writing romance novels = freedom?

How did I not see this article sooner? Romance Novels, The Last Great Bastion of Underground Writing, an article over at The Awl by Maria Bustillos. In it she posits that romance novels are feminist works. And that the authors get to do whatever they please since they don’t have to follow the strict guidelines of that snotty literary side of the fiction world. Um, yeah. Like, I knew that already. I’m in agreement. Sort of.

Of course, romance novels come with piles and piles of their own rules, mostly those that have to do with trope: virgin heroine! virgin hero! domineering hero forces heroine to submit and they live happily ever after! Make sure you have this, this, and this kind of sex so that it sells, and also? Virgin Heroine who jumps out of airplanes!

I could go on, but I think you get the point. The thing is, Ms. Bustillos is still right. You can write around the tropes and stick stuff in the plot that would be laughed out of any decent creative writing class. It’s kind of awesome. I tell people that the best part of my job is where I get to make hilarious shit up. I’ve often found myself writing scenes and laughing hysterically over the absurdity of what I’m doing to the poor characters. I don’t have to worry too much about reality. I get to play in dreamworld and it’s really, really, really great.


You knew there would be a however. However, writing romance novels means that you don’t get taken seriously by a great many people whose respect you’d maybe like to get. You find yourself defending your choice of career: oh yeah, I love writing romance novels. Yes, yes I know if my kids’ teachers found out they’d look at me cross-eyed. And see, that’s the part that’s a drag. Millions of women (and some few men I hope) read these books every day and find themselves entertained. They’ve done this for years. It’s a very good feeling to know that you’ve made someone laugh or cry or think about love and the world, except if you do it in a romance novel rather than in a poem, it’s somehow less. Less respectable. Less valid. It’s not much better than (GASP) porn (oh that dirty word!—>very frowned upon in the romance world, by the way).

Well, I say to that attitude: eff  you. Too bad. Deal with it.

I’ve read romance novels since I was thirteen. Or maybe twelve? Sorry Mom! I kinda stole your books. You don’t mind do you? They make me happy. They make a lot of other people happy. And that’s pretty damn awesome for an underground, feminist manifesto genre that nobody talks about in public.

And that’s freedom, baby.

5 thoughts on “writing romance novels = freedom?

  1. One of the biggest genres isn’t it? I think romance needs to be taken more seriously as a genre. It requires a lot of creativity to write it realistically and to do it well.

    • It is one of the biggest genres. I think, too, that recently the overlap between scifi/fantasy and romance is widening the genre even further, or perhaps creating an entirely new genre? Lovers of paranormal/urban romance are in the midst of a gold rush. Even so, with all the nonrealistic elements involved in writing romance, scifi, fantasy, paranormal, etc., there’s the one principal that I think every author needs to go back to: good writing is realistic emotionally. In other words, regardless of how fantastical the plot is, the emotional connection a writer builds through character development is essential. That’s the realistic part of writing a romance.

  2. Not sure about the virgins. Very few of those in romantic fiction these days – try and come up with a convincing reason why any woman past her teens would still be a viring! – and it’s been a long time since I wrote a dominating man. Not even my sheikhs are dominating. There is a wonderful freedom about writing the fantasy, though. (The joy of wriitng a sheikh story is that he is so rich and powerful that he can do anything – except bend the heroine to his will.)

    It’s always good to see something positive written about romance fiction and Maria’s article is well worth reading.

    • Hi Liz, thanks for stopping by. I’ll give you the virgin thing: I rarely see many virgins anywhere in modern romances. There are a few, but they’re not nearly as common as they were back in the 70s and 80s. The dominating man thing still seems to be around though. I personally don’t enjoy books where the hero is all ME THE BOSS and I don’t write that either (it would probably kill me if I tried to write that), but I’ve seen a lot of it still populating the romance genre. Not as much as it used to, but it’s still there. Maybe in less obvious a fashion? I just have a gut feeling that it has mutated over the years but is still there. The BDSM trend in erotic romance is all about consensual domination.

      I’m with you on the freedom part, though!

    • Liz, I’ve just stopped by your blog and the first book (The Devil and Miss Jones) featured in your latest post (Monday) talks about the virginal heroine! LOL. Virgins in romance are rare but not extinct.

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