To most people, romance novels are closely associated with predictability or cheesiness because they are supposed to end with happily ever afters or other uplifting scenarios. However, romance novels aren’t always as cliché as everyone thinks. The good ones show that love isn’t the only necessary component in a healthy relationship. Quality romances demonstrate the real difficulties that threaten to keep the characters from finding their happy endings. What makes the story exciting is the way these problems impact the characters, place pressure on them and reveal both their virtues and flaws.
As the genre continues to expand, romances need to model a variety of perspectives, including characters from different backgrounds and cultures.
The best and most important component of a romance novel is always the journey. No matter how significant romance is in the novel, the path that the characters take to the ending is always what matters the most. In young adult romance novelist Sarah Dessen’s book, The Truth About Forever, the main character copes with witnessing the death of her father while being a perfectionist. The story is ultimately a journey of healing as the protagonist learns to deal with grief in different ways with the help of other characters.
Great romance shouldn’t have to follow the stereotypical storyline of instantly meeting and falling in love, with a grand gesture at the end that resolves any conflict (cue the kissing in the rain). As in Dessen’s book, romance often enhances an existing plotline and can encompass much more complex themes like coping with loss or accepting yourself. However, the major flaw with many mainstream romance novels, and literature in general, is that the main characters are all too often both white and straight. Many brown girls like me can’t relate to the typical white heroine with the often described pale skin, perfectly placed freckles and light-colored eyes. While Dessen writes unique plotlines, the characters don’t have diverse backgrounds. It’s necessary for novels to have diversity among their characters that reflects the diversity of their readers. Although romance novels portray a realistic storyline, they do not represent a realistic cast of characters.
There needs to be a diversification of characters because otherwise, these novels build romance upon false assumptions. Often, the expectation of love in romance novels is to be heternormative and white. With this expectation, romance will continue to be too cliché. Romance characters can show a level of vulnerability in love that readers can connect with. However, if readers can’t identify with the most basic aspects of the novel’s characters, they can’t experience the journey with the cast. The ending that the characters experience might be an uncharted and unrelatable territory for the audience.
Even though there is a convention for the typical heroine or hero, some authors are trying to change the stereotypical image. Kennedy Ryan, a contemporary romance author, writes about racially diverse characters while addressing current racial and political problems. Colleen Hoover, a new adult romance writer, deals with characters from various backgrounds while illustrating relevant issues, such as abuse, in various perspectives.
Romance stories are about characters who overcome obstacles to reach their happy endings, and how they do it is what makes the books powerful. However, as the romance genre continues to grow, the variety of cultures and backgrounds also needs to expand. Authors like Ryan or Hoover contribute to that change, but more authors need to diversify their characters. Without diversity, there is a lack of empathy toward most protagonists that contributes to the reputation of monotony in romance novels.
Karuna Lakhiani is a first-year international studies major on the pre-law track. She is from Kentucky and loves her ALE8! She has a passion for creative writing and will always be reading a book in her spare time.