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Why Romances Are a Valid & Important Form of Literature

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I couldn’t pass up the opportunity on Valentine’s Day to have a post about romance—particularly about writing romances. Even though nowadays romance novels are widely accepted and liked, there are still  people who turn up their noses at the thought of reading a romance (or writing one).

Some view such novels as “fluffy” or “trashy” or “titillating.” They may believe that romance novels only serve to fill our minds with unhealthy expectations of relationships. After all, we know that fairy tales and happily-ever-afters don’t happen in real life, right? So why bother reading them?

Instead, why not fill our minds with realistic, wholesome literature? Or deeper, enriching stories that feed the mind and soul?

Such romance novel opponents overlook the fact some of the best classics are the most sigh-worthy romances (Jane Austin fans raise your hands!). But apparently being an “old” book makes the romance more acceptable.

Yes, modern romance novels still get a bad rap. They’re often classified as inferior to other genres. Even among writers, there’s an assumption that writing romances is easy, that anyone can do it, that if all else fails, write a romance—then you’re sure to get published.

I admit, there have been times around certain groups of people where I've sensed an unspoken condemnation for romance novels. It's at those times, I find myself dropping the "romance" from "historical romance" writer and describing myself simply as a “historical" writer. While technically that’s true—I do write historicals—it’s also true that the romance is a central part of my book. There’s no way around it—I'm a historical romance writer.

Should I be ashamed or guilty for the fact that my books contain romance? Should romance writers feel the impulse to cover up what they write from cynical family and friends as if somehow it's substandard? Should romance readers hide what they read because for fear others might think they’re not as spiritual or intellectual or whatever?

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and romance, I want to pose several reasons why I think romances are a valid and important form of literature. Here are several reasons why I write romances:

1. Human relationships are complex. And stories give us a medium to explore all of those complexities in greater depth. While I’m writing, I love being able to delve into the various ups and downs of relationships, the push and pull, what works and what doesn’t, and all of the nuances that go into love and romance. Stories are a safe place to analyze the many issues that arise in relationships and give us the opportunity to look at some of our own issues.

2. We all crave love in one form or another. When we’re immersed into writing or reading a romance novel, we often become intertwined with the characters. Their experiences become ours. We have the potential to deeply feel their emotions, including the growing love.

3. Romance stories help renew and refresh our belief in love. In a world riddled with marriage problems, divorce, and painful relationships, romance novels can serve as mentors for what it takes to forgive, persevere, and make things work. They can also be mirrors that reflect what real love looks like, especially for those who may not know.

4. Romances are a fun form of entertainment. Yes. Just like a suspense, fantasy, or legal thriller, romances can offer a break from the real world around us—a real world that is often harsh and demanding. No one would think any less of a person for losing themselves in a romance movie (like The Young Victoria—which I loved!). Romance novels are an equally valid way to take an enjoyable break.

5. Who says fairy tales don’t happen in real life and that we shouldn't believe in them? I’d hate to see the day when we stop dreaming of happily-ever-afters. Sure real life romances aren’t always easy. But as I recently heard at a conference: Good things are hard, but hard things are good (via Todd Wilson). So, why give up on romance (and romance books) altogether? Shouldn’t we work hard and strive for better, more positive relationships instead?

Ultimately, those of us who appreciate a well-told romance story will have to ignore the nay-sayers, stand proud, and keep on reading and writing what we love.

And of course, since it’s Valentine’s Day, I officially give all of us romance lovers permission to buy a romance novel today. (I just bought Sixty Acres and a Bride by my friend and debut author, Regina Jennings.) Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to treat ourselves to some love!

So, why do you read or write romances? What draws you to them? And if you think romance novels are slightly substandard literature, why? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

24 comments:

  1. Excellent post, Jody. And no, you should never feel guilty about writing romance. Your books explore the beautiful, yet complex world of relationships.

    There should be more kissing in books, not less! :)

    Contrats to Regina! VEry excited for her.

