Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Romance... Literary vs Commercial

Do you literally write romance stories?  Do you write fantasy and only consider the romance in your work to be minimal (if any at all)? 

If you answered yes to either question - well, my friends, you may need to think again!! 

Did you know that the original meaning of the word "romance" was to have belief in things that are out of our control?  (God, ghosts, etc.) 

See, until the years leading up to the 1800s, romances weren't about courtship and love - they were about adventure - superhuman abilities and heroes that fought dragons and went on missions to save the day.  (Sure, sometimes the heroes won the girls at the end, but the love wasn't the basis for the story - the action was.)  Think quests... and King Arthur tales... Chivalry and dramatic triumphs...  Romances were actually first written for male readers!

Then the 1800s rolled around and things began to change.  Somewhere along the lines the fantasy genre we know today branched out from the romances. (A post for another day perhaps.)  And along those same lines, a new type of "romance" writing emerged in France.  A far cry from grail quests and legendary sagas, romances began instead to emphasize themes of gallant and flattering love, (think lovers who seek solace in one another's arms during rough times).  The concept of "romance" switched from fantastic/eerie/gothic adventures to novels centered on the "scene-by-scene" advancement of wooing and/or lusting  that ended with marriage - or at least the "happily ever afters".  This is probably what you think of today, when you hear the term "romance".

However, there is a stark difference between commercial romance and literary romance.  (And, I think they make perfect sense, if you've read my other post about Literary vs Commercial Fiction.)

In commercial romances, also known as "Harlequin romances", the lovers always overcome their obstacles and are happy and in love by the end of the novel.  You pretty much know from the beginning that the two protagonists will end up together - but that's okay, it's probably why you read it in the first place!  Who doesn't love a happy, hopeful ending?  I can tell you - commercial romances (particularly those by Nora Roberts) helped me to escape from some pretty crappy break ups in previous years!

Literary romances focus on more realistic romance.  The lovers are actually unable, most of the time, to overcome whatever obstacles they face.  Sad, yes - but also authentic.  I'm married to my "Prince Charming", but goodness did I have to get through a lot of frogs before I found him.  (And, okay, to be fair - there were one or two non-frog genuine nice boys with whom the relationships just didn't work out.)  The point is that in real life, which is what should be reflected in literary works, romance is much less likely to end in marriage than what you'd read in a commercial novel. 

One thing that I love about literary romances is that truly in these works of fiction, I am able to find beauty in the small things.  Looks, touches, longings... They're almost more meaningful because their very purposes go unfulfilled.  You know what I'm talking about.  I'm sure you have memories of your own... Sweet gestures that fell through, smiles from handsome/pretty strangers in passing... Things that never came to fruition, but still make you feel warm inside when you remember them.  (Or bitter - I think it works both ways, ha.)

I'll leave you with this:  In whatever way you choose to define it - be it adventure, love, or lust - go get you some romance today, dear reader ;-)

♥ me


  1. Sara - loving your blog. And that transition in Romance makes perfect sense to me. As much as I love my hubby - romance nowadays is just as it used to be...pure fantasy ;)

  2. hahaha Thanks MiT :) I love your comparison to real life - it can be SO accurate, hahaha

  3. Very interesting lesson on the origins of romance! I love that fantasy came out of it. It makes sense that I would want to tie the two together (and that the two genres pair quite nicely).

    As for literary romance, I really struggle with it because I'm such a romantic at heart. And yet, you're right, it diverts your attention away from the ending to each and every gesture and action, and helps us to see sometimes how romance unravels.

  4. In Portuguese the word "romance" (pronounce 'hoe MUN see') is the literal translation for "novel".

  5. See, I like the older romances. And I don't cotton to happy endings. So I guess I fall in the literary camp. Though I have read all of Nora Roberts' work, and loved it... uh, no. Not really.

    I would tend to agree that the unattainable is more affecting than the happy-ending wrapup. I like my novels bittersweet, thanks very much. (Though I suppose I could read the occasional happy ending and not roll my eyes... :)


Yay! I love when you have things to add :)