Why Romance Novels Are Still So Very Popular
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree and Rising.
Although book sales in general are way down, the romance genre still holds the lion’s share of the market, and of course, there’s the usual hullabaloo over “image” that’s been going on for the past 20 years of writers trying to get rid of the “bodice-ripper” moniker. The genre evolved from historical bodice-rippers to strong contemporary women to the diversity of action-adventure heroines, submissive “bite-me-anytime!” vampire lovers, preachy Christian inspirational romances, and darkly erotic storylines with little to no plot.
I’ve been offended many times by the usual smirking questions from reporters on my “research” for sex scenes, and do I (wink, wink) need any help with the next book? (I dare one to ask me that now. Yes, I do have fantasies of hauling out a strap-on and saying, “Why yes, Clark Kent, you can help with the research!”) For some reason, reporters are extraordinarily interested in the 2 paragraphs of sex in a 400 page book, which I usually point out and ask why that is. I always find that amusing because my sex scenes in some of my non-romances are far hotter than in my romances.
But it’s not the sex in these books that keeps the romance reader coming back. It’s far easier to find sex elsewhere without the time-consuming effort of reading something. There’s plenty online or via the movies or even sex toys in your own bedrooms to occupy you without ever picking up book, unless you plan to spank someone with it.
I explained it rather eloquently yesterday to someone, about how romance novels are popular not because of the sex (not all romances have sex, by the way) but because of the connection between two people.
In arriving at this explanation, I was talking about how others can look at two people and not see the attraction or how they can so easily wave a dismissive hand at an attraction they don’t understand and recommend moving on to greener pastures. I remember sharing past infatuations with close friends who responded that way and I couldn’t understand why they were so quick to dismiss or criticize my fascination.
It’s because I could relay the situation only second-hand and in words that didn’t match their own frame of reference. I could mention how his knee touched mine as we sat close and a friend would shrug it off as nothing or ask, “Yeah, but did you fuck him?” I could repeat some sweet comment that made me feel like I was on top of the world and my friends would say, “Oh, that doesn’t mean anything—you need a guy like the one I have.” Then I’d be frustrated.
But all I could do was to narrate, to tell. I couldn’t show. I couldn’t put someone else in the exact spot I’d been in and feel it the way I had by simply relaying what I’ve so enjoyed. In romance novels, it’s so much about introspection and the internal and showing those moments rather than telling.
I was still lost in a moment and trying to relay the long-dead feelings that had been resurrected for me by telling a friend the good news of these rebirthed feelings. No matter what I said, that friend could never share that moment through our conversation. They hadn’t lived the moment as I had.
They weren’t there to experience first-hand the jittery electricity of realizing my knee was touching his, hearing his sudden shallow gasp for breath when he realized it, too, or seeing the little jolt on his face at being too close or the glint in his eyes as I caught him looking at me for a little too long or the butterfly feeling I hadn’t felt in years.
They weren’t there when he said something that, in my later telling it that yes, I had a good time and he was sweet to say this, a friend rolls her eyes at me for sounding stupid. They never heard the timbre of his voice or the inflections in the words or the odd mix of playfulness, fear, and pure sex. They never heard the context of his statement or the stories behind why it was important or dangerous or endearing. They never heard the way he suddenly lowered his voice to tell me a secret on the phone when it was no secret at all but the risk of admission was still enough to make him fear rejection or judgment and yet he took the chance and said it anyway.
But in a romance novel, the emphasis is not on the telling that our knees touched and he said something inane. It’s on the showing, on the putting the reader into that moment and feeling, hearing, tasting, experiencing the senses through the words and reliving that moment.
You can’t adequately explain falling in love or sexual attraction with a particular person to someone else, but you can put them into the protagonist’s shoes in a novel and let them experience it first-hand there, and no matter how many friends they tell they’ve fallen in love or how many friends tell them the same, it’s never the same as reliving those exhilarating feelings through the written word, through a replay of that moment in time that calls up their own memories of those feelings again, as if for the first time.