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  2. I love writing romances. Some people don't understand it and that's okay. I laugh when people say that romance novels bring unrealistic expectations of perfect relationships. Have the people who argue this ever read a romance novel? The good ones are full of conflict.

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  3. Goodmorning, ladies!

    Yes, Heather! I think as women too, we're wired for relationships and romance. I see it even with my tween daughters! Is so cute that they're starting to like romance in movies and books now too!

    Julie, I agree. I think many of those opposed have formed their prejudices without even having read a romance!

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  4. This was very refreshing for me, especially on Valentine's Day. I'm one of those writers who have shied away from the "romance" label. But no longer!

    Thanks so much for the post, Jody!

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  5. Beautiful (and apropos) post today, Jody! I think the mixup between the words "love" and "romance" is often the culprit of people snubbing romance as a worthy genre. But every human being on earth craves love in some way, shape, or form.

    I'm so glad you pointed out that romances are also a fun form of entertainment. What the heck.. guys like action and chase movies, and lots of us girls are wired for romance. So be it.

    Happy Valentine's Day. :)

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  6. Jody,
    Wonderful post! I definitely agree about all that you said. Romance is such an important part of literature and if written well, is by no means inferior to other genres.

    And by the way, I LOVED “The Young Victoria” too! :)

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  7. Let's see, you tell a good story that resonates for a broad spectrum of people and that they connect to emotionally? That's good writing, regardless of what you call it. Happy Valentine's Day!

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  8. My husband teases me when I read my "Christian smut" aka romance novels. I know HE'S kidding but it's true there is a "bad rap" going around about romance novels. I think it's up to Christian writers to break the mold and write novels that DO go above and beyond, that tell a realistic love story that's not all frills. For example, Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love...romance novel, yes, but soooo much more than a story about love between two people (brings God into it).

    And I think that, right there, is the difference between Christian/inspirational romance novels and more mainstream romance novels. To me, a romance is so much deeper, richer, and built to last if God is at the center. That's why I read them. They are so refreshing, and they just make my heart happy.

    Just my two cents. :P

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  9. Jodi,
    Thank you for the validation of why romance writers do offer a valuable form of entertainment to readers. I think all romance writers feel the way you describe in your post at some point (possibly all the time) but the reasons you list are why we all keep plugging away at it.
    Love drives everything- who wouldn't want to live with love day in and day out???

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  10. Beautiful and very, very true. Well-written stories get at what it means to be human, and what is more human than love? Happy Valentine's day :)

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  11. Great post, Jody!

    Love and romance are a natural part of life. It knocks us off guard, and spins us around. It makes us squeal with joy and cry our eyes out. The tension get thick. Why not write about it?

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  12. Jody,

    I completely agree with this post. Are we as Christians supposed to let the world tell all the love stories? Since God invented romance I think it only fitting that He'd inspire His followers to write romantic tales.

    And thank you for the plug about my book! I hope you enjoy it.

    Happy Valentine's!

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  13. In any story I read, I want some type of "chemistry" between a male and a female, no matter their age. Romance doesn't always have to be walked-out. As a woman with no romance in her life, and for a long time now, and with no signs of any in the future (a woman at peace with this), I don't read the traditional romance novels very often. BUT, I definitely see their place and purpose in the world. Just last night I was discussing Christian romance novels with a friend and commented that they strive to be an example to the readers, to point to a better way, to better choices, and, yes, to offer hope.

    This subject seems to go along with something I read yesterday, that we are to serve God and not other people. God is love. God created love. And in this world that has turned the image of Love upside down (and dragged it in the mud), you all are writing of love as God created it to be. (Of course, He knew it would never be perfect.)

    To create anything is to open ourselves up to criticism. We teach others how to treat us. Treat yourselves with the respect you and your genre deserve, writers of Christian romance. (My mother adored reading your stuff. It filled her last lonely years with MUCH companionship and good fun!)

    I write, and mostly read, YA. Writing the romance is, and will continue to be, hard work. I will be watching and reading your words, looking for Help!

