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That's right. I've figured it out. I have the answer to why paranormal romance has become hotter than a Buffyverse vampire in the noonday sun. No, it isn't because secretly women want their men to have sparkly skin, nor because there's a widespread werewolf fetish out there. Actually, there might be, so scratch the werewolf fetish bit. But here's my theory, and I'm sure others have put it forth too; it's just that I'm not reading their blogs or academic journal articles.

Romance requires obstacles. Any good plot does. In romance, you need to have a pair of people who desire to be together, and--more importantly--you need strong reasons why they can't or shouldn't be together. That's your plot, your conflict.

In the old days, this was easy. Obstacles to romance were everywhere. For instance:
Class/race divide: A governess can't marry the master of the house. An heiress can't marry the chauffeur. An Untouchable can't marry a Brahmin. A white woman can't marry a black man. Etc.
Arranged marriage/ No divorce allowed: Turns out you married a jerk? Too bad! You're stuck! (Until you get lucky and he dies, which will happen about 90% of the way into the book, so hang in there.)
Long-standing family feud / Being on opposite sides during a war: ...Self-explanatory.

Technically, any of the above problems could still take place today, given the right culture and situation, but they all feel pretty outdated. This is why, to take a small tangent, historical romance is also hot, and always has been, and always will be. Obstacles to happiness in historicals are easy to find. They're littering the field! Good luck not running into them! Similarly, a dystopian future can have any such obstacles you want to create, and those stories are fairly popular too.

But in contemporary romance--you two want to be together? Go ahead. Couple up. These days, you can divorce a jerk. You can move away from your parents if they're a pain about your choice of mate. You're protected by a lot of shiny new laws ensuring your pursuit of happiness. And that's great! For humankind, I mean. It sucks for romance writers. We can, and do, explore the remaining taboos and tangles that snarl up couples, but those are trickier. Love triangles tend to be messy if realistic, and annoying if unrealistic (why wouldn't the triangle quickly resolve into a couple if that third person isn't likable?). Geographic distance has its possibilities, but again, it's usually not hard to overcome in modern times. Taboos like teacher/student, doctor/patient, and boss/employee can work, but also run the risk of squicking people.

(Yeah, I wrote about teacher/student anyway, and yeah, I think it did squick some people, despite the characters being well over the age of consent. I wouldn't have dared write a story where one was under the age of consent. Nabokov's braver than me there.)

Oh! But! You know what would be a seriously great obstacle? What if one lover was human and the other was a vampire? Or a werewolf? Or a ghost? Or an angel? Or a selkie? Or a faery? Or a--yeah, you get the picture.

And it's true. These are not only interesting, fanciful story ideas, which bring lots of exciting mortal peril (also vital to a romance tale), but they come inherently packed with the crucial obstacle to happily-ever-after. So that, my friends, is my big and surely non-original theory on why the paranormals are selling like shape-shifting hotcakes lately.

That and escapism. Reading is always about escapism, and elements of fantasy increase the escape velocity (so to speak). But you knew that.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 17th, 2011 07:13 pm (UTC)
This makes a lot of sense to me, and also explains why vampires become, erm, sparkly in romantic novels.

Though I do like vamps with a bit more bite to them :D
Apr. 18th, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC)
Yeah, Spike and Angel and co. are much more my speed!
Apr. 27th, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
Thing is, given the massive glut of these stories in the market over the past several years, haven't all these storylines become just as played out as the mortal, temporal ones? I read some of the manuscripts in my work as a freelance editor and there is a definite sameness to the storylines, as if many authors are working from the same template but just changing up time and place and names.
Apr. 28th, 2011 03:36 pm (UTC)
I suspect you're right, yes. I haven't read very many at all of the paranormal romance novels, but from the sheer number of them, and the blurbs on the covers, I have to imagine practically everything has been done by now. I guess all I can do as an author is focus on that "write the book you'd want to read" idea--though that's far easier said than done!
Jun. 2nd, 2011 12:08 am (UTC)
Granting the rest of it, I'm pretty sure we still have wars and feuds.
Jun. 2nd, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC)
True, alas. It's just usually somewhat easier these days to escape the situation. Unless government intelligence is after you. Which is also in some of those books, but I don't know enough about it to write such a story. :)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )