(This post was first published on the Long and Short Reviews blog as part of my RECKONING blog tour)
Do you believe there’s a difference between a romance and a love story? I do – but do you? And, more importantly, are you a romance girl or a love story girl (or dude…I use the term interchangeably)?
The Romance Writers of America can help us out here! Their definition of a romance is a story with “a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” It follows that any story which doesn’t conform to these two elements is not a romance. “Love story” implies the primary plot is focused on love, so the difference is the HEA.
So: central love story plus HEA = romance; central love story with no HEA = love story.
Or does it?
What about the first 50 Shades of Grey? That one doesn’t have an HEA. It follows the same couple, Christian and Ana, through two more books of their romantic misadventures. In fact, some would argue there’s no love story, either, as Christian displays what many consider stalking and abusive behavior throughout the series. Is it a romance, a love story, or neither?
What about Out of Africa, a movie adaption of a book starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep as two ill-fated lovers in the early 1900s and described on Wikipedia as an “epic romantic drama?” That story doesn’t have an HEA, either. You could also argue it’s more about a woman’s voyage of self-discovery than a love story.
How about Me before You? Romeo and Juliet? Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Casablanca? Gone with the Wind? All centered on love, but none of them fit the definition of romance.
The first novel in my Valentine Shepherd series, Vengeance, ends with a major plot twist that pushes the two main characters apart after they fought so hard for love. It was hard to write! But like the 50 Shades series, it follows the same couple through two more books, and (spoiler?) they eventually get their HEA in the final story, Reckoning. Does this mean Vengeance isn’t technically a romance, but the whole series is?
In the end, it comes down to what you, the reader, believe a “romance” should be. I think the RWA’s definition of romance says more about the people making the definition than it does about the actual genre.
Personally, I don’t like the idea of being characterized as “not romantic” because I can be satisfied with ambiguous endings more complicated than “And then they lived happily ever after.” I think if a couple is blissfully married for fifty years, and then one of them gets hit by a car and dies, that shouldn’t discount the previous romance they experienced together. Everybody dies. Everything ends. Hell, one day the sun will swell into a red giant and swallow the earth. Why should these facts of life mean that romance isn’t possible for any of us in the real world?
I guess this means I’m a love story girl – it’s more about the journey than the HEA for me. Which is it for you?