So, what’s the secret that makes Romance novels so attractive to readers?
There’s definitely a splash of magic there. Romances are the “queen” of genre fiction, with over $1.4 billion in sales in 2021. They’re also the 800-pound-gorilla of mass market fiction, snatching up nearly a third of its sales.
So why has this previously looked-down-upon genre managed to grow so huge?
Here’s my own take: a romance novel is a modern-day fairytale. Think Cinderella-like characters who struggle; a handsome (or maybe not-so-handsome) prince; and a happy ending. That happily-ever-after ending is crucial piece of the romance formula. “Readers want to believe the world is a redeemable place,” a popular romance writer once told me.
Then there’s pure escapism. Don’t turn up your nose; we all need that “get-away” feeling – a vacation without an actual vacation. It’s not real life. That’s the point. No mental heavy-lifting required. That’s also the point.
A romance allows you to try on life in another person’s shoes. The best romance novels offer a true-to-life taste of what the world really would be like if you lived on a frontier prairie, on a square-rigged sailing ship, or in Regency England.
And another piece of the romance magic is the sheer soap-opera drama of relationships that evolve – watching from the sidelines as characters hate each other, fight each other, discover something ever-so-slightly tolerable in the other, and eventually grow to see the other person as a life-long love.
That attraction to ‘relationship’ may have biological roots. Some social scientists believe women are hard-wired to prioritize connections: we’re consensus-builders, family-builders, nurturers. As well as nuclear physicists, lawyers, truck drivers and astronauts, of course. A romance novel lets the reader vicariously enjoy all the layers of connecting, from the initial “flutters” of getting-to-know-you to the joys of a solid relationship.
Then there’s the pure, timeless magic of story. Take strong, intelligent, quirky characters and mix well with danger, mystery, or adversity. Paint their struggles against outside forces and inner pain. Spotlight emotions fighting to take root in challenging ground. Then immerse the reader in a final, triumphant bloom of love. No wonder such stories sweep readers away. They’re the same timeless elements of story-telling.
That’s my take on the magic of romance.
As for love itself: well, we all need a little more of it in our lives.