“Men define romance as the prelude to sex, and women define romance as one of the expressions of love.”
This quote from the book by Neil Rosenthal titled, “Love, Sex, and Staying Warm” sums up one definition of the term “romance.” A rather recent definition: this sentence appeared in a blog by the author published in May of 2013. The book has a current publication date of 2015.
As romance authors, how does this affect the stories we write? Can we assume—since according to the Romance Writers of America—a majority of our readers are women, so our plots and characters should place more emphasis on the “expressions of love”? Or, as do a seemingly increasing percentage of romance authors, should we place more, and earlier emphasis on the sexual part of a relationship?
(I’m not referring to genres labeled as erotic or erotica here. I’m referring to mainstream, contemporary romance novels.)
I not only write, but also read romance—A LOT. In the past two years, I have listened (on audiobook) to over 200 of them. That doesn’t include the other fifty or so on my Kindle app, or the teetering stack of paperbacks on my bedside table. I tend to read what I write, so, the contemporary genre. But I also enjoy crossover authors who infuse paranormal, time travel, suspense, or “chick lit” slants to their stories.
One trait, as I rapidly approach the 300-books-read-recently mark, has jumped out at me. It clearly divides the books into two distinct categories.
There are stories where the hero and heroine have sex before any sort of relationship develops, soon after meeting and “sparks flying.” These tend to be the shorter, 40-60,000 word novels, such as a few of the Harlequin lines.
Then there are the ones where, after getting at least halfway through the book, I am convinced there won’t be any sex scenes at all. The emotional journey bringing the two characters together is rich and deeply explored. Developed slowly, realistically. When sex happens, it’s just as intense, oftentimes just as graphic. But as a reader, I tend to become more emotionally involved in these love scenes, because they really are more love than sex scenes. I come away convinced that the expected, required happy-ever-after ending defining a book as a romance really will stick.
My debut novel from SMP followed this slower route. I believe my H/H don’t have sex until at least halfway through the book. It is a longer title, as most of my books tend to be. This has defined my writing style from the start. I am, after all, old-fashioned—and just plain older. For me, as a teenager in the early 70s, that’s the way it was “supposed to be.”
First comes love, then comes marriage, then (and ONLY then) comes Claire with a baby carriage.
But times have definitely changed, and in trying to stay abreast of the modern way of thinking, the new emancipation of women’s views on sex, I have altered my approach. I realize that many women now, like men, totally separate the concepts of lust and love. One is not necessarily a prerequisite for the other.
Think Sex and the City.
I received a “critical” review recently on one of my titles where the reader labeled my story as “insta-love.” Her reasoning was because, written along the lines of my modernized approach, the H/H had sex very soon after meeting. A more emotional relationship didn’t evolve until much later in the book, as the characters got to know each other better. After they’d spent enough time together, and been through enough tribulations, to discover that they did, indeed, have feelings for each other that went beyond lust.
So why the label “insta-love”? It wasn’t love my characters experienced throughout the first quarter of the novel, but pure physical attraction. The love didn’t develop until later in the book, which, unfortunately, this reader never got to experience—because she stated she did not finish the book.
I’d like to ask my fellow Soulies their opinions on this subject. Are you afraid the modern reader will be offended by our H/Hs giving in to their lust before any kind of emotional relationship develops? Or merely a sub-set? I tend to believe the latter, because shorter romances, like those in the majority of the Harlequin lines, simply don’t have time to develop any kind of deep, emotional relationship before the H/H jump into the sack. And HQ novels have been selling like hotcakes since I was in my teens . . .a very, very long time ago. Even when many of us believed love should come before sex.
As I pull together all the straggling plot lines of my current WIP, I am now wondering if I allowed my H/H to have sex too early. It is before any real emotional relationship develops—that comes later. My heroine starts out an old-fashioned kind of gal, timid, and not especially sexually confident. But at a point early in the novel, she decides to change all that. She is, as my tagline describes, a “strong woman, starting over ~ redefining romance” –taking charge of her life in a more modern way—at work, with her friends, in her life. Bolder. More brazen. Adopting a modern mindset where it’s okay to separate the concepts of lust and love.
Men have, as author Rosenthal above states, been doing that all along. Is it really so bad now, in the spirit of embracing our modern feminist views, for us to portray women who think the same way?
How do you, my fellow authors, define romance? Does it offend you if heroines give in to their sexual desires before they fall in love? Or does it come off as “insta-love”? (And can someone explain that term for me?)