appeal of romance, coming of age, empowerment, romantic fiction, why we read romance

The enormous appeal of romance novels – why we love them

I’m giving a talk in a library in a few months on the appeal of romance novels so have been thinking a bit about it.
Everyone no doubt has a different reason for why they like a good romance. Just as those who read thrillers like the anticipation and the ride of the journey, those who read romance novels are effectively, I think, reading a story that ends in a better world than the one it started out with: the reader promise or reader expectation, as they say. It has to have a happy-ever-after but within that, there are a number of elements that make a romance such a great read, and that actually tie in

Cover photo of upcoming story “Belinda’s Valentine”

with real life.
For a start, experiences change us. Whoever we meet, whatever we do, we’re often influenced, and that’s just the way it is, and is generally a good thing. Generally,  a good thing.
Relationships, whatever they are, are the essence, if you like, of being human. Helping, loving, serving, mentoring, parenting, caring… and in a romance, there’s more to it than just the two people. More elements to life that come into the story whether it be the single mum getting through life with her children (one of my favourite themes) or the CEO facing corporate problems with widespread effects, or those military themes – there can be a ton at stake in the wider world, there. There are always other relationships going on, and as people, as humans, that interests us.
Some years back I heard a talk from a bookstore owner on the appeal of the genre and she said that they were ’empowering’ books. Now, that sounds like a very 70s term (or 60s, or 80s?), but it made so much sense to me. I thought about reading in my early teens, reading stories of young women starting off in life, moving out of home, going flatting, getting jobs, being independent, managing their own money, making their own important decisions, and those books had huge appeal for me. Generally there was some sort of love-interest going on, as happens in life, but they were stories that made you think of all the possibilities out there, how life could be, how challenging it could be, and how you would deal with those problems when they came up, but also how exciting it all was, getting to be a grown-up. Romance novels, while they are about the romance, are also about the individual on the cusp of a new life – a new adventure in life. It’s more than coming of age, too, because the older you get, the more you realise… we are constantly, coming of age. At what age, are we meant to have magically arrived? Oh gosh, that’s a whole other blog post right there.
I think it was Nora Roberts who once called her books “relationship” books. They’re all about the people. Often it’s the relationships surrounding the couple that are hugely important – the single mum with children and a dodgy ex, for example – where it lends itself to all the different themes – getting over past hurts, forgiveness, redemption, all that heavy stuff.
And it’s all great stuff.
I’m pretty sure I’ll be thinking a lot more about all this over the next few months!