October 22, 2009

In Defense of Category Romances

Harlequin. Silhouette. Harlequin Intrigue, Silhouette Desire, Harlequin American Romance, Silhouette Special Edition. If you pay attention to the paperback romance section of your local bookstore at all, then you've seen these handy little volumes. Printed in bulk and shipped to shelves everywhere on a monthly, clockwork schedule, these lines of books- category romances- have no trouble catching your eye.

They do have trouble earning your respect. :X

Okay, they're not Steinbeck. They're not meant to transcend the genre, they don't even try... heck, they are the epitome of their genre. 

And that's why I like them.

Stay with me. Category romances are books that know exactly what they are doing.

A low level of description

To me, this is a positive. Descriptive paragraphs tend to pull in the praise and awards... but how often do people read them? A dollop of powerful description = a mountain of prose that many readers won't bother to climb. They'll flip ahead in search of dialogue, or appealing keywords such as "gun" or "zombie". Description stops the action. Description stops everything.

Category romances recognize this. If the male and female characters meet in a restaurant, the readers don't want to read about the restaurant. They want to read about the male and female leads who meet, feel attracted to one another, and banter. A little atmosphere is always good, but it should only support the characters, not compete with them. Category romances are character-driven books.

The focus on true love

One could say that any romance book focuses on true love. But category romances snip out pretty much anything that does not apply to the relationship between the male and female leads, leaving bare that true love. There is no clearer spotlight.

Quick write, quick read

The authors of category romances generally do not take a great deal of time putting together their books. This is one of the elements that make these lines of novels what they are- and their readers love it. A book that takes five years to write is going to read like it, complete with mountains of prose description, several subplot threads, ruminations, and shameless acts of symbolism. This is great. But not every book should read like it took five years to write.

A book that took six months to write reads like it, and for busy readers who want only to read about a man and a woman meeting in a restaurant and finding true love instead of dinner, six months is just right*.

A world in which every novel was The Kite Runner, or the latest Dan Brown adventure, or a derivative of On the Road, would be a more serious world, a quieter one with fewer dreams and no flights of fancy. Category romances supply dreams and fancies on a monthly, clockwork schedule.

And darn it, if nothing else convinces you- those books sell. ;)

*I'm not saying that every category romance takes six months to write. Some take more time- others take less. It's up to the writer. But speedwriting is not uncommon for category authors.

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