As you should all know by now, I’m a ridiculously big fan of romance stories. I like reading about two very unique people who get to know each other and (this is the important part) find a way to make the relationship work WITHOUT compromising their principles and independence. Hotness is a bonus factor that is very much appreciated, but not necessary. The important part is the believable connection forged between the characters. That doesn’t seem all that difficult, right?
Actually, I think it is. Because as much as I love romantic stories, I also acknowledge that a good number of the ones I come across are…well, they’re disappointing. It’s not about the plots being stagnant (seriously, EXACTLY HOW MANY Greek tycoons/Sheiks/Lords are out there falling in love with spunky American/Australian/British brides anyway?) or that they’re unbelievable. It’s mostly about the falling in love process being unbelievable, the actual story of how one sort of person falls in love with another sort of person under certain circumstances. The fact that many of these stories fall back on the OMG instant attraction tactic without following it up with, I don’t know, ACTUAL CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, is a little bit frustrating. It may be just me, but in my experience stuff like that doesn’t typically end in a “happily ever after” kind of marriage – it culminates in something horrible like divorce or, at the very worst, marital abuse.
They sell remarkably well, of course, because who doesn’t like the idea of reforming a bad boy/asshole? Nevertheless, I think there are some ways to go about this that won’t, essentially, piss me off. For example, said reformation needs to be credible and not just “Oh wow the power of her love/vagina!” And maybe, just maybe, it shouldn’t involve an asshole whose only boon in his character is that he doesn’t hurt animals.
…if I think about it hard enough, maybe my MAJOR peeves about popular love stories is that they’ve become so LAZY. Man meets woman and they clash, which apparently means or leads to attraction. Then they have a bonding experience of some sort (a child, calamity, stalker, whatever) that reveals just how much they really care for each other – this typically involves one saving the other from some catastrophe. After that, they have the cheesy confession time (sometimes, they are well-written, but they’re often overly-sentimental drivel that don’t even seem realistic given the context AND the characters). Possibly, you get an epilogue in which they’re expecting their first child.
The worst ones for me are the ones in which the chemistry between the characters was not properly established AT ALL. I mean yeah, physical attraction’s there, but what about the emotional and personal connection? The exploration of HOW they can make the relationship work beyond their feelings in the bedroom? See, I understand how personal conflicts between two characters can make a story interesting. But unless you reveal some particular non-superficial values that these characters share, you will not be able to make ME believe that they will have happiness forever after. Unless you can prove to me that the chemistry between these two people isn’t as volatile as you first implied, I cannot in good conscience buy into the story you just wrote. And I realize just how terrible it is to have some standards when it comes to something as simple as love stories, if only because the sheer volume of these works means I will be disappointed again and again.
Of course, there are romance novels that I absolutely love. One of them is this:
Not everyone is into Regency romance novels – and to be truthful, it’s rarely my cup of tea, too. I tend to be picky with my Regency romance authors. But Julia Quinn came into my life one day and just made things shiny with her Bridgerton series. THEN she published Just Like Heaven, and pretty much nailed everything I wanted out of a good love story.
The main protagonists didn’t have the sudden and explosive physical attraction to each other at the beginning of the book, and the thing that brings them together is not necessarily the fact that one saved the other’s life – it’s the recognition, in each other, values that they themselves find important (in this case, it’s family, which is a theme I love in my romance). Of course, it’s the utterly adorable fact that Marcus and Honoria both have a weakness for sweets. Their love story is, with the exception of the sprained ankle, extremely undramatic but utterly believable in its quiet inevitability. Marcus is his own person, as is Honoria, even though their are both shaped by their relationship with Daniel Smythe-Smith (friend to the former and brother to the latter who has his own, less satisfying, novel; it was only saved by Hugh Prentice). Together, they are still themselves but more.
Of course, this book isn’t perfect – it had some continuity issues that I, as a fan of the entire Quinn universe, was a little disappointed by – but the error was not as important as the story of the relationship itself.
I guess my point is this: while I don’t expect perfection in my romance novels (despite the fact that they’re supposed to be perfect escape fantasies), I still want them to make the relationship believable. I need to believe that the happily ever after for the two characters I just “traveled” with can last long after I’ve finished reading the final sentence.
Maybe I’m just that kind of person, and I’m hoping that there are more romance books out there that cater to people like me.
Is that crazy?