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  14. Great point, Patti! We romance writers really do need to treat ourselves with respect if we want others to. That principle really applies to all areas of life, doesn't it? And I'm so glad to hear that your mother enjoyed my books! Thank you for sharing that with me!

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  15. Jody, This is such an encouraging post. Thank you!

    You're right...It's so easy to feel "less than" in certain circles. I'll hold my head up a little higher when I answer the question of what I write. :)

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  16. You bring up some excellent points about romances - and I agree wholeheardly, they are a very important form of literature (I suppose I'm biased since I write it too). But you know, I suppose I do look down on some romance novels - the that ones that are essentially pornography in print. I blush just remembering some of the stories one of my friends in middle school used to read aloud to us in the girls bathroom.


    I like what Patti said, we need to respect ourselves, and be proud of what we write. Inspirational Romances are uplifting, beautiful, encouraging books. They are so far removed from smut they shouldn't even be in the same category. As for me, I hold my head up proudly when I tell people that I write historic inspirational romances - even though I'm not yet published! :)

    BTW - just finished The Preachers Bride yesterday and starting on The Doctors Lady today. My grandma read both already and loved them!
    Happy Valentines day!

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  17. Some people might look down on romances, and I rarely read anything BUT a romance. There are so many beautiful aspects to falling in love that I couldn't imagine reading (or writing) anything else.

    And guess what? I just ordered Sixty Acres and a Bride too. :) That preview on Amazon sucked me in.

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  18. I read a wide array of genres, but I always include romance novels in that array, because what's life without a little romance? If we're lucky, it's a part of our everyday lives. If we're not, it has been at one time or another.

    I've truly never thought about romance novels being substandard in any way. We write what we're good at writing - and there's a reader for every written word.

    Great post!

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  19. Loved this. ;-)

    Reality is, romance plays a part in just about everyone's life - even if one chooses to be celibate, there are people intent on "fixing one up" with somebody. Or other people's romances effect us - our best friend marries and perhaps moves away, or a sister marries and brings a wonderful new man into the family.

    To me, a novel that does not at least touch upon romance, or that male-female is s/he interested? vibe, is phony. People are all about who's interested in who, when it all drills down to it. And the people who sniff that they don't read "bodice rippers" [insert superior look here} when I mention I write romance, can kiss my corset.

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  20. I think it's important to include romance in all stories, even if the love story itself isn't the central plot. I lose interest in a story if it seems like the characters don't even think about love.

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  21. Thanks for reading both of my books, Heidi! So glad to hear that your grandma enjoyed them! :-)

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  22. I like reading about people's relationships in Christian historical romance. I really enjoy your books and the very talented way you portray the characters and their relationships. And like you pointed out, reading romances can be a way to escape from the sometimes harsh world. As long as the romances are solid, as yours are, I don't think there is anything wrong with sitting back and relaxing with one!

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  23. Thanks for this post! I really needed to hear this argument. I am an avid reader of Christian fiction- historical romance being my favorite. I am interested in writing and am trying to leatn all I can and of course practice. Oh, I read a lot too:)The people I am close to aren't thrilled with my reading "unrealistic" novels and I don't feel many good vibes about writing the stuff either. I've heard that some Christian stories are 'cheesy' [I agree in some cases] and that they always end with God giving then the perfect ending that they asked for. I guess some of us out here are willing to work against this belief, but if someone saying this doesn't read the book or watch the movie they'll never know.
    God has created each of us with a need to be loved, first and foremost by Him. I love it when authors say that they want their writing to draw the reader closer in his/her relationship with Christ and the book really has that potential. We have only so much time on this eath. Many people do things for God, but if what we do doesn't bring others to Christ - it could be time to jump ship.
    Thanks for the inspiration!
    Jennie

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  24. Preach it sister! :D Hehe! I love romance novels. Granted, when I was younger, I read some pretty trashy ones. Thankfully I have grown beyond that and read edifying romance novels that encourage me in my walk with the Lord. :) I doubt I'll ever stop loving the mushy stuff!

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