Romance novels make a lot of money. Even the bad ones. The demand is very high. Around 50% of all fiction books sold in North America are romances. In Britain the number is around 20%.
What’s more most of these books are written by women and read by women.
So what is it about this genre that makes it so successful, and what can the boys do to emulate that success?
Stories about love have existed since forever (source: Wikipedia). Ancient myths and folk tales often tell the story of stupid things done in the name of love. But the romance novel the way we see it is a fairly modern, British creation.
Starting in the 18th century, and really taking off in the 19th, they put women in the central role and were about her getting what she wanted. Usually with a happy ending.
At that time women were still subject to the decisions of their families when it came to getting married. While I’m sure they were given some say in who to spend the rest of their lives with, it came down to practical matters. Nineteen year old girls don’t know what’s best for them, and should let their parents find an appropriate match. And more to the point, prevent an inappropriate one.
So romantic novels were a reaction to that, and support for the notion that a woman can make her own decisions. Radical stuff.
Cut to modern day, and romance novels have not changed all that much. Which is kind of odd. Women no longer have to surrender themselves to arranged marriages (internet dating sites are voluntary, you know that, right?), yet the struggle to find the right man continues.
Women aren’t quite so helpless, and men aren’t quite so domineering, but the general dynamic in these stories (you can’t resist the inevitable) has stayed more or less the same: There is some obstacle to love, and the man has to prove himself.
The woman will be attracted to the man almost immediately. She may resist, she may even get angry about it and act like she hates him, but that spark will be there between them.
In the better novels there will be a reason for the attraction. In Pride and Prejudice, the model for a lot of fictional romances, the reasons Elizabeth falls for Darcy are shown clearly. His behaviour and actions helping others win her over, and the acceptance of her own mistakes in presuming things about him that weren’t true help her to see him in a more favourable light.
In bad novels, the attraction isn’t explained. But they sell just as well as the good books. Women just get it. If you say she saw him and couldn’t stop herself staring, even though she didn’t know why (and I’ve read examples far vaguer than that), there are plenty of women readers who will go, Yep, nailed it.
It’s such a massive advantage to have the reader already agreeing with you before you’ve finished the sentence, I don’t think any male genre fiction has that.
The other weird thing about romance stories is that you know how it’s going to end. Obviously there will be hiccups along the way, but who are we kidding, really? The man and the woman are going to end up together. Which tends to take out the tension, unless you really work at it. Or bring in tension from another storyline.
Again, most readers don’t care. They want the expected resolution. They demand it.
Clearly there is something in women that feeds off whatever it is romance novel gives them. I can’t think of anything men value so much they’d want to see it stated over and over again.
Frankly the only thing men can do to sell large volumes of books is to start write romance novels. It could create a whole new sub-genre (Chuck-lit?). If you can’t beat them, join them.
Let me know your views on romance fiction, or romance storylines in other types of fiction.
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