Romance Writing and the Covenant Between Writer and Reader

Photo by Beabe Thompson, Copyright 2013
Over the weekend, I diligently followed a posting in a writers’ group I belong to on the web. A writer asked if her book was a Romance novel even if the couple in the story didn’t end up together.
What followed was a window of not only how writers outside the genre of Romance think of it, but how differently men and women think romance means.
Romance Writers of America defines Romance writing thus: 
Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. A 
Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.
An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. 
Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific sub genres within romance fiction.”
So that’s the Romance writer genre definition by the experts. An HEA or Happily Ever After, or the expectation of one.
People in the group seemed to generally agree about this, except a few men who kept insisting that the genre could be bent, HEA’s weren’t necessary, don’t cleave to dogma, etc. We don’t need no stinking Happily Ever After. Well, we don’t if it’s not Romance.
I pointed out that Romance readers want the HEA, and will be sorely bent out of shape if cheated, using the example of Charlaine Harri’s Sookie Stackhouse series. These are the books that True Blood was inspired by. Spoiler Alert! When Sookie ended up with someone beside Bill or Eric in the last book of the series, Harris received death threats and was pummelled by bad reviews on Goodreads and eBook platforms like Amazon and Nook. Pummelled. Readers had felt lead to cheer on their chosen romantic main male character, only for an ahem, underdog, to slip in and win fair Sookie’s heart and hand.
You never, never cheat a Romance reader out of her or his story HEA.
As Romance writers, we have a promise with our readers. If we set them up to care about a couple through a short story, novella, novel, or serials, then they must have their HEA eventually. If not, the promise is broken, and readers get really, really annoyed or angry.
Over and over in this forum male writers questioned the need for HEA, when the couple could just be something like friends with benefits. (I’m trying to not snort coffee through my nose right now.) The women who posted reinforced the Romance covenant because that’s what Romance readers want. 
Chick Lit can be romantic, but without the HEA, it’s not Romance. Some of my favorite Chick Lit, such as A Vintage Affair and the Bridget Jones series are Romances. The love interests, despite trials and heartbreak, win. Watching your loved one fly off in a plane with her significant other is not a Romance ending. Throwing the central female character in front of a train is not Romance writing.
Spending the rest of your life with the person you love is Romance.
If you’re a Romance writer, check out RWA. Fabulous resources for writers in that genre and fantastic workshops.
No hearts were broken in the writing of this blog.


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