As part of Chindi’s Different Shades of Romance week Jane Cable explores what is actually meant by the term romantic fiction and finds that pinning it down is rather like trying to herd cats.
I think the best definition I’ve ever heard of romantic fiction is that it tells the story of how two people who clearly should be together are kept apart by events. For me this takes it right back to its roots: think Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, think Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd – the underlying premise is the same. Skip forward to the Kindle romance best-sellers list for 2016 and you find nothing has changed: Kathryn Hughes’ The Letter (originally self published) and JoJo Moyes’ After You were amongst the most read novels of the year.
But let’s delve a little deeper into the theory of fiction. I remember one of the early writing workshops I attended, given by romantic novelist Margaret Graham. Her premise was that in the western world there was basically only one structure which could overlay every story ever told: X wants something; A, B, C, D (etc etc) stops them getting it. In a ‘romance’ they succeed in their request, in a ‘tragedy’ they fail. She called it the Cinderella principle.
So is what defines a romantic story the fact that what X wants is another person? Even the Romantic Novelists’ Association finds it hard to pin down. First is the question of degree: how much romance does a romance novel have to have? Many crime novels have a thread of romance running through them. My cousin, Roger Hubank, specialises in literary fiction about climbing. But as he says, there always has to be a girl. And even in the world of fantasy love plays an important part; for me the romance between Garion and Ce’Nedra was the most alluring part of David Eddings’ Belgariad novels.
The second issue the RNA refers to is sub-genre – there are so many, and some less obvious than others: historical, saga, mystery, commercial, chicklit, paranormal, contemporary, comedy, gay, gothic, new adult, erotic… the list is endless. The variety within each sub genre even more so.
And perhaps, that is the point. It is at least the point of our #differentshadesofromance week – to celebrate them all. And maybe even entice the naysayers who “never read romantic fiction” to dip their toe into the water. It could open up a whole new world.
Chindi’s #differentshadesofromance in the authors’ own words…
Contemporary romance novels are set within the time they are written and address issues relating to modern day romantic relationships. They often contain elements of humour and have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Crazy Over You is the story of one woman’s reaction to her husband’s infidelity while also being a story of friendship, family and love.
What is the definition of ‘dark romance?’ Where ‘light’ implies gentle and humorous, so ‘dark’ is used to describe stories that are emotionally powerful and disturbing. Beginnings is a romantic thriller set in the criminal underworld of London; a tale of two young people on the run who fall in love. Described as ‘emotionally charged,’ it is their tender love bond that keeps you turning the pages as they live on a knife edge, desperate to escape the deadly enemies who stalk them.
Like Carol I write contemporary romance but there is always a twist of suspense and particularly in Another You, a large dash of history influencing the story. Although I adore books about relationships I became very frustrated with the ‘boy meets girl, they fall out a few times, then get married’ formula and always wanted to give my readers something more.
Past Imperfect opens two years after the wife of best-selling author Max Reilly died in a car crash along with her lover. Max is still recovering from her death and her deception. So when he meets Emma – who is awaiting divorce from her violent husband – and quickly becomes attracted to her, it is hard to reconcile with his grief. Emma is cautious and keen to hold back and Max is determined to keep his secrets from her. This becomes increasingly difficult when he finds himself facing his past and one secret in particular, involving violence, murder and betrayal.
Search for the Light is an historical romance set in the days when women were transported for stealing something as small as a handkerchief. The setting is dark but the friendship of three girls as they help each other survive and find love on the far side of the world is uplifting.