In this month's editorial, the amazing Maisey Yates talks about embracing hope, the feel good factor, and how happy endings make romance novels deliciously subversive.
Romance is the ultimate genre to go to if you want the "feel-good factor". But that concept is an interesting thing in our society. We don't place weight or importance on entertainment that makes you feel good.
No, we consider the worthy things to be heavy. Depressing. Realism means that love ends and people die. Valuable ‘literature’ teaches us that the world is a dark and hopeless place, and while we might be able to transcend to an extent – we wouldn't want women thinking that they can have agency, a career, romantic love, a circle of friends and good sex. That's just outrageous.
Obviously, as a romance writer I disagree with that worldview. As a romance reader, I've learned what readers of the genre knew long before I showed up. That romance readers are not delusional. That they are not confused about the hardships in the world. But that they are making a deliberate choice to focus on a certain aspect of life.
Yes, the world does contain difficulty. But, the world also contains hope. It contains real friendships. It contains love. And amazing sex.
And to me it's that hope that ultimately makes up the feel-good factor in a romance.
I consider all romance to be essentially feel-good. I know some people would argue with me on that score, as some romance has a much darker tone than others. But I don't think the feel-good factor is limited to romantic comedies. I think for some readers, the feel-good factor is contained in a Gothic romance, or a dark romance. In a sweeping historical epic that takes characters to devastating emotional lows before bringing them back to the heights.
I believe that because there is an essential word in that phrase. Feel-good factor. Feel.
Feelings are not facts. Feelings are individual: an emotional opinion determined by our hearts. By our experiences. By our expectations.
Knowing the journey’s end that makes it powerful. No matter the struggle, no matter how damaged the hero or heroine might feel, no matter how impossible it may seem, we know in the end love will prevail.
For me, the ultimate feel-good romance is a romance that pushes the hero and heroine to the breaking point before it allows them to have their happily ever after. I want my chest to hurt through the middle of my romances. Because for me, that's how the happy ending ends up with so much of its weight.
For others, the feel-good factor requires just that. Feeling good throughout the entire read. For me it's about the overall experience. Do I feel good and satisfied when I close the book? Emotionally wrung out? Drained? Do I have what I have heard described as a book hangover? Which I feel like is an apt description, since I often have a bit of a headache when it’s said and done.
There isn’t a wrong answer to the question: What romance has the feel good factor?
But what the feel-good factor is not and has never been as a cop out.
A happy ending is hard to hope for in real life. Because all of us have had struggles. Setbacks. We all have baggage. We'll have something inside us that might tell us we are not good enough to reach a place of peace with ourselves. That we are not enough for someone to love.
Love and commitment are not easy.
In fiction a happy ending is no simpler. It is much more difficult to do the work of redeeming a character than it is to kill them off. If you kill a character off, then that's it. You don't have to untangle the knot you’ve gotten then into, they don't have to do any work on their soul or their psyche. They don't have to come to a place of peace with themselves. They simply cease to exist on the page.
Romance tackles those deep emotional wounds inside us. Whether it's the vague sensation of not being good enough because of how we were treated by our parents, or, the emotional damage that might be done if you're a Duke who is kidnapped by pirates and spends years on the high seas, separated from the woman he loves. Romance also asks us to believe that no matter how dark the night is, in the morning the sun will rise.
My friend, and fellow author, Megan Crane once said that “hope is the last taboo.” I believe that to be true. Societally we are geared toward being cynical about hope. And if you strip away the criticism romance novels get, the lurid commentary that goes into discussions on the sex scenes, I think what you find are desperate, cynical critics who are terrified of vulnerability. Made uncomfortable by intimacy. By sincerity. And ultimately, by hope.
Because to hope is to open yourself up to disappointment. To hope is to admit that you care. That you want a better life, a better world.
The feel-good factor is not shallow. It is deep. And it is challenging. It is escape. It can be easy, and it can be hard. Ultimately, it's all these things. Which is another aspect I love about romance.
It's individual. It's personal. There are as many ways to fall in love as there are people in the world.
So, whether your romance is a romantic comedy, a small town Western, a romantic suspense, a Gothic historical or an erotic journey, they can all have that feel-good factor. Because it has the power to show readers the eternal power of love, and of hope. No matter your definition of feel-good, romance delivers by its very genre conventions.
In a cynical world, I find that to be delightfully subversive, and for me, the ultimate feel good factor.
Maisey's latest book, Unbroken Cowboy, is out right now. You can find more information about Maisey's writing on Facebook and Twitter, and at MaiseyYates.com.
Do you think we should all be embracing the kind of hopefulness ingrained in a romance novel? Do you agree romance is subversive? Tell us in the comments or join the
@pinkhearter #EmbraceHope discussion on Social Media.