Writers should avoid reading reviews for their own peace of mind. And yet, like passing an accident scene on the highway, we are compelled to look. I’ve been paying attention lately because of a disturbing trend that seems to be developing. It shows up more often in customer reviews on Amazon and other similar places, but can also be found on dedicated book review sites.
The gist of it seems to be that today’s reviewer wants stories which focus solely on the relationship between hero and heroine. They consider books that include more than this to be something other than romance novels.
They want few descriptions of setting or atmosphere as this gets in the way of what they consider to be the “meat” of the story. Accurate food, clothing, architecture or room furnishing details are seen as unnecessary.
They dislike secondary plots as these take up pages that might be utilized for give and take between hero and heroine.
They don’t want secondary characters unless they further the relationship between the two main characters and/or provide comic relief.
The logical and timely development of the male-female relationship with its attendant sensual tension is not enough. They expect immediate sexual activity, no matter how unlikely that might be within the context of the story or the given personalities of the hero and heroine.
They don’t want explanations of historical events in their historical romances. Never mind that the story plot would make little sense without this background.
Also in historicals, they demand proactive, modern-thinking heroines regardless of the social dictates of the times or likely consequences of inappropriate, even stupid, action.
They object to violence in any form, and have little taste for controversy or anything that might require concentrated thought.
They have scant appreciation for theme and often fail to understand the concept. Many seem to have the mistaken notion that theme and story situation are synonymous.
They consider character development to mean altered physical appearance or change in social status rather than mental or emotional growth.
They prefer that the majority of a book’s text be in dialogue between the hero and heroine, and often admit to skipping everything in between.
They like direct sentences with scant use of metaphor and simile, also short paragraphs and common, nonspecific word choices. Symbolism is regarded as pretentious.
The net effect if writers attempt to please these reviewers must be the trivialization of romance novels.
Now, there's nothing wrong with an uplifting read in a shorter length which prevents the use of much beyond the central relationship. I've written these myself, and enjoy reading them on occasion. But to maintain that all romances must follow that pattern or be considered outside the genre is a serious error.
Yes, the male-female relationship -- the eternal love affair that ensures the continuation of human life -- is central to all romantic stories. But it isn’t the only thing that can or should take place in one. Broad, dramatic events, complicated plot lines, vital secondary characters and ingenious secondary plots are just as valid in the romance genre as they are in any other type of fiction.
Literary style in romances should be as varied as the people who write them.World building with accurate details of time and place can be, and of often is, an integral part of the romance experience.
A writer’s life view or acquired wisdom about human relationships is as allowable in romance as in any other genre. No theme available to authors of fiction should ever be excluded.Reviewers need to study the romance genre in depth before imposing their opinions on writers and readers. They should broaden their horizons, look for more than mere light entertainment.
Romance is not and never has been a trivial genre. Let’s not turn it into one.