There’s a very fine balance between cheap romance novels and a solid romance story. Few authors have figured it out successfully, and the rest have just failed miserably. In fact, Christian fiction authors have been trying for years to figure it out, to no avail. Names like Lori Wick and Beverly Lewis are as common as “Sarah” and “Jason” these days, but I can’t really understand why. Like, what’s real about their books that draws in the readers?
1. Ridiculous Standards: This isn’t me harping about the crazy standards against women and the effect they have on our psyches. But come on, guys. Have you read a Christian romance novel lately where the girl wasn’t 5 ft with a waist so small the hero could wrap both his ridiculously large ape hands around her, with his fingers doubling over? I mean, I haven’t. And since when do women traverse for days on end through the wilderness and still smell like lilacs—or whatever their elusive, flowery scent is? And why are the men always described as smelling like dirt, sweat, the outdoors and sunshine? What does sunshine smell like? I’m dying to know.
This isn’t just a Christian fiction problem either. This stuff is in main stream literature. Who are these women who get stories written about them, and why are they all so perfectly skinny? Where are the women with acne and a little weight on them? They’re the side characters. Because duh, only beautiful-fiery-red-headed-immigrants-from-a-starving-farm-in-Ireland-who-come-to-America-and-bump-into-an-oil-tycoon-accidentally-on-the-docks-can-then-find-true-love.
2. Repeated Ideas: I walk through the aisles at the thrift store and I stumble upon the used book aisle. In my brain I’m secretly rejoicing because what is better than a $0.29 book? But lo, there’s nothing for me to read unless I’m interested in one of the thousand (this number is not an exaggeration) regency romance books. Sometimes I laugh because if these stories were true, there were about 10,987 love matches in the 1800’s London high society (or the infamous “ton”) that history just didn’t record. I mean, el-oh-el, am I right?
3. Gratuitous Smut: Yawn, pass. Give me emotionally charged up scenes where two characters are on the brink of ruin and danger over some cheesy love scene any day. Characters who grow together (aka bildungsroman—look ma, I learned something in a college English class!) and learn to love through hardship, adventure and over time are vastly more interesting than characters who don’t. I want to feel emotional tension so thick that you can feel it even when you put down the book. That’s successful romance writing. (Are you reading this, Lori Wick? Does she even write books any more? WHAT HAPPENED TO LORI WICK DID ONE OF HER FANS KILL HER?) That being said, Christian novels are just as guilty of this. Their little innuendos and euphemisms haven’t gone unnoticed.
And why are the titles just so bad? “Love’s Heart of Hope,” “A Devil In a Kilt,” “Reaching For Ryan,” “To Love a Naughty Cowboy,” “Sweetbriar Haven,” are all stupid titles I just created in the past ten seconds, and I’m sure they would be easily cleared through a romance-novel-editor. Like, what?
4. The Dream Romance Novel: So I’ve listed what I hate about modern novels, Christian and main stream…so what would a good one look like? We here at The Badger and The Bee have unanimously agreed that the perfect book could be summed up as this: A Non-Pornographic Romantic Adventure Novel Set In The Wild West. Give us the gunslingers, the gold mines, the carriage robberies, a heroine with acne and too much tummy weight and a hero with the most realistic, average face and body that we’ve ever seen. Win us over with their personalities, not their perfect physiques and ladylike behavior. (Like, no, I don’t want to read another book about a coy woman going to be a governess to a dark, handsome lord. MAKE IT STOP.)
This is the fun part where we ask you to submit your cheesy romance back cover descriptions in the comments below. I want to see how cliche and creative you folks can get. I can’t wait.