Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Emotional Connection With The Romance Genre

It's not about the plot. It's about the people.

In simple terms, the reason the romance genre has been around for so many years, and the reason it will be around for some time is the connection it makes with the human condition. Unlike a lot of genres out there, the romance genre is tapping into one of the most intimate and certainly one of the most sensitive emotions that people deal with. When an author writes a successful story, the reason is pretty clear. The author has tapped into those universal emotions we all feel.

Think about it. With emotions such as hate, anger, jealousy and so forth, it is easy to separate the words from the feelings. Screaming "I hate you" can be attributed to so many different things. But when the romantic feelings come into play, suddenly those words become even harder to deal with.

And it isn't so much about the words, but the complexity of thoughts and feelings that are connected to those feelings of romance and love. Remember when you first realized that person sitting next to you in school was more than simply another student in the class? Remember the feelings you had getting ready for that first date, ending that date, or even having to break up. Words simply couldn't say what you needed to say.

My son is going through this right now. He is involved with his first serious relationship and when they have to say goodbye, either on the phone or in person, we all know that he will be pretty moody for the next several hours. The sense of "loss" is too much for his brain to handle. We do know, as adults, this is often easier to handle, but in those early stages of a relationship, it is often unbearable.

But when it comes to those romance novels, the stories the authors have crafted for the readers will provide the reader with the words and the experiences he or she couldn't say or comprehend on their own. In an article by Maryanne Fisher, PhD. for Psychology Today she noted after a study of Harlequin novels that "The reader can live vicariously through the heroine and fall in love with the hero, but without any of the consequence. She's not cheating onher husband (most readers are married) because it's just a novel. She isn't at risk of becoming pregnant, but she can imagine the seduction by the hero. She gets the thrill, the rush, of falling in love, all for a few dollars." (2010).

She further noted that successful authors seemed to have a knack for being able to get right to the point for the readers. "Authors of these books seem to know this because they rarely describe the heroine in much detail. Presumably, they want to allow the reader to get into the shoes of the heroine with some ease." The authors have taken that plot and reduced it down to being the background for the development of the romance and the relationship. The emphasis is on the people and not the plot. Sure, the plot is an element and this isn't just a story about people talking. But the focus is always on one central goal - understanding how a relationship builds and grows.

When I am looking at new submissions, I am always looking to see how much the author does to "draw me into the story." What is the author focusing on? Too often, however, I am finding that authors seem to be more focused on the plot element. They are pushing to find a unique plot or setting and then forgetting what the story was really about - the people.

If you think of Erotica, the stories are often not about any relationship building. It is all about the lust and the physicality of the two characters. Yes, the story might end with a happily ever after, or the characters may express in words their emotions of love and longing, but it is often just that - only words. The emotion itself is just not there.

A way I really test this is when I sit down with authors during pitch sessions. For those of you who have pitched to me before, you know that I make you do your pitch without notes. I want you just to talk about your story. Even if you have it memorized, I will often interrupt you enough to make you simply talk. What comes out of your mouth is very telling and it is often the real truth of what the story is about. If all you talk about is the plot of the story and what the characters do, the story will often lack that emotional connection. If, however, you focus a lot on the characters and really getting into their heads, I will often have a gem (or at least a diamond in the rough) in that submission.

So take the time to examine your story. What is the real focus?Is it about the plot, or about the romance and emotions. Remember, it is not just about saying it, but about showing it!


  1. Definitely food for thought here. When I think about it, what you say even applies to a mystery. I love a good mystery (cozy, not gruesome.) But the few I re-read have more than the puzzle going for them. It's usually about the way the characters interact.

  2. Interesting. When I pitched at RWA this year, the editor did the same thing, asking me a jillion questions about my characters and why they did or didn't do certain things. Thankfully, I was able to answer without really thinking. Later, it occurred to me that she was checking to see how well I really knew my characters. :)