Romance fiction is mind-bogglingly popular worldwide. According to figures from Romance Writers of America, romance fiction is the top performing category in the bestseller lists, it holds the largest share of the consumer market, and in 2008, in North America, it brought in a staggering US$1.37 billion.
Not to be sniffed at!
What’s the secret of romance fiction’s perennial popularity? You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work that out!
Romance fiction follows the classic fairytale/myth story arc. It’s a powerful pattern, repeated in stories throughout history. Thank goodness, large numbers of us never grow out of wanting the Beast to transform into the prince or Cinderella to escape the ashes and find true love. A great romance novel deals with issues important to all of us – family, honesty, identity, love, courage, persistence, the pursuit of happiness. Add anything to that list that reaches to the heart of the human condition.
Two great characters fall in love and surmount the barriers to their happiness. Then they get their happiness! In a romance novel, the heroine never throws herself under a train at the end, she throws herself into the hero’s arms. And I’m saying that as someone who really admires Tolstoy.
Genre fiction, including romance, is tremendously cathartic. There’s a rumour that romance fiction is sugary, sentimental slop. A great romance novel is anything but! The hero and heroine suffer and strive before they win through. Particularly if they star in an Anna Campbell book!
Falling in love is the last thing the hero and heroine want at the start of the story. Falling in love complicates their lives and interferes with what they really want û the treasure, the vengeance, the magical elixir, you name it. In the course of the story, the hero and heroine have to demonstrate character û courage, loyalty, steadfastness, intelligence, daring, resourcefulness û to overcome whatever blocks their happy ending. Usually they must access qualities and talents they never believed they had.
As a reader, I love seeing characters stretched to their absolute limits and struggling to get what they want.
These days, you can get your romance kicks in all sorts of places. When I grew up, the easiest books to find were Mills & Boons, usually featuring hard-jawed English or Spanish millionaires and wide-eyed British heroines. Harlequin Mills & Boons are still the mainstay of the Australian romance market, but times have changed. Hard-jawed millionaires (now billionaires!) still proliferate but the heroines are women of today. Harlequin also publish a huge range of stories û hot, sweet, historical, paranormal, adventurous, all featuring luscious love stories. They even publish a line in conjunction with NASCAR featuring racing car driver heroes.
If you look beyond Harlequin Mills & Boons, you can flirt with knights in medieval Europe, dance till midnight with a Regency rake, fall in love with a vampire, discover a delicious contemporary hero, solve a mystery with a sexy private eye, seek adventure with an undercover agent or win an intergalactic war with a space pirate. By the way, these days, the private eye, the undercover agent or the space pirate are as likely to be the heroine as the hero.
For me, I love going back to Jane Austen’s time. There’s an eternal appeal to the historical hero. But romance fiction in the 21st century will take you anywhere you want to go and promises you a great trip. No wonder romance novels are flying off the shelves!
This article first appeared in The Weekender magazine on Thursday, 11th February, 2010