SERIESous Discussion: Do Contemporary Romances Need to Be Realistic?

SERIESous Discussions: Every once and awhile I will post my random ramblings about a bookish or blogging topic. Feel free to join in by making a comment below or linking back!


I’m an avid contemporary romance reader. The hopeless romantic in me just loves love.

What I love about the genre is that is can take on many different forms. There really is something for everyone in the romance world — which is probably why it is so successful as a literary genre. You can have your Harlequin Romances or you can read some dark erotica. You can read about first loves or second chances. Anything that suits your fancy really.

But my question is: does Contemporary Romance need to be realistic in order to enjoy it?

Ever since I started this blog, I’ve been an advocate that fiction should be fiction. One of the great things about fiction is that you can explore various topics and watch how they play out. Does that mean the events of the novel should take place in real life? Perhaps not, but isn’t it interesting to imagine if they could?

Part of the appeal of fiction is that it provides an escape from the every day. After a hard day at work, the last thing I usually want to read is something depressing. I want something to lift up my spirits. I usually turn to Contemporary Romances because they don’t have epic world-building or crazy new terms I have to keep up with like fantasy or science fiction novels would. They mimic reality so I can focus on the characters and the plot instead of getting lost in the magical world the heroine may or may not live in. I’m always familiar with the world because it is one I live in.

So, what is “Contemporary Romance”?

I did some research to find out why “contemporary romance” is labeled as such.

I first started with the definition of the word “Contemporary”:

existing or happening now:

Cambridge Dictionary

I then moved to the definition of the genre. Wikipedia defines Contemporary Romance as:

Contemporary romance is a subgenre of romance novels, generally set contemporaneously with the time of its writing.[1] The largest of the romance novel subgenres, contemporary romance novels usually reflect the mores of their time. Heroines in the contemporary romances written prior to 1970 usually quit working when they married or had children, while those novels written after 1970 usually have, and keep, a career.[2] As contemporary romance novels have grown to contain more complex plotting and more realistic characters, the line between this subgenre and the genre of women’s fiction has blurred

Wikipedia

So clearly, Contemporary Romances are inspired by the realities of the world during the time they were written.

But how closely should these contemporary romances mimic reality?

I was inspired to write this post after reading Laurelin Paige’s Slay Quartet. It’s a spin-off of one of my favourite contemporary romance series, Fixed on You. Both are darker contemporary romances with flawed characters and both really play with the idea that money can buy you power and influence. The Slay Quartet is also extremely gritty, particularly in the second novel, Ruin. And that’s coming from someone who loves dark contemporary romances.

One of the reasons I loved this series so much (honestly, I rated all four books 5-stars) is that despite the grandiose of the rich elite, there were some inklings of reality in there. Just enough to ground the characters and their stories to make me believe that this series could happen in real life; even if it seems far-fetched at times.

This sentiment was highlighted shortly after I finished that series and started The Renaldis Series. I lowered my rating because some of the plotlines seemed a little too improbable to make them seem plausible. In fact, for the 2nd novel in the series, Kidnapping His Bride, one of my reasons for rating the book so low was this:

His approach is something that would work more in a historical romance when society was different but it just felt icky in a modern romance.

~SERIESous Book Reviews, Kidnapping His Bride (Goodreads Review)

Let’s Go Back to the Wikipedia Definition for a Second…

When I first read that definition from Wikipedia about Contemporary Romances, the line that really stood-out for me was this one:

As contemporary romance novels have grown to contain more complex plotting and more realistic characters, the line between this subgenre and the genre of women’s fiction has blurred

Wikipedia

I thought this was a really interesting thing to mention. I don’t read many books that I would consider pure “Women’s Fiction”. For me, I classify those as books by Emily Giffin, where romance/relationships are an important aspect of the story but the focus is more on the heroine as she navigates her life and her subsequent struggles. They feel more like they are the coming-of-age stories women 25+ as they go through the next stage of their lives. Some other examples for me would be Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You or Bridget Jones’ Diary.

Some of my favourite contemporary romances though are the more character driven ones where we really see the characters grow; either through the new romance or through the plot. The Slay Quartet’s heroine, Celia, has fantastic character growth throughout the series though the book feels very much like it focuses on her romance with Edward. I suppose someone could classify that series as Women’s Fiction as I’m sure women are the target audience.

Clearly, as the definition states, the lines between the genres are getting blurred.

Conclusion?

For me, it comes down to managing expectations before I start the novel. I’ve read enough Ella Miles novels now to know her books skirt the line for realism — but that’s why I pick those books up! They’re entertaining and thrilling in a way that needs the over-the-top moments.

And sometimes, I just need a cheesy, sweet romance to get lost in for a couple of hours. Maybe that’s when I will remind myself that fiction can be fiction and let those little illogical moments go for the sake of pure entertainment when it comes time to rate those books.

What about you? Do you sometimes struggle rating or reading Contemporary Romances based on their realism?

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