I Need a Romance that Satisfies

On the eHarlequin boards earlier this week we were talking about satisfying romances. In my opinion, (This is my blog, do I even need to say “in my opinion?” It’s pretty much a given, right?) it's harder for me to be satisfied by a romance than by literary fiction.

I read a lot. All the time. I'm one of those reading-and-walking people who are always bumping into stop signs. Luckily I work at a college and the sidewalks are kept up so I haven't broken an ankle. Yet.

I read a lot of literary fiction, some fantasy, and, of course, romance. (Thrillers give me nightmares and mysteries make me feel stupid.)

I'm much more willing to keep reading literary fiction even if the book isn't working for me on some level. For example, I’ve been satisfied by great writing without much plot. (See Ford, Richard. The Sportswriter.) I’ve been satisfied by great characters even when they aren’t people I’d ever want to meet. (See Bukowski, Charles. Factotum.) I’ve been utterly satisfied for reasons I’ll never understand because most of the book was incomprehensible to me. (See McCarthy, Cormac. Suttree.)

But if a romance is going to satisfy me, it has to have each and every one of the following things:

  1. A hero I can imagine falling in love with. He’s got to be vulnerable and heroic. (Yes, at the same time.) Bonus if he has dark hair.

  2. A heroine I can imagine wanting to have as a friend. She’s got to be vulnerable and heroic. (Yes, at the same time.) Bonus if she's got some curves.

  3. Dialogue that surprises me and makes me laugh. (Hi. Hi. How are you? Good. Good. What’s for dinner? Noooooooo!)

  4. Believable people in believable situations that are fantastic enough to give the book tension.

  5. Villains who are deliciously evil and get their just desserts served up by the good guys.

  6. Tons of romance. Romantic gestures, slow dancing, quirky, just right wish-fulfillment.

  7. Love scenes I can read without skimming. (Interpret that any way you like.)

  8. Double-bonus points if the ending makes me cry.

That’s probably not even all I need to be satisfied by a romance. That's a minimum.

Hard to please, aren't I? There's a second list of things that ruin a romance for me: alpha men, pregnant heroines, shape shifters, to name three. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of these, they’re just not my romantic cup of tea. (In literary fiction I’d have no problems reading about any of them.)

It comes down to reader expectations. When I read literary fiction I expect the author to hold my attention and show me something. I’m not fussy about the details. With romance fiction, however, I’m expecting a fairly specific emotional journey. If a romance isn’t emotionally satisfying, what’s the point of reading it? The plot?

And now, if you’ve stuck it out this far, what do you need from a romance? What would make you throw the book across the room?


Ellen said…
Two major things would have me throwing a romance across the room. (except i'm afraid to throw it because it might hit one of my delicate china pieces)
First total stupidiy by one or both characters. Give me a character who can think!
Second and unbelieveable situation. Don't have them making love in the middle of sidewalk. (extreme example but you get the idea)
I want reality in what I read. By reality I mean something that could really happen.
Ellen said…
Ellen--I'm with you on both. Stupidity in characters is a definite no-no. My favorite TV show has a new secondary character this year. Every time she's on the main characters do stupid stuff. This makes me mad because I'm tuning in every week to watch those main characters. If they're doing dumb things, what does that say about me?

Same with the books I read.

The unbelievable situation thing is true also, but I'll buy some pretty fantastic things if the author sells them well. Done correctly, a scene could be wonderful. Done poorly, the same scene could be over the top.

Thanks for stopping in!
Anne said…
The thing that ruins a romance for me is the feeling that I have read it all before. For example, if I read one book and the conflict for the main character stems from her sister's death, I don't want to read about another sister dying in another book for a long, long time.

That may just be me, though.
Ellen said…
Hello ANNE,

Yes. Hmmm. You know, my sister, ANNE, had a similar reaction to the death of a sister in Wanted Man.

As I told ANNE, at least Rhian didn't throw her sister's bike in the river...that would have been really rotten.

Note to non-sibling readers: This comment came from my actual sister. We love each other dearly now but our childhood together was a bit dramatic.

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