One of the great things about romance(and there are a lot of great things about romance) is that there really is something for everyone. Where one reader wants sunshine, laughter, and sweetness, the next might want the thrill of danger, enough angst to break the strongest of characters, and the HEA to come at a price. Who’s right? Luckily for all of us, both of them. Let’s discuss.
Romance detractors often use the word, fluff, to dismiss romance, but the joke’s on them. From traditional Regency romps, to whole category lines filled with love and laughter, so-called fluffy stories are an important part of the foundations of romance. Feel-good stories? Yep. Who doesn’t want to feel good? With the optimistic and emotionally uplifting ending already guaranteed, lighter romances allow the writer, and their readers, to go buck wild in between once upon a time and happily ever after. These romances, though obviously not without their conflicts and black moments (where’s the fun in a story like that?) these books have an extra dose of sunshine, the growing love relationship front and center. The setting can be anywhere, or any time, be it the here and now, or the loveliest of wallpapers on the walls of a historic drawing room. Might the hero or heroine of a fluffy paranormal hop on their unicorn and sprinkle some stardust on their way to a happy ending? Sure, they could, because that’s basically their job. Now that it’s summer, readers who might not look in the romance section at other times of the year, might develop a taste for a beach read, something light and entertaining, to take them away from everyday concerns, and leave them with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Those “fluffy” romances? Exactly what the doctor ordered. In fact, take two.
Maybe also leave room for their polar opposite, often termed “gritty.” Where “fluffy” romances are sunshine and sparkles, “gritty” romances are the other side of the coin. The settings here can, as with their lighter cousins, be any time and any place, but, this time, it’s the seedy underbelly beneath the glittering façade. Modern romantic suspense makes great use of this subset of romance, as do historicals that deal with the less than glamorous sides of times past. Victorian underworld, with or without steampunk accoutrements? That would fit. Hero and/or heroine from the lower classes? Yes again. Modern lovers, whose inner demons (literal or figurative) get brought to the fore while they’re on the run from the bad guys? Also goes here. Paranormals love this shady side of romance, and no wonder. Even in the dark side of romance, there is still a happy ending, proof positive that love can overcome anything.
While these may seem to be two mutually exclusive extremes, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The vast majority of romances occupy a space somewhere in the middle between fluff and grit, often containing elements of both. Talented writers blend light and dark like a master painter. Even the lightest love and laughter story has hidden depths that can break a reader’s heart before the happily ever after puts it back together again. The hidden pain of a hero or heroine’s past, when brought into the light, makes the happily ever after all the sweeter, no matter the level of heat. In the same vein, even the darkest and grittiest romantic suspense, contemporary, historical, or otherwise, has its flashes of light. Nobody is too far gone to be redeemed by love, or to find that glimmer of hope that allows them to go the extra mile and trust again (or for the first time) even though they’ve been battered by life, time and time again. These are romance novels, after all, and a good combination of dark and light elements hits the spot every time.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you like your romances fluffy, gritty, or somewhere in the middle? Like both fluff and grit, but prefer the two not to touch? What authors do you think do fluff or grit the very, very best? What constitutes fluff and/or grit to you? Are either more suited to one sort of romance than the other? If you don’t see what all the fuss is about, we want to hear about that, too. Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it.