Love Story vs. Romance

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So what distinguishes a love story from the romance genre?

Although I’ve gained a new respect for romance novels – which you can read about here - I’m more than a little frustrated that my former assistant put “romance” all over my META data and keywords.

I don’t write romance, and to put that in my META data to increase SEO is false advertising. Anybody who stumbles across my work and mistakenly buys it is going to be really pissed off when they encounter a predatory seductress who’d rather eat the hearts of her conquests than accept a happily-ever-after ending.

So what are the differences between them? These are broad generalizations, but I’ve come up with a few reasons why love stories command respect and romance tends to inspire derision.

If written well, a love story can be considered literary fiction. If we’re going into the classics, a couple of examples are Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is a love story, as is “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte. For film, “A Star is Born” is definitely a love story, and so beloved it has been remade over and over again and still makes an impact.

Romance follows a formula and that makes it commercial, even if it is beautifully written. Since I don’t read romance novels, I don’t know who the latest prolific romance novelist is after Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts, but I do know both of those women made a fortune off their genres. There are too many rom-coms to list.

A love story often has a slower pace without too many plot twists. Romance is all about the drama of obstacles to these star-crossed lovers. A love story can be set within an ordinary life, or an extraordinary circumstance in an ordinary life; whereas romance tends to be set in exotic times and places. But to me the greatest distinction between a love story and a romance is in the ending.

Romance novels, by their very nature of romantic escapism, have a formula and that formula must have a happy ending. Romance always ends with the man and woman are together against all odds. Since love stories are closer to life, sometimes they end happily – as was the case for Jane and Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice,” but not always. It could be argued that “Pride and Prejudice” was an early romance novel because the happily-ever-after ending was not true to life of what the writer, Jane Austen, actually experienced. Marrying within your social class and with an attention to money was a very insurmountable obstacle in Regency England and Jane Austen did not get the guy because her family, although respectable, was not moneyed. Perhaps that aura of loss and disappointment lent itself to the happy endings of her novels, and made them love stories, not romances. On the other hand, “Northanger Abbey” was silly enough to be a romance.

In “Wuthering Heights,” Catherine Earnshaw married somebody stable and died young. They don’t necessarily have that happily-ever-after. IN
“Bridges of Madison County,” Francesca stayed with her husband rather than leaving for a sexy photographer.

Love stories can end happily, but they don’t have to. This is probably why they command respect that romance doesn’t. Here’s another blog on the differences between love story and romance here.

One of my early reviews on Amazon about Ella Bandita and the Wanderer declared that theirs was a love story. Not a happily ever after love story, but a love story nonetheless. That is why I’m kind of pissed about romance being in my META data.

Novel Excerpt - The Shepherd and the Courtesan

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This is an excerpt from the novel that I’m currently working on, working title “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” It’s the 2nd novel in The Ella Bandita stories. Although the photo above is not of the characters, I liked it because they are doing a dance with each other. To see the other excerpt I’ve put in already, click here.

“So what do you think of my Vanity Gallery, darling Shepherd?”

The creamy voice of my hostess caught me off guard. But I liked how she sounded. The Courtesan retained the sweet tones of a younger woman.

She stood above me, halfway down the stairs. The candles and crystals from the chandelier cast a warm glow over her lovely features, and her golden eyes sparkled in the incandescent light. The Courtesan was even more breathtaking in person than she was in her portraits.

She smiled and leaned her head to one side when I hesitated to answer.

“May I ask what you’re thinking?” she said. “I adore the way you’re looking at me just now. But your expression is rather singular.”

“I’m wondering how the devil I ended up here, if you must know.”

She chuckled softly.

“The devil may well have had a hand in this. My home is far and away from the natural wilderness where you usually roam.”

My heart ached when she said that. In that moment, I yearned for open space. People and society made life difficult, painful even. I longed for the solitude, for the peace of having only my flock for company. Even though it was snowing hard, I would have given anything to be outside, the cold air stinging my cheeks as I searched for a thick copse of trees near water, listening closely for the soft babbling of a creek that ran beneath the snow. That would have soothed my weary spirit after a day like this.

