Duke, Lawman, Spy, Wallflower, Courtesan, Scandal, Redemption, Highland, add your own favorite keywords here. Most of us who have been reading romance for a while know that there are certain tropes, character types or names, etc, that will make us pick up a book every time, even if everything else would, without it/them, get a pass. Can one element, no matter how seemingly small, make a difference in how much we want to read a particular book? Let’s talk about that.
Regular readers of Saturday Discussion already know the bunny trails I can go down, when it comes to those elements of romance novels that will plop a new book straight in our cart, real or virtual, as soon as we spy it in blurb, synopsis, or even cover art. After far more hours than I will readily admit, spent watching Book Tube videos, I noticed that several of the reviewers were reviewing the same books, and picking out some of the same elements. This definitely counts as things that make one go “hmmm.” I may have dated myself there, but no worries. I’m good company.
I’ve written before, about how even a tiny mention of Newgate Prison or Bedlam asylum automatically rockets a new (or new-to-me) book to the top of my TBR pile, no matter what else might have been there before the new book came along. Heroine disguised as male? I’m there. Historical romance set in any time between the end of the Wars of the Rosea and the American Revolution? Give. Right here. :makes grabby hands: YA romance with grief, anxiety, or depression? Come to Mama. Lovers who have to work for that Happily Ever After? You know I want that. I need it. It’s my reading oxygen.
Get me talking about any of these elements, and I’m as happy and chipper as any fan of books that can be described as “fluffy” or “feel-good.” For me, these grittier books do feel good. This begs the question of why that might be. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been naturally drawn to this kind of story. Fairy tales? You bet, but pre-Brothers Grimm, if you please. Since it’s been coughty-cough years since my picture book days, I’m going to take a guess and say that I’m hardwired for this kind of thing. Doesn’t make my choices any better or worse than those who prefer something more upbeat, only different, and romance, thankfully, is a whole world full of difference.
It’s often been said that readers who claim they don’t like romance may have been reading the wrong kind of romance. If a reader’s idea of the perfect romance, for example, is on the sweet side, they’re probably going to be a hard sell on erotic romance that is hot, hot, hot, and vice versa. This doesn’t mean that the reader who prefers sweet romance is a prude or inhibited, or that the the erotic romance reader’s private life would neccessarily be rated NC-17. What it does mean is that there’s a common element in the romances an individual picks, that strikes the right note, and makes them want to come back for more, time and again.
Some readers may gravitate toward contemporary settings, because, well, we live in interesting times, and the promise of a happy ending can make current events a lot more manageable. Maybe small town romances provide a sense of coziness and community, or romantic suspense gives the best of both worlds – all of the thrill of the danger, with none of the risk to life, limb or heart. It’s not possible to speculate on why every reader likes the things they do, so I can only speak for myself.
When I was but a wee little princess, I was extremely fond of playing “the olden days,” as family lore says that I called it. This involved turning off the electricity, my father lighting a fire in the fireplace, and my mother lighting candles, while we all spoke some form of, to a preschooler, exceedingly proper old-timey language. Like I said, I’m hardwired, and I’ve come a long way since then. Back when I inflicted “the olden days” on my parents, that’s all it was, one jumbled mess of King Arthur and Jack the Ripper (okay, I will admit, I was a weird kid) and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Norse mythology and the Old West and whatever else I was aware of at the time.
Now? Now, I’m happiest when historical romance is so intrinsically intertwined with the romance, that picking the romance up and dropping it into a different period, past, present, or future, would totally change the story. Other readers prefer an “olden days” approach, and yet others won’t touch anything too far back, or historicals at all, for that matter, with a ten foot pole and lead gloves. Maybe some hsitoricals are okay, if there’s a paranormal, inspirational, or erotic element. For others, the deciding factor may be if there is humor in the book, or a puzzle to solve, or the author better darned well have academic credentials, and a willingness to cite primary sources.
There really is on one right answer to why I like romance novels, why I like historicals in particular, or even the historical periods I prefer. The great thing, though, is that every reader and writer of romance has their own answer to the question of why they like what they like, and the answers themselves, can provide some pretty good stories, on their own. What’s yours?
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Of course I want to know what elements of a romance novel will draw your interest every time, but what fascinates me even more, is why. What is it about those elements that is special to you? Pull up a chair in the comment section, tell us all about it, and don’t hold back. There’s room for everybody at this table.