Anchors may be a funny topic to associate with romance reading, unless one is thinking of seafaring romance, but that’s not what we’re talking about this week…or is it? The answer to that is….yes. Also no. Thing is, anchors depend entirely on the individual, so, while one person may always be up for anything even remotely involving a ship at sea, another’s heart may go pitty-pat at the thunder of hoofbeats, or need hear no more than “small town” and that book is already sold. Doesn’t matter one bit (well, maybe a little) what else happens in the book; if it’s got the anchor, we’re good. Every reader has their own anchor, that one thing that can override any concerns, and make the book a safe haven, or start of an exciting adventure. How many different forms can an anchor take? Glad you asked.
The genre of romance can, in itself, be an anchor. We come back to romance, time and again, in all its flavors and permutations, because we know that, no matter what else the author throws at our lovers, they are going to reach the end of the book together, and happy about it. That usually takes the form of an assurance that they are going to live happily ever after (HEA) or, in the case of many serialized and/or YA romances, happy for now (HFN.) The only two requirements of the romance genre, as a matter of fact, are that the love story must be central to the story, and that it has an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Doesn’t mean the lovers’ lives will be peaches and cream, riding their unicorn through a cotton candy forest, but that, no matter what else happens, they will have each other to see them through it.
Once we have that, we can do anything that still lies within those boundaries. That’s pretty liberating stuff. For those wondering why we are talking about liberating things in a post about anchors, never fear; the two can work together. The same as an anchor gives a ship a firm hold in the vast ocean, so that it can do its jobs, be they fishing, research, aiding another vessel, search and rescue, etc, or even sitting pretty and enjoying the view, the genre requirements of romance allow us to rest easy. Even when things look terribly bleak for our lovers -and the big black moment is a favorite part of romance reading for many of us, including yours truly- we still have that anchor of the genre, holding things in place, so we know it’s going to be all right. Heroine about to marry the wrong guy (or not marry the right one?) It’s a romance. She’ll figure out the right thing to do. Hero gravely wounded and looks like he might not make it? It’s a romance. He’ll pull through. Maybe it’s the other way around, and she’s on death’s door, while he’s looking for the nearest exit at the wedding venue. Maybe one of them is in both tight spots at the same time. Who knows? Within the certainty of romance, anything can happen.
Of course, with a genre that has as many variations as romance, different variations have different anchors. One wouldn’t take the same anchor one would use for a light pleasure craft and expect it to hold an ocean liner or troop transport ship. It’s the same way with romance novels. When we read a contemporary romance, we expect to see the lovers find their way to HEA or HFN in a world that resembles the one in which we live; we expect them to have experiences and concerns that are close to our own, even if in a very general sense. When we read a historical, we want to be transported to another time, and have that time directly (or indirectly) affect the course of the love story. In a romantic comedy, if we’re not laughing, we’re leaving; pretty straightforward there. In a paranormal or otherwise speculative romance, we want to be taken out of our everyday world, and, for the time we spend within those pages, we want to believe in magic.
Sometimes, what anchors us to a particular sort of romance novel is a more ephemeral sort of thing. For some, it’s an author’s voice, the way they tell the story, that nobody else could ever duplicate. For others, it’s getting to know a family or group of friends that makes us feel that we could walk into the story, recognize everyone on sight, and maybe even find a home of our own among them. For yet others, there is a time or a place or an idea of which we need hear only a whisper, and our ears prick, because we heard it calling our name.
Whatever it may be, an anchor holds us in place, giving us a fixed point to where we can return again, and again. For me, personally, a historical romance with heaping helpings of both will always get my attention. “Angst with a happy ending” may not be an actual genre (at least not outside of fan fiction) but, for readers like me, no anchor has ever held more true.
Now, dear readers, I turn it over to you. What anchors keep you coming back to romance fiction, no matter where else you may roam? What must a romance novel contain to make you a happy reader? Lots of historical detail, or the prettiest wallpaper there is? Do contemporaries need to reflect the world in which we actually live, or show us what it yet might be? Is there a trope or creature your paranormals of choice absolutely must have, or no thank you? If you find the whole idea of any sort of anchor to be ridiculous, we want to hear about that, too. Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.