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The Changing Face of Romance . . .Or not?

Commenter Alau had a much different take on the interview given by the editor from Aphrodisia. To wit:

I think the definition of a HEA is changing and that's what Aphrodisia is responding to: as long as the woman is happy, it doesn't matter if she ends up with the hero or not. As long as everyone is happy at the end, to me, that means it is an HEA, regardless of who she's with at the end. I don't care if she's partnered, married, with kids, etc, as long as she's happy. I'm also satisfied with a “Happy for now” ending, which implies that there's an ongoing story. So, no I don't think it's false advertising for Aphrodisia to stretch the genre to accomodate these changing attitudes which is what I think they're doing.

My initial reaction was that a book described above would not be a romance. It would be a chick lit book or more likely, a woman’s fiction book. I have come to rely on the definition provided at the RWA webiste which says that a romance novel is comprised of “a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

Romance novels end in a way that makes the reader feel good. Romance novels are based on the idea of an innate emotional justice — the notion that good people in the world are rewarded and evil people are punished. In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

The HEA has traditionally been the guideposts of romances. What the HEA entails has varied, ie., a couple being together without being married, having kids, etc. But is the HEA changing? I have seen other authors post at blogs and in comments to blogs that their books may not have the “traditional” HEA, that the conclusion may be open-ended (as in a series) but that the story is still considered a romance. The cynic in me says that these books aren’t romances but the author wants to take advantage of the romance market. (54.9% of all popular mass-market fiction sold). If the HEA is changing, why? Why are authors trying to stretch that boundary within the romance market? Is it in response to readership demands? Or is it because the author wants to have more freedom to listen to their inner muse but still have the market success of a romance? And are the two mutually exclusive?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

13 Comments

  1. Jorrie Spencer
    May 23, 2006 @ 16:25:19

    I do think the HEA of romance has changed, but not to the same extent as Alau!

    A number of romances take place in a very short period of time, and I think it’s more fitting (usually) for the hero and heroine to be happy for now at that end. I can fill in the blanks myself, where they either get married a year later, or don’t but consider themselves partners, or have babies, or whatever suits the couple and the book they were in. A rushed marriage proposal at the end can work for some books, but others (imo, for this reader, etc. etc.) would do better with a happy for now. Especially after a week!

    But I want commitment and togetherness! Or else it’s not quite romance to me.

    Interesting discussion.

    ReplyReply

  2. Nonny
    May 23, 2006 @ 17:30:02

    I don’t think that a HEA requires marriage, kids, and a white picket fence anymore. To that extent, the genre has changed.

    But.

    I think a HEA for Romance requires some form of committment between the hero and heroine. Even if it’s “only” an emotional committment to pursuing a relationship.

    An ending where the hero and heroine are not together in any stretch of the imagination is not a Romance HEA. It might work for Mainstream, Chick Lit / Women’s Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Mysery, Erotica, and so forth … but it doesn’t for Romance.

    If I go to a bookstore looking for a Romance, I don’t want to walk out of there with Erotica or Chick Lit. I want a Romance novel, dammit, and I’m going to be pissed as all hell if someone is intentionally marketing a book as Romance that isn’t.

    At least, that’s my 2c. YMMV.

    ReplyReply

  3. Bev (BB)
    May 23, 2006 @ 17:32:26

    Well, doggone, you jumped tracks on me, Jane, and I wish I’d waited and posted my comments here instead of at the other thread. They fit better. ;D

    Actually, I’m not sure the two are mutually exclusive, but, and it’s a really big reservation in my own head at least, I think there might come a time when the label “romance” might not mean anything in particular if we go down this road very far. I mean, granted, I like a little mystery, adventure and magic in romances, harking back to the original classical definition of the term, but in reality how much can we cram in there in marketing terms before something explodes?

    Do other genres have this problem?

    I think I already asked that somewhere today but can’t remember where . . .

    ReplyReply

  4. Tara Marie
    May 23, 2006 @ 17:42:26

    Ditto to what Jorrie said, I will add that I agree with your initial thought that Alau’s description of the changes to romance HEA seem more like ending for chick lit, though chick lit is appealing to many romance readers.

    If the HEA is changing, why?

