Joyce Saricks (librarian) writes: “It’s no easy task to define a genre so large and diverse that it accounts for the largest share of the consumer book market. This immense genre covers a wide range of books – from contemporary to historical, racy to gentle, realistic to paranormal, and much in between. Still, definitions help us focus our energies, come to terms with the genre, and better understand its fans.

In Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre, Kristin Ramsdell defines Romance as ‘a love story in which the central focus is on the development and satisfactory resolution of the love relationship between the two main characters, written in such a way as to provide the reader with some degree of vicarious emotional participation in the courtship process.’ These are the two keys to Romance fiction: first, the plot revolves around the love relationship and its happy ending; all else that happens is secondary. Other genres certainly rely on romantic themes, and Romance readers may enjoy these too. In books that fall within the Romance genre, however, the romantic relationships are the focus of the novels. Secondly, these stories are told in such a way that the reader is involved in the outcome of the Romance; the reader participates on an emotional level and experiences genuine satisfaction at the emotionally satisfying conclusion. Certainly we may feel an emotional involvement with the characters in boooks in other genres, but here the reader’s participation in the story is essential. We experience the story emotionally, and this makes our satisfaction in its ourcome hard to explain to someone unfamiliar with the genre. In school we are neither taught nor expected to appreciate stories on this emotional level. The satisfaction that fans experience with Romances (as well as the others in this Emotions group) depends so heavily on the emotional connection that the appeal is hard to explain to nonfans and difficult even for fans to acknowledge and verbalize.” (p.131)

“Romance appeals first to our emotions. This is one of the reasons fans find this genre… so difficult to talk about: it is almost impossible for them to characterize what it is that they enjoy. How does one describe the effect of the [-p.133] satisfyingly evocative, emotional tone? Readers expect to be drawn in, to identify with the characters and their relationship, to experience these stories, and it is this tone that prompts the vicarious emotional participation on the part of the reader. The tone may be upbeat throughout or may include darker moments, but the end always produces a satisfactory resolution.

This emotional pull provides the foundation for the success of many Romance writers. These are stories about the creation of families, and readers feel the power of love on all levels: parents to children, among siblings, and friends and with lovers.” (pp.132-133)

“Characters rather than plot twists drive Romances.” (p.134) “The focus of the story line in the Romance is the romantic relationship and its happy conclusion. All else that happens may be interesting, but it is secondary to this resolution. By the way, we can always identify a Romance by that first kiss, which is like no other.” (p.135)

“Marriage does not always occur within the story itself; however, hero and heroine recognize and affirm their love, and the suggestion of marriage at some point is almost de rigeur. If this recognition and affirmation of love do not occur, the book is not a Romance – or certainly not a satisfying one. Many of Nicholas Sparks’s and Danielle Steel’s titles are romantic, but not Romances. Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County is the classic example of a romantic book that is not a Romance. Although critics and reviewers called this popular title a Romance, fans of the genre did not agree. In Romances the lovers are not separated at the conclusion of the novel, and that ending gives Waller’s book a completely different feel.” (p.135)

On supporting fans, Saricks writes: “Every Romance reader, whether she has actually formulated it or not, has her own definition of the genre, based on the books she has read and enjoyed. One of our tasks in the [Readers’ Advisory] interview is to listen to her description to discover how she defines the genre. However, there are some characteristics that all fans acknowledge.

First, readers do not expect to be surprised by the resolution of a Romance novel. They know the outcome of the story from the start; that is one of the reasons they have chosen a book in this genre. Fans of all genres find a specific formula satisfies them and select books that fit that particular pattern. In a Mystery we expect the crime to be solved and justice to triumph. Here, in Romance, hero and heroine will resolve their difficulties and affirm their love. Fans read Romances because they find participating in the courtship and resolution so satisfying.

…Secondly, as in other genres, readers want to read everything by authors they enjoy and all titles in a series. In the Romance genre, series do not generally exist in the same form as they do in many other genres. Because Romances end with the satisfactory resolution of the romantic entanglement between hero and heroine, their story has been told, and further chapters or a new book featuring these characters would hardly be a Romance. On the other hand, the author may choose a family or a group of friends and successfully match each set of characters. Then couples from previous Romances can appear in later titles to help further that story, and readers get a glimpse of their continued happiness and the growth of their families. These are usually referred to as ‘linked’ Romances, and it behooves every librarian to keep track of these, as publishers are not always thoughtful or savvy enough to include series information – titles and the correct reading order – in all volumes of the series.” (p.140)

Characteristics of Romance

“1. The evocative, emotional tone draws readers in, and they participate in this love story and read toward the emotionally satisfying, happy ending.

2. Characters are easily identifiable types. Men are rugged, strong, distant, and dangerous; women are strong, bright, independent, and often beautiful.

3. The story features either a misunderstanding between the protagonists or outside circumstances that force them apart, followed by the satisfactory resolution of their romantic relationship. Social and moral issues may play a role in the story lines of Romances, although they are always secondary and do not interfere with the happy ending.

4. Engaging details of time and place attract readers, and these historical, cultural, and social particulars often frame the stories.

5. Although Romances usually can be read fairly quickly and are called fast-paced by their fans, they can also be stopped and started easily, without losing the story line.

6. Language plays an important role in setting the stage. The language of a Romance is instantly recognizable, with extensive use of descriptive adjectives to delineate characters, setting, and romantic or sexual interludes.” (p.133)

Ref: Joyce G. Saricks (2009) The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (2nd edn.) American Library Association: Chicago


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