards of the common romance novel. My experienced is limited to the aforementioned Fifty Shades trilogy, some Pride and Prejudice porn sequels, and a couple of bodice-rippers I paged through years ago out of sheer curiosity.
I realize II probably isn’t the best place to ask questions about trashy romance novels, but hopefully a few of you have a bit more knowledge than I do.
I’m curious about whether romance novels tend to actually have a plot or not. Both Linda Berdoll and EL James have segments of nothing happening to provide filler between sex scenes, and occasionally a bit of plot will pop its head up to try and trick the audience into believing that things are moving forward, but really, they only serve to highlight just how little actually happens.
So: is this the standard for romance novels? Or are there romance novels out there that actually have some semblance of a plot where things actually happen?
They have plot. They are generally fill in the blank and mind numbingly dull. And the plot is romance based. So, for instance. I started out with a romance novel called Seduced.
It’s about Antonia Lamb, a 17 year old twin with an 18-inch waist, sparkling emerald eyes, pale skin, lustrous black hair, and long legs, whose brother gets lost at sea in chapter 1, so she masquerades as him so that she won’t lose the family manor to her skeevy cousin. But alas! Her dad is dead! And her mom’s out of the country! So she has a guardian, Adam Savage. He comes to teach her how to be a man. But she must hide her secret! But she’s falling for him! But she fucks him at a masquerade ball! But she must hide her feelings and her sex! But she gets caught by him! But her cousin is trying to off her so he can inherit! Also, Savage is excessively rich, but concerned about social justice, because he used to be a poor carpenter’s son, before he went to India and made his fortune! And they travel to India! And it turns out her brother survived! And the evil cousin gets lost in the jungle and eaten by nasty jungle animals! And… stuff!
Gahhhhhhhhhhhhh. To be honest, when I was 12, I read several romance novels for info. You know. Found them and re-read them when I was 14, and nearly died laughing.
I’ve never actually read a romance novel, so take this with several grains of salt, but based on cultural osmosis(read: other people making fun of them), it seems to me like it would be more accurate to call the structure they use to support sex scenes a “scenario” rather than a “plot.” When you hear about hilarious(ly bad) romance novels, it’s almost always in the context of some bizarre conceit used as the premise, but those always seem like they just get used as a jumping-off point for fucking instead of, you know, telling an actual story. That’s the most useful observation I can make, probably.
I read many, many romance novels in middle school, which I remember little about, and still read a few today, which I remember a little.
Now, in romance novels, the plot is how the protagonists get together, and there are usually a few sex scenes: one in lust before they care much for each other, one when they do, one after the external plot keeping them apart ends climatically (So sorry) and then another for the HEA (happily ever after). But since I don’t tend to find those very interesting (I feel like I’m over-sharing, but really, they’re not particularly good, generally), and I don’t read any on the erotica side of things…I guess I’m no help at all.
Does Stardust count as a romance novel? If no, then I haven’t read one.
Never read any, but I’m pretty sure Writing Excuses interviewed a romance writer (must’ve been erotica or something) once. When she submitted her book, she was told not enough sex. (I think they were aiming for one every second chapter.) When she told them it just didn’t make sense to add more in, I’m pretty sure she was told that perhaps the main characters could pass by some random strangers having sex o_O. Seems a rather silly condition to put on your books if it’s going to get in the way of your story telling.
I don’t read much romance either, but sansa’s hypothesis seems correct to me. It’s really just wish fulfilment, which by its very nature is never going to be realistic or make very much sense.
Unfortunately, I have always avoided most romance novels, other than a brief glimpse into the land of Twilight. However from doing these reviews, I think that wish fulfillment is a big issue. Usually the girl thinks that she’s plain (particularly in YA) and everyone calls her beautiful. The man she ends up with is somehow unapproachable to the other girls, and singles her out for a reason that she doesn’t understand. He seems to sense how special she really is or something.
I wouldn’t call anything a ‘plot’ just more of a situation being built up. There’s no real conflict or a true antagonist, and the characters don’t usually even have a reason for being together. Usually they just sort of stalk run into one another. In the place of a real conflict, usually there’s just a scary sue or a rival or something. YA tends to shoehorn in a villain at the last second, but he’s there more of as an excuse for the book to exist than an actual plot or point to the novel. Oh, and there’s never any violence shown. Or at least as little as humanly possible. I assume that things are similar in the more pornish novels. The only difference would be that instead of awkward face petting or staring at a girl while she’s sleeping or something, there’s sex. I believe that Stephen King noted that Twilight kind of follows the structure of a porn novel.
The closest I’ve been to romance is airport action/adventure that have a little action on the side. Like Wilbur Smith, and Eric Lustbader.
Depends on what you consider to be a significant happening. Going by the definition of plot as a series of significant happenings, there is a plot in romance, if you consider two people meeting and getting caught up in a romance a significant happening. When romance has a strong plot that isn’t an excuse for the lovers to sex each other stupid, it tends to be more internal than external. Character arcs, emotional conflicts, redefining how one relates to the world – not what most people think of when they think “plot”, but it’s there in practically every romance novel. Whether or not it’s executed well is another matter entirely.
