I went to a workshop this weekend hosted by my local romance authors’ writing organization, and I heard something appalling. The speaker, an author with quite a lot of experience in the industry, said that agents and editors in the romance genre today are tending to buy manuscripts where the characterization takes precedence over plot. She said plot was sort of secondary.
Maybe I’m in the minority, but as much as I love the romance genre and being a romance writer, nothing irks me more than a book where I’m into the characters but nothing is happening. Or where the plot consists of the meet-cute, lots of sex scenes, the end. I want plot with my porn, people! I like a hot, steamy sex scene just as much as the next romance reader, but I don’t want gratuitous sex scenes that do nothing to further the story. If a book is full of that, I will either skip the sex scenes (which, in a lot of cases, makes for a very short read), or I will not finish the book at all.
Yes, great characterization is necessary, especially in a character-driven genre like romance, but if nothing ever really happens to these great characters, it makes for a boring book. I’ve read so many romances lately where the characters were so real and compelling, if the book had just had an actual story, it would have been a masterpiece. The authors were so close to perfection except…no plot, no real conflict to drive the story, no black moment, no satisfactory resolution.
I actually read in the acknowledgments of one of these books where the author thanked a colleague for telling her it was okay to write a book without heavy angst or tragedy. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but for goodness’ sake, there needs to be some sort of conflict.
I have to admit, though, the whole time I was reading the book, I kept thinking, “This author’s characterization is amazing. Surely it’s going to get better.”
So I read a bit more.
“Okay. Still loving these characters. Maybe something is going to happen in the next chapter.”
Nope. It never did. I read all the way to the end, but nothing ever really happened. And I felt like a chump for finishing it, like I’d wasted my time.
So maybe there’s something to that school of thought that characterization is more important than plot, because I did read the whole thing. And that author is selling books–there’s no doubt about it. However, I can’t remember the author’s name, and I will probably never read another one of her books.
So, that brings me to an idea I had this morning. From now on, when I find a romance with an exceptionally great plot line, I’m going to review it here on my blog. To get started, I’m going to list a few of my favorite romances of all time, all of which, though they might have some racy sex scenes, also have awesome plots that made the books nearly impossible to put down. They have resonated with me and were memorable long after the last page was read–and sometimes that last page was read many, many years ago. Fair warning: some of these are quite old, but their storytelling is timeless.
- The Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale. This book about a washed-up highway man with vertigo and a bitchy, broken heroine is probably my all-time favorite romance. The witty banter between the heroine and hero is spectacular, and the sex scenes actually have something to do with the plot and furthering the character arcs, rather than just existing for porn purposes. In short, it’s a brilliant romance book.
- The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Need I say more? It’s now a successful TV series on the STARZ network. This series was originally shelved in the romance department at book stores when it first came out, but I think, last time I happened to check, it is now in the general fiction section. It’s definitely gone in a different direction from how it started out, but the first three novels for sure are the epic love story of Jamie and Claire. Just about every scene ends in a cliffhanger, making the plot a page-turner, but for those who like sexy time, believe me, there’s plenty of that, too.
- Tangled by Emma Chase. Told from the hero’s first-person POV, this witty, hilarious novel made me an Emma Chase fan for life. It has quite a lot of profanity, but if that doesn’t bother you and you’re looking for a good taming-of-the-rogue story, this one hits all the marks.
- Never Deal with Dragons by Lorenda Christensen. This one is not your everyday romance, since dragons are in the mix. It was cute, though, and definitely held my attention. It’s been a long time since I’ve read it, but as I was going through my booklist on Kindle, it jumped out at me as one I remember really liking.
- Faking It by Jennifer Crusie. I LOVED this caper-style book. Its humor, great story, and romance have stuck with me through the years. In fact, after reading the blurb to refresh my memory for this post, I’m going to read the novel again–something I hardly ever do.
- The Boyfriend School by Sarah Bird. The journalist/photographer heroine is snarky, and the hero is the perfect romance hero. Some might call this book more women’s fiction than romance (and Sarah Bird is not strictly a romance author), but for me it hit all the romance buttons. Bird has a quirky since of humor that I love, and her plots are engaging. And if you’re a romance writer, this is a must-read. Her portrayal of a romance writers’ convention and the authors she meets are alone worth the read.
- Neurotica by Eliza Gordon. Quirky, nerdy heroine and sweet, down-to-earth hero.
- November 9 by Colleen Hoover. Has a plot twist I totally didn’t see coming, and the the plot itself is unique and very well written.
- A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James. This is the sixth book in James’ Desperate Duchesses series, but I read it without having read the others, and I loved it. Both the characters grow and evolve delightfully, and the hero does a proper amount of groveling in the end.
I know that, once I finish this post, I will think of a million other great, well-plotted romances I should have listed. Maybe I will have to do a “part two” and list those later, but for now, this list of all the romances that have stuck with me over time will have to do. In the future, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I will also be reviewing newer romances I read with stellar plot lines.
Until then, cheers!