    I think some of these things keep up with societal changes or maybe are just catching up with these changes, people live together before marriage and sometimes never actually marry, but that doesn’t diminish their HEA. Some people want children, some don’t. It makes sense that the traditional HEA will change.

    The cynic in me agrees with you that it may be a way to prolong a book series, a few come to mind, yet if the series is going somewhere interesting I don’t think it really matters, but if it becomes stagnant then there’s a problem.

    ReplyReply

  5. Bev (BB)
    May 23, 2006 @ 20:03:48

    I think some of these things keep up with societal changes or maybe are just catching up with these changes, people live together before marriage and sometimes never actually marry, but that doesn’t diminish their HEA. Some people want children, some don’t. It makes sense that the traditional HEA will change.

    One would only hope so in terms of form, at least. I mean, waiting until the last page for the only love scene in the book got old real fast years ago and that definitely changed. ;) So, different interpretations of what constitutes that romance happily ever after changing over the years is definitely okay.

    I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the idea that anyone would think not even getting two people together is romance. Sort of misses the point. Way misses the point, which is what’s so staggering about the idea.

    ReplyReply

  6. Cece
    May 23, 2006 @ 20:10:16

    If the HEA is changing, why?

    One I agree w/Jorrie also as far as the time frame of the book coming into play. As a reader (and divorced single mother), you probably couldn’t sell me on it.

    Which is why I agree w/Tara on societal changes. Escapism aside, in the real world our HEA’s aren’t the HEA’s of our mothers.

    ReplyReply

  7. Jorrie Spencer » Wednesday links
    May 24, 2006 @ 07:43:13

    [...] Dear Author asks about the changing face of romance. The HEA has traditionally been the guideposts of romances. What the HEA entails has varied, ie., a couple being together without being married, having kids, etc. But is the HEA changing? I have seen other authors post at blogs and in comments to blogs that their books may not have the “traditional" HEA, that the conclusion may be open-ended (as in a series) but that the story is still considered a romance. The cynic in me says that these books aren’t romances but the author wants to take advantage of the romance market. (54.9% of all popular mass-market fiction sold). [...]

  8. Twists and Turns
    May 24, 2006 @ 08:30:20

    [...] Jane has an interesting post centered around a comment by Alau. [...]

  9. alau
    May 24, 2006 @ 10:20:48

    I agree with Racy, who posted back in the last posting. A “satisfying ending is a must,” said the editor. I don’t read romance exclusively; my taste ranges all over the place, and so I’m open to different HEA.

    Racy noted that she was a reviewer of erotic romances, and that she had never found an ending where the couple did not end up together, but that there were other endings in which implied a satisfying long term relationship. So my personal interpretation of different HEA is probably not reflective of the current market as a whole, but again, this may change.

    I also agree with her that the market changes along with social mores; the new erotic romance popping up everywhere is probably influenced by “Sex in the City.” Genres and literature, like society, are not static; they change and will continue to adapt just as long as people change.

    ReplyReply

  10. Bev’s Books » Romance = . . . what??
    May 24, 2006 @ 15:18:27

    [...] There are two threads going on over at DearAuthor.com that fascinate me. One is False Advertising?  and the other is  The Changing Face of Romance . . .Or not?. They fascinate me because the  arguments used by some of the posters  sound reasonable and logical. So much so in fact that they make me want to revise my own opinions. Almost.  Are they truly that reasonable, however? Don’t know. Still thinking about them. [...]

  11. In My Books » Whoa! Look what I missed
    May 25, 2006 @ 11:25:55

    [...] And then, Angie and the gang at DearAuthor.com threw up some thought provoking questions about the romance genre, and its changing face… OR not. And how it affects the marketing/ advertising of these books.  Tara made some pretty good observations about societal changes and how it also affects the readers’ perceptions and needs. Recall her comments on evolving habits  – about outgrowing authors and finding new ones. [...]

  12. Camilla Bartley » Drive-By’s
    May 27, 2006 @ 17:39:43

    [...] The gang @ DearAuthor.com take on the changing face of the genre. [...]

  13. In My Books » Whoa! Look what I Missed Part 2
    May 30, 2006 @ 10:40:41

    [...] Angie ran a poll on the requirements of a romance novel and many romance readers weighed in with their varied comments.  Jane over at DearAuthor expanded on that  and questioned if the face of romance has changed, to which Tara provided this sharp observation: [...]

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