But the thing about romance, as some other people have already mentioned, is that it’s wish-fulfillment. More specifically, it’s female wish-fulfillment, and it’s existed as one of the only acceptable outlets for women to express and explore their sexuality for a very long time. Women who gravitate to the romance genre tend to be those that aren’t satisfied with their sexual relationships, want something more from them, but find themselves unable to articulate or receive such, for various reasons. These women tend to be frustrated both sexually and emotionally, and they feel trapped by it. The romance genre allows these women to vicariously experience what they feel they are lacking, and because it is in the form of entertainment, it frees them from a lot of guilt and/or fear they feel for wanting more from their sex life.
Now, it’s worth noting that not all women who read and enjoy romances are like that. Sometimes it’s fun to just pick up a romance novel and laugh at how ridiculous and trite it is, or just enjoy it for what it is – a fantasy. But there are enough women who rely upon the romance genre as a form of release that romance as a market is large and lucrative.
Personally, I hate the romance genre with a passion. However, it is fascinating to research all the tropes and reader/writer motivations within the romance genre. There are so many different imprints, each a different subgenre with its own distinct tropes, it’s amazing how massive and all-encompassing a genre romance is.
I just thought of something to add to the conversation…
Not all romance novels are erotica. I would argue that most erotica does fall into the porn-without-plot category (because it is quite literally written porn), but romance novels don’t necessarily have to be all porn or even involve sex at all. What I’m thinking of in particular is Christian romance, which is the sub-genre of romance I’m most familiar with (although even then, I don’t like romance novels much). Just in general, Christian romance tends to have actual plot, mostly because you can’t rely on sex scenes to draw in the reader. They can still have paper-thin plots consisting of “I don’t want to love you! But I do! But external circumstances are opposing us! Anguish!”, but what I’ve read of them tend to at least make an attempt at plot.
I suppose that’s a consequence of the premise, though. If you’re having a book that’s deliberately drawing from Christianity, it’s only to be expected that A) there’s going to be more than titillating sex scenes, if sex scenes exist at all, and B) there’s a focus on higher things than just transitory emotions, so you get into soulmates and destiny and “is this God’s will for my life” and all that. Note that this doesn’t make them good; for example, I find Amish romance (yes, this is a real thing) to be about the most boring genre imaginable. But it’s a different approach to romance than the “porn without plot” style.
Sort of going off of Swenson’s post, this is kind of a self-defeating question. Essentially “romance novel” has come to mean “porn without plot”. There are books about romance that aren’t like that, but we generally give them some other qualifier. Like Swenson said with Christian fiction, there’s also plenty of YA romance (paranormal or otherwise) that doesn’t (or can’t) rely on erotic scenes. The example I’d go to is The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, since I know some people here have read it. It is mainly about the romance between two characters, but people wouldn’t put it in the same category as bodice-ripping paperbacks. Books about romance have the freedom to be more character-driven. They might not have a lot of important events or worldbuilding or whatever else going on, but the reader can learn about the characters and become invested in their relationship. While you can argue that Twilight doesn’t have much going on, it’s still not right to call it porn without plot. If it had managed to have deep characters instead of self-insert cardboard cutouts, the flaws in the plot would be forgivable. Unfortunately, Meyer wrote a book without a compelling plot or compelling characters, and you can’t expect critical readers to be impressed by that.
tl;dr: The stereotypical paperbacks with Fabio on them are porn without plot. However, there are books in which the plot happens to be a romance, and they are different.Fifty Shades is sometimes regarded as the latter (and is marketed that way) but really isn’t.
Many romance novel covers feature men who look like that.
THAT GUY! There was an article in TIME about him a couple of months ago for some reason.
I prefer to remember him as the guy that got hit by a goose on the roller coaster.
He was probably one of the first mainstream male supermodels, and pretty much set the standard for all following male models.
I prefer to remember him as the guy that got hit by a goose on the roller coaster.
Is that a thing that really happened?
Is that a thing that really happened?
Does it really matter?
There is no romance novel or porn without plot. The plot may be similar from story to story, but there is always a plot. The plot is generally about Person A falling in love with Person B, or getting them to be in bed (or the car, or the park, on the billiards table…) together. Or both.
I therefore believe plot is not the key flaw of romance novels. The trouble is with character. Characters are almost always shallow paragons, or shallow paragons with a veneer of “roughness” or “stubbornness” easily scrubbed away by their paramour.
However, romance is not an inherently flawed genre. I would consider Jane Eyre both a romance and among the best books I’ve ever read. The trouble is with lazy writers who know exactly what their audience wants. Every genre has terrible examples, romance and science fiction just tend to have some of the more blatant ones. Remember what Theodore Sturgeon said.