Monday, January 6, 2020

The (Christmas) Romantic in All of Us

In December, I went on a romance reading binge – some 15 novels and novellas about romance during the Christmas season. A friend on Facebook asked, “Why?” I started with two reasons:

First, I had somehow ended up with a lot of these books on Kindle. Some were inexpensive, some were free, some looked interesting. But I had a pile of Christmas romance stories, and I decided I could do something with them.

Second, the stories were research. I’m reaching the end of my final draft of Novel #5, and it includes a bit of romance. I particularly wanted to understand how romance novels describe women’s reactions and responses. The stories on my Kindle provided a lot of research material.

While it wasn’t a point of my reading, something else happened along the way. I learned some things, about romance stories and myself. 

Romance stories tend to fall into categories. In my blog posts, I sorted them by the various categories I found: wishes and hopes, coming home (and its closely associated category of a prodigal returning home), disappointment (in love or career), regional stories that lean heavily on a particular location, food (whole novels built around food), second chances, and ghosts (at least at Christmas time). My experience with romance stories at other times suggests it’s not just a Christmas thing, except for the ghosts.

How romance stories treat Christmas, and religion in general, depends largely upon whether they are “Christian” or “secular” fiction. In the stories I’ve read, very few Christian writers go heavy on the faith angles, instead allowing the subject to play out naturally in the story. Interestingly enough, secular writers have more trouble with stories based at Christmas; they have to focus more on the season’s feelings or family gatherings, or old traditions. If a church is involved, it’s usually the Christmas program. Or they skip church entirely and focus on community celebrations or decorating contests.

What romance stories seem to share in common is how much smells, tastes, and lips are involved in women’s reactions and responses. Some writers apply these to men’s responses as well, but it seems rather forced. Touch is also important, and fingers touching a hand on an arm inevitably sends electric-like shocks up the recipient’s arm.

Romance stories are not pretentious. They don’t try to be anything except what they are – stories. They’re not claiming to be great literature with profound themes. They are simply telling a story. Like any other kind of story, you can learn things about yourself and others from a romance. But no one, including the author, expects a romance story to be nominated for a great literary prize.

Romances also invariably have happy endings. We want the characters to overcome problems, disabilities, history, disappointment, rejection, or whatever. We want to see love triumph. We want to see the good guys win. 

Of all the Christmas romances I read in the last month, two really stood out, both by Christian authors. Both stories delivered more than expected. One was Not Until Christmas Morning by Valerie Bodden, and the other was One Christmas Eve by Robin Patchen. Both involve strong male characters wounded or broken in some way, women struggling to make a way for themselves, and (interestingly enough) wayward teens. To be fair to all the other stories I read, both of these stories connected strongly to the novel I’m working on, which involved a father’s relationship with his son. 

All of these stories reminded me of something else. All of us have a bit of romance in us, even the most hardnosed, clueless, and pigheaded of us men. I believe it’s hardwired into us. But that’s another (romance) story.

Top photograph by Heather Mount via Unsplash. Used with permission.

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