The first time someone told me the book I had just written was not women’s fiction as I had assumed, but was in fact a Romance, I rebelled. I thought romance novels had guys who look like Greek gods and women who were vapid and helpless, and I would never write anything like that. Then I decided to read through the genre. I read as many examples of the different kinds of Romantic fiction as I could get my hands on. Some of them were… rather awful, but I found really good novels with rich characters and solid storytelling. The depth of the subject matter covered was surprising and the quality of the writing was truly high.
There are some complex, intelligent women writing novels about women who are just the same. It’s not all Barbies meeting Kens regardless of all the bare chests on the covers. Again, there is some real trash, but the majority of the good stuff, is just that – good. I had been so prejudiced about the genre I had never taken the time to find the good stuff and instead, dismissed it out of hand.
When I was old enough to start making my own choices of what to read I stuck to fantasy and the classics. I liked adventures that had happy endings. I can pretty much guarantee that if in those days you saw me walking through the woods just mucking about, I was probably in my head having an adventure. As I became a moody teenager my tastes drifted into Sci-Fi and cozy mysteries. All of my choices (with the exception of some of the Sci-Fi) had one thing in common, happy endings. These endings weren’t all sunshine and roses, but ends were tied, heroes were rewarded, bad guys were mostly vanquished, and worlds were saved. These were novels that either made you sigh in contentment at the end or want to grab a sword and go hack up some orcs.
As a reader, that’s what I find satisfying. I don’t want to be dragged through a novel where horrible things happen to the main character only to be left at the end with some sort of moral lesson that’s usually closer to existentialism, relativism, or narcissism than I find comfortable. Fiction is a place where the author spins the world out of nothingness and then chooses what happens. The author is in control of everything. Why anyone chooses to write a book full of desolation without consolation, I will never know.
This is not a dig on complex, well-written fiction or modernist, post-modernist, or what-have-you books. To Kill a Mockingbird is not an easy book to get through, but it’s one of the best ever written. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is a very difficult book to get through, but to this day it is the novel with the greatest impact on me as a reader. That book altered my view of the world. There were times I had to put it down and walk away because the world it took me to was that real and that terrible a place, but it’s message was profound. These were not happy endings, but they were full of deep meaning.
When I read I don’t hold hands with the MC and walk through their story. I jump into their shoes and live it with them. I want to know my pain is worth it, that there’s either a great truth that is about to be imparted or at the end I will turn the last page and feel something. Whether that’s the glow of a happy ending or the thrill of an amazing adventure, or just a puzzle solved.
There is this idea amongst fiction’s literati that sentimentality and the happy, satisfying, resolved endings it produces fails to communicate the emotional complexity and moral ambiguity of real life and are therefore inferior. But I call BS on that. Worse than calling it BS, I’d go as far as calling it elitist. The idea that feeling deeply and enjoying sentiment is strictly for the uneducated or less-enlightened is insulting.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a happy ending. There’s nothing wrong with characters who have full, resolved story lines. There’s not a darn thing wrong with romantic fiction. It isn’t less intellectual nor are the people who write it. It simply embraces emotion and imagination, not at the cost of reason, but in measure with it. Romance gets a bad rep. because serious readers aren’t supposed to enjoy it and intelligent women aren’t supposed to write it which I say is utter nonsense.
Sound off the in the comments if you write Romance or read it and what your thoughts are on the genre.