Friday, December 7, 2007

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?