People often ask me: Isn’t Romance all just formulaic drivel?
Now, the simple answer to this question is ‘no’.
But the broader answer to the questions is ‘yes, and that’s a good thing’.
Let me unpack that.
There are no original stories. When every book is boiled down to the elements, we only have a certain number of ways to construct satisfying narratives. Even the details can be the same. But it is the way these stories are told that are important. The unique and individual constructions.
This is never more true than in the romance genre. But romance writers embrace this fact, and use it to their advantage.
Not only is romance a genre where every book has the same purpose – for two people to get together in the end (or more than two. I don’t judge) – but it is also heavily reliant on tropes. From ‘fake-dating’ to ‘beauty and the beast’ to ‘enemies to lovers’, romance writers take these tropes and spin them in new and interesting ways. That is their ingenuity. Not a tired pretention to an originality that can’t exist, but an embrace of the familiar, and confidence in their own voice and storytelling to make their version of the story a compelling one.
From a reader’s perspective, this embrace of tropes is a godsend.
Every romance reader has their catnip. I, personally, love beta heroes, beauty and the beast/wounded heroes, epistolary romances, nerd heroes and heroines, historical marriage of convenience, best friend’s wife, and many others. If I see any of those things on a blurb, there is like a 95% chance I’ll buy the book immediately. I like these because I have an inkling what to expect when I pick up a book, so I can more easily read to my mood.
A certain trope will give you a hint as to the dynamics of the characters, as well as how the plot might progress. A beauty and the beast story hints at a hero who doesn’t think himself worthy of the heroine, and a strong woman that will show him he’s wrong. A marriage of convenience story will often throw two people at odds into a difficult situation, and the forced proximity will cause tension and conflict.
Tropes can also help me avoid stories I know I won’t enjoy. I don’t like Alpha heroes, or stepbrother romances. I’m not big on billionaires, or vampires, or rakes, or age differences. Secret babies don’t tend to do it for me, either. Or love triangles. But all these tropes are hugely popular, so the reader’s that do like them are finding them and loving them.
Overall, it ends up being a happier reading experience for all.
Obviously, a reader’s expectations do not always result in a positive outcome. I sometimes avoid books I might really enjoy because they make use of a trope I’m not fond of. And if the writer skews too far away from reader’s expectations of a trope or subgenre, it can cause upset or disappointment. Which is why I think writers have become so clever at putting their own spin on things without disappointing readers.
So, yes, Romance novels can be formulaic. But that is, in part, responsible for their popularity, and the devotion that readers of the genre feel towards it.
Embrace the romance ‘formula’. It’s a good thing!