In honor of Valentine’s Day, the Divas are discussing the good and the bad about the bestselling genre in the world. Romance! It’s a genre that reviewers love to nitpick and readers are embarrassed to admit that they like, but even through all the hate, it’s a genre that endures.
Today, we’ve brought the Divas together to answer a few questions and share their insights about what works in a romance novel and to talk about what drives us bonkers.
What element(s) do you think makes a romance novel great?
Janine: Love, because let’s face it, a romance that isn’t about falling in love isn’t a romance. And when I say love, I mean love… not sex, sex, sex, oh wait, I think we’re in love now.
Jen: First, there needs to be a true connection between the lovers that’s crafted, not just thrown together. Insta-love turns me off. I want to feel their connection. I love reading about the butterflies at the beginning of a relationship when that special someone makes your insides flutter. There also needs to be true conflict, not contrived, ridiculous conflict. Star-crossed lovers who are separated by circumstances of their own making don’t do it for me. Lastly, there should be a growth of sexual tension until it is almost a physical entity unto itself, and satisfying it is a release for the reader as well as the characters. I love some humor with my romance, too, but it’s not always necessary.
Lauren: Well, that’s a silly question. SEX and LOVE and more SEX. Then a nice story arc to finish it off.
Shay: Short answer? UST–unresolved sexual tension. You know when you’d sell a kidney to see the protagonists finally get together that the writer has obtained the brass ring of UST.
What’s the biggest mistake that an author of romance can make?
Janine: Rushing into sex without the build up of UST. There’s nothing worse than reading about a fiction couple that falls into bed before the intellectual, verbal sparing and establishing that current of sexual tension that makes the eventual love scene so satisfying. When this happens before the characters are firmly established and before I am fully invested in the story, it cheapens the romance because I haven’t come to love the characters yet.
Jen: Not creating characters with depth and crafting a relationship that makes sense. That relationship doesn’t necessarily have to follow any “rules,” per se, but when it’s crafted, you believe it to be real, not just words written on paper. And personally, couples who are thrown together into a sexual situation too quickly almost never have this depth of character I like to read.
Lauren: Getting their characters together too fast and miscommunication as a plot device to move the plot forward.
Shay: While there’s a multitude of things that can tank a romance novel faster than you can utter the word “manhood,” I’d have to say the worst is when an author replaces the plot with sex. Nothing destroys a story faster than PWP parading itself as a romance. (PWP can be an acronym for two things that generally point to the same problem: “plot, what plot?” and “porn without plot.” Notice the problem is a lack of plot.)
What things do you love and hate about romance novels?
Janine: I love alpha males… to a point. I’m not a fan of the male protagonist who constantly tries to make the female protagonist angry. On a personal level I wouldn’t put up with that kind of crap, so I have a hard time falling for a male protagonist who does it just because he loves the fire her eyes when she’s mad. Can’t he love it when she’s happy? I don’t mind a male protagonist who’s a jerk in the beginning, if he sees the error of his ways in the end and we see some growth out of him. I feel the same about female protagonists. That’s my favorite aspect of Pride and Prejudice, because both Elizabeth and Darcy are not at their best at the beginning, but by the end of the book, they’ve both changed and found their way back to each other. I can put up with a lot of romance cheesiness and tropes if the characterizations are done well. Now, don’t get me started of female protagonists who are doormats…
Jen: I love the happy ending. That’s why I read romances. I want to be reassured that through all the drama, the couple I’m rooting for will get their happily ever after. I love smutty romance novels and I love innocent romance novels. More smutty than not, though. What do I hate? I hate insta-love–the idea that two people can meet, have sex, and fall in love immediately without knowing a single thing about each other. To me, that’s just not real at all. I believe in the instant connection, just not insta-love.
Lauren: The thing that I love is the sexual tension between the male and female leads that build throughout the whole book. There was a quote I read once (I can’t remember who said it) that said once the leads get together, the story is over. I like when a romance can carry the full length of the book without getting stale and hold my interest. What I hate is reading cliched storylines that you read all the time. They are a dime a dozen.
Shay: Well, I love the happily ever after. It’s the guarantee that the ending will always be good that draws me to romance. But I hate the cheesy terminology, the thinly drawn characterizations, and the anemic conflicts. So while I long for the happily ever after, I do like a story that has some meat…um, substance to it. 🙂
What’s your favorite romance novel?
Janine: I can’t settle on one, so I’ll give you my three all-time favorites: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, The Secret by Julie Garwood, and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Jen: Oh my. There’s no way I could name just one. I love contemporary romance, erotic romance, romantic suspense, romantic comedy, but I don’t think I could name just one title.
Lauren: This is a tough question. I don’t know if I really have a favorite, but I have a type I like to read. Something witty, romantic, and compelling at the same time. But if I had to pick one from the last year, it would be Pieces of Rhys by L.D. Davis or Down London Road by Samantha Young.
Shay: My favorite romance is a book I read years and years ago: Until There Was You by Rebecca Winters. (But I do love Led Astray by Sandra Brown, too.)
Who’s your favorite romance author?
Janine: I have two: Julie Garwood and Diana Gabaldon.
Jen: Just one? Nah, I can’t name one. But Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, J.R. Ward are a few favorites.
Lauren: Another hard question, but if I had to say an author it would be Darynda Jones.
Shay: It’s a tie between old school Diana Palmer and Susan Fox.