The Lure of the Predictable

Or, Why I read romance novels

Romance, as a genre, is not for everyone.    It’s not even for the entire audience of erotica readers (although the reverse is also true, and I for one do not enjoy erotica without the full story of love and emotional attachment behind it).  Romance novels have specific plot points and constraints that must be met in order to be a “proper romance,” and if you try and pass off as romance something that isn’t, then you will lose your audience—even those who might, given a clear perspective on your work, choose to read it.

The reason I, and presumably many of my fellow romance-readers, read these books is the same reason cited by many people who don’t read them:  they guarantee a happy ending. 

I say:  Exactly!

They say:  But why would you want to read a story when you know how it ends?

To which I say:  Because I like knowing how it’s going to end.  Duh.

That’s a snarky way to answer it, but also the truth.  I read a lot of books, for a lot of reasons.  Some I read for the information they contain.  Others I read for the cultural value they have been imbued with over the years or centuries since their writing.  Others I read when I want to weather an emotional storm worse than something battering outside the windows of my life (or the absolute lack thereof).  Some I read for the adventure of following a story wherever it goes.  And some I read for the journey and the sentiment along it, because I know where the story ends but not where it roams in between.

Romance novels are obviously that last category.  I am the sort of reader who gets very anxious about What Is Going To Happen if it’s not a story I can predict; I will stay up all night and read a book just to find that out, and then have to go back and re-read it over the course of the next week to savor the actual story and the small moments and the prose, when those things are worth savoring.  It’s not the same impatience that drives people to skip to the end, so much as it is an impatience that does not allow me to put a story down once I am fully invested in it.

With romance, I am relieved of the anxiety enough to read slightly more patiently, more savoringly.  I know the hero and the heroine will end up together.  It’s a romance.  It’s the way they are.  My job is to fall in love with them, and solve their problems with them, and enjoy the ride knowing that it’s going to let me off in a safe and familiar place:  happily ever after.

I like reading romance because, when I know what’s going to happen, I can really read a story and not zoom through it at warp speed just to find out what happens. 

And I like being able to pick the proper story for my mood.  When you go to rent a movie, you don’t always want a romantic comedy just because it’s a genre you like; sometimes you want a horror flick and other times you want something like Beaches that will make you cry.  Why should reading be any different?  Yet sometimes people seem to act like it is.  It’s not, to me, and I will say this:  when I rent what I think is going to be a fun kids’ adventure movie and end up sobbing for an hour because one of them dies—I’m looking at you, Bridge to Terabithia—I am more than a little bit annoyed.  I wasn’t in the mood to cry.  I didn’t want to cry.  Why did you make me, you flipping jerk of a producer who advertised that movie as something else entirely?

Likewise, if I pick up a Bronte sister thinking she’s the same as Jane Austen, I will be disappointed, and if I pick up a romance where they don’t end up together I would be pissed.  Put it in the general fiction section, then.  When I want something that doesn’t guarantee the ending then I’ll pick it up then, when I’m in the mood to follow a story to see where it goes. 

Sometimes, I just want to be able to experience the heartwrenching emotions attendant upon falling in love without the danger of reality intruding—I want the journey, not the destination.  I want to take the overland mule trek to Colorado and not the flight to Denver, because I’ve been to Denver and know what’s there, and what I want is to see what’s in between, not play at Lewis and Clark and go explore unknown and uncharted territory. 

That’s why I read  a lot of romance.  Because my reading is often mood-dependent, and the most prevailant mood is “I just want to relax and enjoy escaping my problems,” and I find it easier to enjoy a story if the only anxiety is when and how they come to the ending, not whether they will come to an ending at all.

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Filed under Ramblings, Reflections on Romance

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