Monday, January 15, 2007

Does a modern romance story need a Happy Ever After?

I have to put in my two penn'orth.

There's a big kerfuffle going on at Dear about a trilogy that ends with the death of the hero, and is being marketed as a romance.

There have been a storm of comments, which I couldn't resist, so here's my bit:

They are Romances, not romantic fiction.

At uni, I studied a lot of love stories, Romeo and Juliet, Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights, but while I considered them 'classic romances' or romances in the old style, I would never call them romantic fiction.

Then there are the Romances, or Romaunces even, of the middle ages, the Romance of the Rose, The Song of Roland, the Morte d'Arthur. These were romances because they were written in Romantic languages (ie languages derived from the language of Rome - Latin). So we can argue terminology until the cows come home, but these days, romance fiction means a few specific things.

Romantic fiction readers nowadays have only one expectation - a happy ending. You can have same-sex relationships, multiple partner relationships, inter-species (as long as they're sentient), but you have

to have that happy ending. And to kill off the hero in the last book is not a happy ending, however

you look at it.

I could go into lots of technical stuff, about story arcs and genres, but what's the point? As a reader, if I pick up a book labelled "romance" and it has an unhappy ending, or it just stops, I feel cheated. Yes, cheated. The publisher has cynically tried to shove the books into a market that is still the biggest genre, still has healthy sales. So write a book "with romantic elements," write a "love story," but don't call it romance. It's not fair.

And some people wonder why I read the last page first? I want to assure myself that the couple, or threesome, or whatever, get to a resolution, and have something to look forward to. With each other.

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