Who Loves Ya, Baby?
I had a conversation online over the past couple of days with some internet writer friends. My friend, who we’ll call “EB” posed the question, ‘If it doesn’t _____, then it’s not a romance.’ So I suppose it’s not really a question per se. But it is. Because… What is a romance? Traditionally speaking, it’s him and her finally getting together after 200 pages of the usual nonsense. Is it a Happy Ever After, or at the very least, a Happy For Now? What sets a romance apart from the other genres?
The main difference is of course that it focuses on the blooming romantic relationship between two (or more) people, even if only temporarily.
Yes, I get that all the “sub-genres” help tell readers what the story is about. But isn’t that what the blurb on the back of the book is for? And, *gasp* the picture and title on the front that grabbed our attention in the first place? To tell us who the story is about, and to give us a general idea of the time and place, and a basic idea of what’s going on in the characters’ lives.
But for the love of everything writerly, quit calling it a “niche.” EB commented, ‘Frankly, I’m pissy that anything that is NOT an MFC and MMC is considered a sub-genre or “niche.” Because you CAN’T POSSIBLY have a same-sex couple in your mainstream romance, oh noes!’
She said that at the same time I said, ‘If it doesn’t have two (or more) people who fall in love with each other with either an HFN or HEA ending, then it’s not a romance.’
I cannot emphasize this enough. PEOPLE. I don’t care if it’s two men, two women, a man and a woman, two men and a woman, two women and a man, a werewolf and a vampire (they’re sorta human, at least, so they count too) I don’t care if it’s two couples venturing into swinging or testing the waters of an open relationship. But when the main plot is the push, the pull, the joys, and the pains of romantic relationships, then for the love of god, call it what it is. It. Is. A. Romance. Just because it also happens to be science fiction or a cozy mystery doesn’t mean it’s not romance anymore.
Tags and Plumbing
Another friend, DA, commented, ‘… if someone writes, oh, say, a poly, space set novel with a beta hero and only non penetrative sex, if the focus is still on the characters’ falling into or back in love, and it’s being marketed as a romance, I see no reason not to count it as one.’
EB responded that to that as well. ‘The Industry needs to change in a lot of significant ways. Of course, at this point, ONE of those elements would get it booted out of the genre. Which sucks.’
Which is a sad truth. Because how possibly could Space Opera be a romance? Or how could one person possibly love two people equally, and all three parties be okay with that arrangement? And how could it possibly be considered sex if Tab Dick is never inserted into Slot Cooch? Or Slot Ass or Slot Pie-Hole for that matter? Those last two slots are perfectly acceptable places for a guy to slide his Tab into in an M/M romance. Or an M/F one for that matter – it all depends on the receiver’s want of the act.
(On a side note, there needs to be consent. It need not be spoken, since who’s going to stop mid-ripping off of the clothes to say, “is it okay if we fuck now?” and then have to wait for an answer, “why yes, fuck me. Fuck me now, and fuck me hard. I like it in the ass.” If I ever read that in a novel, I’ll be out of that story so fast you won’t even have a chance to know I made it that far.)
Now, I’m all for naming things. But if the story is focusing on the romantic relationship elements of the people involved, it’s still a romance, even if both couples are the same sex, or if there are three people, or four people, or however many involved. So label it as one. Use tags – M/F, F/F, M/M, whatever the combination of tabs and slots is, to help filter.
Back to more comments on this topic, EB said, ‘We really need to be more vocal about this being the official definition of romance, and not a niche market!’
To which I whole-heartedly agree! My reply was, ‘YES!!! Gay, trans, bi, and all the others (that I can’t think of off the top of my head right now) are all a normal part of society, so why can’t their love stories be as well????? Huh? HUH? HUH? WHY NOT????? … seriously. Why not? I get it to an extent, if you’re looking for something specific, but that’s what tags are for. It’s not the genre, or a “sub-genre” (which is a term I think is just weird. Is it a genre, or only a part of a genre? Why is it a sub? Is it submissive? No…)’
Trusting Our Readers
CW commented, ‘I’ve seen the claim often that readers will be confused if we widen the genre definition, like people are incapable of reading blurbs and looking at covers to find what they want.’ She elaborated on that a little bit, then added, ‘I’m certainly not saying anyone has to read something that doesn’t appeal to them, but I don’t think we need to treat readers like children and unnecessarily shut books out of the genre to avoid that.’
How much more perfect could she have put that? We’re constantly being told as authors to trust our readers with our prose. But yet we’re not being allowed to trust them with finding the books they want to read within the genre(s) they choose to write. Huh. That’s a little hypocritical. Some well-chosen keywords should be all we need. Otherwise, the books will just fall under “fiction” and “literature.” If the only genres we’re using are “fiction” and “literature,” then we might as well do away with all the other genres. (But everything that can be read is literature, so to be honest with you, I’m not sure why the genre even exists. Did “fiction” fill up or something?)
Anyway, back to the topic. I really think we need to push to eliminate “sub-genres” and start considering that GLBT romance is still romance and only use keywords to search. “Historical” “M/F/M” “space opera.” (I literally just picked three totally random things that I haven’t yet seen together – not that they don’t exist, it’s just I’ve never seen it. And now think it’s an interesting combination.)
So let’s band together to get the definition of a “romance” novel changed to “any book focusing on the romantic relationship of any combination of cocks and twats.” Or, I guess you could clean it up a little and say, “If the main plot is focusing on the romantic relationship between the main characters, then it is a romance.”
That was the general consensus on what makes a romance anyway. I’m just putting it to my own words. I’m not exactly mad, but it is frustrating that just because the main characters happen to be the same sex, or are something “other” than the traditional man/woman pairing, they’re not considered romantic – just kinky. GLBT (and all the other letters) are mainstream Earth as far as actual relationships go. So why aren’t their stories mainstream romance?