“Shepherd, you seem distressed. Is there anything you need?”

“Not at all. You’ve been very attentive to our comfort, Madame.”

“Please call me Adrianna,” she replied. “Madame is so priggish. I only allow my Butler to address me as such.”

“I don’t know you to address you by your Christian name.”

The Courtesan smirked, and cocked her right brow.

“There’s nothing Christian about any part of my name. Would you be more at ease with ‘Mi’Lady’ like the other servants? Those are your only choices.”

I paused, knowing how foolish that would be. I was a guest in her Casa, and I had no doubt the Wanderer wouldn’t hesitate at the informal address of her first name.

“As you wish, Adrianna.”

Her smirk broadened to a smile.

“Before I forget to mention it, I ran into your friend. The Wanderer said he would catch up with you in a few minutes. He also said to tell you he didn’t want to interrupt your reverie of my portraits.”

Adrianna smiled impishly, while the heat rose to my face. The Courtesan glided smoothly down the stairs, evoking a sense of leisure with each step until she came beside me. It was a shock that she only stood to my shoulder. I know I’m very tall, and her average height would make her appear diminutive next to me. But with her startling presence, I expected such a woman to be rather tall herself.

Apparently our differences in height didn’t intimidate her, while Adrianna unnerved me immediately. She took my hands and turned me to face her. The gesture was personal, if not intimate. Then Adrianna held my arms to my sides and, with no attempt at discretion, she looked me up and down.

“What are you doing?”

“My dear Shepherd, you’ve had the advantage of seeing me naked at every age, and from every angle for the better part of an hour. I would simply like the pleasure to really look at you.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I want to take in your form for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.”

“I mind very much. You openly display your portraits and I believe posing nude was your choice.”

She glanced at me and winked, her golden eyes mischievous as she squeezed my hands.

“Please,” she murmured. “Be a darling and humor me, Shepherd.”

She had me so off balance I didn’t have the presence of mind to continue to protest. I nodded reluctantly, and that was all the permission Adrianna needed. There was nothing lascivious in the way she looked at me. She simply examined me as she would for the quality of a gown, the elegance of a piece of furniture, or the beauty of a work of art. Even though I had clothes on, I was exposed, even more naked than Adrianna had been in her portraits.

“How I adore tall men,” she purred. “Especially those who have such lovely, long limbs.”

She ran her hands along my shoulders and down my arms. The intimacy unsettled me - especially from a woman I had only met that afternoon. Yet there was nothing quite like the thrill of a woman’s touch. It had been a long time since I had last enjoyed that. The tingles along my skin made me shiver. Adrianna smiled slightly, her gaze sharp as she continued her appraisal in a buttery voice.

“You’re lean with a strength that is felt rather than seen. Tanned skin may not be the fashion of the Capital, but I love rugged men who weather well.”

She even took my chin in hand. Her grip was gentle, but I flinched. She stopped her assessment, the haze gone from her eyes when she saw into me.

“How uncomfortable does this make you, Shepherd?”

Adrianna still held my chin as she asked.

“Thoroughly uneasy.”

“That sounds unpleasant. Do you want me to stop?”

“I do. But go ahead and finish what you started.”

Her eyes glazed over again as she returned to her examination, turning my face each way.

“Salt and pepper hair becomes you nicely, and I like your brow, Shepherd. You have what I call an intelligent brow, the brow of a man who loves to think and reflect. Do you?”

“Maybe a little.”

“High cheekbones,” she continued. “Beneath your beard, I can see a strong jaw. Straight nose. How fine and chiseled your features are.”

The Courtesan then looked at me, her gaze open and penetrating at the same time. She smiled slowly.

“And your eyes,” she said in a singsong tone. “Clear green and piercing, as if you could see inside my soul. Can you, Shepherd? See to my deepest thoughts and feelings so you can know my secrets?”

