From “Wuthering Heights” to “The Notebook,” romance novels have captivated readers for centuries, redefining our hopes and dreams about love. Non-romance readers often tease fans about their predictable plot lines, but this formula has filled the pockets of writers and lifted the spirits of readers.
According to the Romance Writer’s of America website, romance was the top-performing category on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists in 2012, and sales are estimated at $1.350 billion for 2013.
With writers cashing in left and right, many ask the same question: Why? What is the draw to these stories?
Predictability. Of course the two major characters end up together, living a seemingly happy life together. Is that so bad? Readers need something positive to relate to in the world of romance, and these novels are it.
“She’s gotta be tough, but she can’t be cold, she can’t be whiny … and if she’s got those walls up, you must show her vulnerability. She is just like the reader,” Jesse Barron of Harper’s Magazine told NPR.
These novels empower readers who decide to dive in, learning to accept the possibility for more in life. While the plots are somewhat of a fantasy, the desire for true love and individual happiness are completely relatable.
For women especially, these novels further open up the door of opportunities. They are continuously rethinking their life choices to benefit themselves rather than fall into the mold society has consistently developed for them.
“There’s an added level of naughtiness, a curiosity about a life style, and a dollop of materialism. Smart women are reading, writing, and buying these books,” blogger and freelance writer Laura McKenna wrote for The Atlantic.
These stories also provide closure. Once the characters reveal their love for each other, they remain in a faithful relationship. These novels remind us that we shouldn’t settle for being someone’s second choice but ought to be the only option.
“They’re not narratives where the hero is cheating around and having a bunch of different women and then ultimately, deciding on his person,” Barron said.
Another major ingredient in the romance novel recipe is persistency. It seems divorce has become the unfortunate solution for too many tough relationships in our society.
Characters in romance novels do whatever it takes to hold on to the love they hold for one another. This often requires them to break barriers and confront their feelings.
“It’s really about the relationship between two people and the way that they gradually become more vulnerable to each other over time,” Barron said.
Cheesy, tender and sometimes a bit ridiculous, these stories of hopeful love fill the shelves of bookstores across the nation. Readers continuously pick them up as an aid for their own journey in the land of finding “the one.”
“I finally understood what true love meant. Love meant that you care for another person’s happiness more than your own, no matter how painful the choices you face might be,” Nicholas Sparks wrote in his novel, “Dear John.”
While some believe these books are nothing more than lustful words strewn onto a page for the profit of the writer, I disagree. Get lost in a happily ever after story if only to define for yourself who is worth the conflict that may arise.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @BeccaSmouse