Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Problem with Formula Romance

Formula romances are a part of the business. Whether you read paranormal romance, historical romance, contemporary romance or romantic suspense – the basic formula is boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl confront and overcome obstacles and then boy and girl lives happily ever after.

The problem with formula romance is that romantic interactions and story development should not be exact from book to book. Unfortunately, I just hit the wall with this in two series that I read on a regular basis.


Books That Disappoint

In the first, the main character confronts craziness and is totally snarky, overcomes the problematic issue the exact same way – by being smarter than the problem and often with a little help from his friends. Nothing new happens anymore, nothing startles or is surprising. The series is just treading water without new developments.

In the second series, the male character is either in law enforcement and he is brought in to help the female character because some lunatic is trying to kill her. The characters are both attractive and have to spend all their time together. They inevitably end up sitting on the same bed about midway through the story and the male is always saying he's leaving even when he's seducing her. They fall in love in spite of themselves, they think they solved the problem and as soon as he leaves her to file paperwork or other item, the threat resurfaces and he must rush to the rescue.

This is a great formula for a fast paced, suspenseful romance that focuses more on the characters than the situations. When the characters begin to bleed one book into another so that the female protagonist seems rather plug and play and the romantic hero changes only by name disappoints me.

The best part of reading to me is meeting these characters, spending time with them and transporting myself into these worlds. The formula doesn't bother me as long as the characters are fresh and original. When the characters become generic and the formula becomes so repetitive as to be generic that I am disappointed.

Formula Romance Works

Formula romance works because fresh authors give characters fresh voices and even well established authors create full-bodied characters that are original and delightful to meet. Your neighbor can have the exact same problems that you do and even the same history, but who they are is different from whom you are. That's why romance novels work. We want to see how these unique and fresh voices tackle these problems.

We want to see them overcome difficulty, fear and other obstacles to be with the one they love. It doesn't matter if we know that in the end they will live happily ever after, it's the journey to get there that we want to see. Formulaic journeys with generic characters lose their magic and that, to me, is unfortunate.

I don't have a problem with formula romance -- just give me fresh voices and people to root for on that journey.


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