Novels are imaginary stories about people and events. They are written to entertain and amuse. Two thousand years ago, Greek writers told tales of young lovers. Usually the lovers were separated by terrible events and were reunited only after much hardship and suffering. This plot idea is still in use today. The most popular books for women today in North America are romance novels. Many millions are sold every year. This means that romance publishing is big business and very competitive. Companies survey their readers to determine the kinds of stories they like. One survey asked readers whether or not they would like more references to sex in their novels. Usually, romances are about love, not sex. But in today’s market, publishers are ready to give their readers what they want. The essence of the romance is to create suspense by putting obstacles in the way of the lovers. One simple obstacle is to make the hero and the heroine as different as possible.
For example, an Eastern schoolteacher meets a Western cowboy. Of course, at first they don’t like each other at all; but in time, they fall in love. Or a female social worker might meet an aggressive businessman. Quite often the heroine is a spinster who has sworn never to marry. Or perhaps she has a special dislike for the hero and his family. The romance writer must come up with a plausible way to bring the two together. There are a number of popular plots that lead to marriage. Sometimes, the heroine – out of a sense of duty – will move in with the hero to help him raise his children. Or she may be a professional nanny who moves in with a widower. A favourite plot is the marriage of convenience. Two people who don’t like each other get married for financial or political reasons, or for the sake of the children. Later, of course, they fall in love. In most cases, there is some particular obstacle to marriage. Often either the hero or the heroine already has children, and he or she doesn’t expect that anyone will want to take on their ready-made family.
Sometimes, one or the other has a physical disability, or is of a different race, class, or background. For example, the heroine may come from a very strict and proper family, while the hero may have a dubious reputation, or even be a criminal. The interest of the story lies in how these very different people come together. Usually, the hero is a very masculine type – a cowboy, engineer, military man, pirate, gambler, etc. The heroine is usually very female, but may have tomboy or spinster traits. She frequently has a strong personality and a temper and is described as feisty or fiery. A good example of the two types is Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind.” Nearly every romance novel will contain some promotional offer to encourage readers to order more books. Romances can be addictive, and some women read them almost non- stop. Some romances are very well written, but the majority follows a set formula. That way, the reader always knows what to expect.