What Makes a Romance Novel Truly Romantic?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Since it's Valentine's Day today, I couldn't resist a post about romance.

I admit. I love romance.

I love romance in real life. I love it in movies. I love hearing sigh-worthy news from friends. And I absolutely love romance in books.

There's just something in most of us—especially women—that draws us to the sweetness, tenderness, and self-sacrifice that goes into building a happy, satisfying relationship. We crave that in our own lives. And we also find pleasure in seeing it in others.

Obviously that's one of the reasons I'm drawn to writing and reading romance books.

But what goes into making a delightful romance story? What makes a romance novel truly romantic?

Lately I've had to do a lot of reading for a nationwide contest that I'm judging for published romance books. Plus I've also been listening to the audible book for Jane Eyre on my ipod.

What I've noticed in all this reading is that the romance genre encompasses a wide spectrum of displaying sensuality. There's everything from closed-bedroom-door sensuality all the way to the open-door-and-then-some.

If you've read my books, you'll know mine are the closed-bedroom type. That doesn't mean that the book lacks spice or spark. I've been told by more than one reader that I'm good at adding sexual tension without the sex.

Whatever the case, let me state the obvious: sex does not equal romance.

In other words, dropping a bunch of sex into a book doesn't make it more romantic than a book with less. And the opposite is true as well—closing the bedroom door doesn't mean the author is focusing more on the romance.

The romantic element of a relationship is entirely different from than the physical. Romance is the back-and-forth caring, doing those things that woo someone's heart, and having a certain amount of chivalry or nobleness—particularly from the hero.

In all the books I've been reading lately, I like the ones that develop the romance aspect, regardless of the sensuality or lack thereof. I enjoy stories best when the author takes the time to build the romantic relationship, to show the love gradually growing, to have the couple doing kind things for one another, engaging in warm conversations, and getting to know one another. 

Oh sure, I like a heart-stopping kiss or pulse-pounding encounter. But more than that, I like when the characters actively do things that show they care for each other. That could be something as simple as a bouquet of flowers. But it could also mean a special picnic, evening out, or even a flamboyant date night.

What makes a romance even more sigh-worthy (in my opinion), is when the hero recognizes how special the heroine is and SHOWS her in the various things he does for her, the ways he protects her, or the tenderness with which he cherishes her.

For example, in A Noble Groom (my book releasing in April), the hero notices that the heroine is secretly hiding money in a crock under her bed. Unknown by her, he begins to add money to her supply. Of course she eventually discovers what he's doing and is touched by it, especially since it's the complete opposite of what her deceased husband used to do—steal from the crock and gamble away the savings.

The hero does something chivalrous and sweet. While those kind of romantic moments happen all too infrequently in the daily grind of real life, we're still drawn to that kind of display of caring because it mirrors the longing inside us for deeper connections and more loving relationships.

So what makes a romance truly romantic? Whether the bedroom is closed or not, a good romance has at its heart a loving exchange of kindness, sacrifice, and tenderness. It exemplifies what relationships were meant to be like, and perhaps can be like, if we put forth the effort.

To celebrate romance, I'm giving away an early copy of The Noble Groom (releasing April 1)! (Deadline to enter giveaway: Wed. Feb. 27 midnight; US addresses only. Winner will be announced on the Thurs. Feb. 28 post. Book will ship to winner in early March.)

To enter your name into the drawing, leave a comment telling us the most romantic moment you've experienced! Or answer this question: What makes a romance truly romantic to you?
(Make sure to leave your email address with your comment so that I can notify you if you win.)

Sending you all lots of LOVE this Valentine's Day!

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