I was scrolling through Facebook recently and caught a comment written by my pal Nita from The Book Chick Blog. Please give her a like when you check her out and let her know Rosanna sent you. In her post, she made a point about the lack of unique romance books, and it made me wonder.
What makes a romance novel unique? It’s a tough question. After all, romances are, by their very nature, predictable. We need to know the couple will unite at the end. We see the same predictability in mysteries. By the end of the book, the murderer must be revealed and (hopefully) punished. So, in this sense, can a romance be unique at all?
We do see a lot of the same romance tropes in today’s fiction, but I think audiences demand them, too. My own shape shifter series is the most popular of my series, and God only knows there are hundreds of other shifter series out there. Romance readers still love those classic paranormal characters. But do these books lack individuality? Perhaps there are similar traits, but there is one thing that separates them.
In my opinion, it boils down to author voice. This is what gives a book flavor. This is what keeps readers coming back. A reader “clicks” with an author’s voice. It can often make or break a book and it is what helps a reader relate to the story and characters. If I like an author’s voice, I don’t even mind if the story is less than unique. I just want to keep reading.
Is it possible to be completely, undeniably, 100% unique anyway? I don’t know. We’ve been told no thought is original. And don’t readers also value a sense of familiarity as well? We read romance for the same reason we read cozy mysteries: we cherish the sense of nostalgia and know we are assured of a satisfying resolution.
There is, I think, a danger in “unique” translating into “quirky.” Too quirky. I’m wary of gimmicks, as a rule. For example, I write about shape shifters. I don’t want to be the author who writes about rodent shifters or pink lizard shifters. Give me my traditional wolves and bears and tigers. Think of some of the crazy books out there right now. Do I want to contribute to that level of crazy? No. I don’t want to be the author who pens a book about a vampire with a unicorn horn on his head, who has a career as a grocer and takes pottery classes, leading him to fall in love with one of his vases. Sure, this all sounds very silly, but hopefully I’m making a point.
I think we gravitate to a familiar trope because we want to have a sense how it will unfold, at least to some extent. It’s nice to throw in some twists and turns, but at the end of the day, certain aspects must hold. We want our romantic heroes to be fierce and protective. We want the heroines to have some level of spunk. And we want them to embark on a grand adventure, realistic or not, one that strengthens their bond.
At the same time, I understand what The Book Chick is saying. As an avid reader of romance, she must see the same stories play out over and over.
So what else can make a romance stand out?
I think character is a big one. We don’t want to see cookie-cutter characters, even if they are vampires or cowboys or millionaires or some other trope we’ve seen a thousand times. There should be something to differentiate them, and it’s up to the author to discover those quirks and habits and wounds.
Conflict is another point. There was a period where babies were all the rage, especially babies the heroine didn’t expect. Great source of conflict, but it’s been done many times. It’s up to us to find new sources of tension. In today’s modern world, with its modern challenges, we have a wealth of information upon which we can draw.
I’d love to know what you think. What makes a romance unique in your eyes?