“Not at all. But I suspect you can see into mine.”

Adrianna let go of my chin. She threw her head back and roared with laughter. The sudden shift in mood startled me. Her manner of laughing was surprisingly masculine from a woman with an excess of feminine wile. But the mannerism was also familiar. She stopped laughing with same abrupt manner that she started.

“Time has been extremely kind to you,” Adrianna concluded. “You are the most handsome man I’ve seen in a long time.”

Then she brought a palm to my face and stroked my cheek. Her expression shifted to that of wonder, even wistfulness.

“You must have been so beautiful when you were young, Shepherd.”

The sudden tenderness touched something buried deep inside. I struggled to breathe and froze. I couldn’t do anything but gaze into those large, feral eyes.

“I can’t say I’ve ever thought much about it.”

I was relieved when words finally came out of my mouth. Adrianna also seemed relieved, but I couldn’t be sure when she smiled.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” she replied. “Isn’t that part of your charm?”

“Are you always so personal with men you just met?”

Adrianna paused for a moment, her hand still resting against my cheek.

“No,” she whispered. “Never.”

New Respect for Romance! But I Still Don't Write It.

Romance

 Like a lot of young girls growing up curious about that mysterious stuff of love and sex, I had a phase where I read a lot of romance novels during adolescence. Harlequin romances were easy to gobble up, but there was one bodice ripper that I was obsessed with, yet didn’t finish. I’m pretty sure Fabio with his long locks, square jaw, and bulging muscles may have been the male model for the masculine hero. I don’t remember what made me stop reading it. It may have been a rape scene or attempted rape scene or the sex scenes were above my head and far out of my comfort zone, so I stopped reading and never read a romance novel again.

As a reader, I outgrew romance novels. Many of my friends and family did not. As I grew into my writerly ambitions, I’m ashamed to say I expressed contempt for romance and those who read and write romance. Even though former writing teachers cite romance as the perfect example of our innate human need for stories with happy endings, I couldn’t see the value of it. To me, romance novels were not true to life and therefore, were inherently absurd.

A conversation I had last summer at a writers’ conference changed my mind. I ran into a woman I had met years before when I first moved to Portland. It turns out her genre is historical romance, and she absolutely adored romance novels, and always has. In the course of our conversation, she told me that she had been to the Romance Writers of America Conference, and had loved it. This conference is huge, with thousands of writers who come. She met a lot of great women with whom she really clicked. She also mentioned that most of the women she had met, who wrote and read romance novels, were a lot like her.

And how was that?

They were happily married women.

I raised my brows at that, because I’ve always seen romance readers as single women who have developed unrealistic standards on the men they want to fall in love with and marry; or they were bored housewives looking for a vicarious thrill; or adolescents trying to find the juicy parts  in the mysteries of love and sex. When I asked my friend to elaborate on why she would love romance novels when she already got her happily-ever-after, her answer surprised me, even though it was kind of close to my second assumption about readers of romance.

“I really love to fall in love. Of course, my husband and I have been together for a long time, so it’s not a thrill ride. When I read a romance novel, I get to fall in love all over again and enjoy the rush. Everybody I know who loves romance novels love them for the same reason I do.”

That gave me pause. Instead of “bored housewife,” most romance novel readers were in the “stable and steady phase of love.” I never stopped to consider the vicarious emotional joyride that a woman would get immersing herself in a fictional heroine’s impossibly romantic journey, and how valuable that would be. All these happily married ladies staying true to their husbands, while enjoying the jolt of falling in love with somebody new in a way that doesn’t threaten their marriages. I had to respect that.

So anything that keeps the marriages of ordinary people intact as they go through the daily drudge of work, bills, and kids, repeat - how can anybody disparage that?

But I still don’t write it. I write love stories. There’s lots of room for tragedy and loss in a love story. Love stories provide a truer reflection of life.