Romance novels are more than “Fabio-filled crap.” They’re also clues for how every man can be someone’s hero.
Romance reading is a hot topic lately, largely in part, I think, due to the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey. I’m not going to comment on those books (or even the repulsive reference to “Mommy porn”) because romance as a genre was a billion dollar industry long before Christian Grey came along. An army of readers were already consuming all the love stories they could get their hands on. E.L. James just brought it into the mainstream.
I started reading (and writing) romance much later than most. I was an English major and then an English teacher for years. In short, I was a literature snob. I thought, as I’m sure many of you do, that romance was Fabio-filled crap. Then I actually started reading it. And I fell in love.
While I don’t think I’ll convince all of you to run out and read a romance (but you should because they’re good) I am going to try to help you understand the lure of the genre. For many readers — dare I say most — it’s about the hero. Don’t worry. You don’t need to be a billionaire stalker to compete with fiction.
The biggest complaint we hear about romance is that it’s unrealistic. Sometimes that’s true, but it’s also part of the escapism. To think we don’t recognize that is to act as though we don’t know the difference between fiction and reality. We know every guy doesn’t have perfectly sculpted abs. Nor do we expect them to.
I equate this fantasy to the action hero who conveniently dodges the spray of bullets from an automatic weapon in a firefight or the gun, which has seemingly endless ammunition without reloading. We know it’s not real; we just don’t care.
What matters most in these books is how the hero treats the heroine. Many, many readers love the super alpha, but freely admit they’d never put up with the attitude in real life. On the page, it’s exciting. In real life, it would be overwhelming. But readers love the journey of the hero. They love to watch the change in the alpha. Even if it’s small, the change is always directed at, and in relation to, the heroine. She has the ability to bring this big, strong dude to his knees (not that she would.) We like to see his vulnerable side, the part he shares with her because he trusts her.
On the other hand, some readers like to experience a story with a beta hero. He’s a guy who’s often quiet, occasionally awkward, and almost always overlooked. We love to watch him step up and go after what he wants—the heroine. He’s the stand-up guy who the heroine can lean on and trust. He’s just not in her face about it. He sneaks up and steals her heart.
It doesn’t matter how the hero is labeled at the beginning of a novel. The end is what truly counts. The journey for every hero involves becoming a good man—a man worthy of the heroine’s love. A man who respects her, stands by her, and supports her when needed. A man who cares what she thinks, how she feels, and whether she’s enjoying sex as much as he is.
No, we don’t expect him to verbalize every thought and emotion. There are other ways to communicate, but communication is key. The stories are about two people falling in love in spite of some obstacles. The story is about hope and believing in good. And we ALL read because we are guaranteed a happy ending.
Life sucks. Not all the time, not every day, but often enough that we need hope. Turning on the news or reading a paper or getting bombarded with everyone’s problems on social media can be exhausting and heart wrenching. Sometimes, stepping away is how we refill our well of faith in humanity.
Our book boyfriend never lets us down. Occasionally, we want to slap him upside the head, but we know that he’s going to get his head out of his ass before the end of the book. It’s a guarantee, or it’s not a romance. In real life, we don’t get those guarantees.
So before you poke fun at the woman in your life for her choice in reading material, think about this: the hero she’s reading about is the one that restores her faith in you. She’s reminded that men are good and do care, even if they’re not perfect.
And maybe one day, if you’re daring enough, you’ll pick up a romance and read it. (psst…you can download an ebook to your phone and no one will know what you’re reading—it’ll be our little secret.) Reading a romance might give you a little insight into why we love our fictional men and you’ll understand that you’re not in competition with them.
Who knows? You might even learn a little about how to be the right hero for your heroine.