Why Contemporary Romance Doesn’t Work For Me

I don’t read a lot of contemporary romance–with the notable exception of Nora Roberts, who is just on my automatic buy list, period.   So excepting La Nora, who does such a marvelous job building friends and families and relationships with people I’d love to know in real life, I tend to find contemporary romance, well, boring, to be honest.

I’ve been giving some thought lately to why that is.

Part of it is that it’s too much like real life.  I don’t like anything that resembles real life because, well, I get enough of that, and the entire purpose of reading is to ESCAPE real life.  So there had better be a murder, a kidnapping, something paranormal, or SOMETHING to set a story apart from the daily norm or I don’t want to read it.  There’s a whole slough of other things I don’t read for the same reasons.

But contemporary romance tends to fail for me on a few other levels.  After reading a recent western themed contemporary romance this week, I think I finally figured out what my issue with it is.  A great many contemporary romances (at least the ones I’ve read) have what feel like manufactured conflicts.  Of the sort that make me want to knock the hero and heroine’s heads together and say “have a bloody CONVERSATION and you’ll work all this out!”  Now, some people like this kind of thing because it is EXACTLY the kind of conflicts that keep men and women apart in real life.  People are not known for being communicative in general, so it’s not like this is an unrealistic setup for the story.  But as someone who generally always says exactly what I think (much to my mother’s chagrin), it bugs the ever-lovin’ crap out of me.

If the entire reason that they are apart is because of a misunderstanding that a single conversation would sort out, particularly if other characters in the story are aware of those issues and just don’t feel it’s their place to say something, that does not make for a satisfying romance to me.  Those are not decent odds to overcome and just make the hero and heroine look stupid.

Give me a freaking REAL ANTAGONIST.  Give me STAKES!

The stakes, if they exist, are so freaking subtle, I don’t even see them.  I suppose the stakes in this genre are supposed to be the whole loss of the HEA.  But that eventuality is a given.  It’s a ROMANCE.  We KNOW they’re going to get the HEA, so why aren’t you giving me something more interesting to read about?  This is why I prefer dead bodies, threats of a meteor crashing to earth, or other means of world takeover by demons or aliens or somebody.  I prefer romance in the context of other interesting stuff.  Where the romance still takes center stage, but it is directly impacted by other major events outside the characters, not just their own boneheadedness.

Certainly I don’t speak of the entire genre because I haven’t read it all.  It’s a thriving and vital section of the book industry and I mean no disrespect to anyone who writes it.  I’m just not the right audience for such a book.

What are your thoughts?   Are you a contemporary romance fan?  If you are, what do you love about it?  If you’re not, are you with me?  Are these the same things missing for you, or do you have other things you’re looking for that it fails to deliver?

15 thoughts on “Why Contemporary Romance Doesn’t Work For Me

  1. Interesting, and honest, observations, Kait! I know this isn’t a book, but I’ve been watching the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and this is one of the things that seriously irks me: All the relationships going to hell in a handbasket because no one will — oh, I don’t know — say what they actually feel! I do enjoy some contemporary romance fiction, but I tend to want the antagonist to come from outside. There has to be some external reason why the relationship can’t work.

    Your statement that a HEA is a given in romance and you want something more interesting like dead bodies, meteors, etc. could be counteracted with the reader’s expectation that that “more interesting” event will also be resolved somehow. The ring will be found and thrown in the fire, the murder will be solved, good will triumph over evil. But I tend to agree that something else needs to go in there to spark my interest even in the romance.

    • Well yeah, that’s true, but if done properly, there’s doubt as you’re reading. There’s suspense. Because there are real, true stakes that if the hero or heroine doesn’t reach their goal, something REALLY BAD is going to happen.

      Something my CP and I have talked about a lot is the notion of creating an impossible relationship. Because those are our favorite ones to read. The ones where the hero and heroine CAN NOT BE TOGETHER, but somehow overcome those major reasons to get together anyway. And I think a lot of contemporary romance just doesn’t operate on that paradigm.

  2. I usually will say I’m a fan of contemporary romance, but you’re so right. If the only conflict is between the two & it only requires a real conversation to solve things, well that just leaves me flat and I tend not to enjoy the book, not 5-star enjoy anyway. But folks like Nora and Susan Elizabeth Philips give us something else in their story telling. Sure sometimes they just need a conversation too, but I’m more pulled into the story, more invested in the characters, my heart & my mind cant stop reading until I get the ever loving HEA!
    I’ve slowed my reading of contemporary romance in recent years, I have to mix it with some murder, mystery, and some freight. In the end the good story tell always makes me happy.

    • Contemporary romance is, I think, necessarily more character driven than many of the other romance subgenres. And that’s where Nora and SEP really shine, IMO, because I LOVE their characters! They’re really 3 dimensional and INTERESTING and I’ll keep reading just to get to know them better. Not that characters shouldn’t be that anyway, no matter what genre you’re reading, but I think you can often get away with it more when there is a mega big action plot to distract the reader with an OMG HOW WILL THEY GET OUT OF THAT? When the answer is, well, dumbass, tell her you lost your wife and child in a horrible car accident on an ice road while you were on the phone with them and she’ll likely be more sympathetic and understanding of why you left her in the first place seven years ago–and you heroine, tell him you were a foster kid who has an abandonment complex…eh. Not so much.

  3. I feel kind of relieved to read someone else saying something I’ve thought for years. Most contemporary romance just doesn’t hold my interest. Like you, I have some exceptions: I love Kay Stockham’s Superromances, and one reason why is the conflicts between hero & heroine are made worse by others in her always well-developed communities and families. Yet my favorite book of hers is the one she indie published with paranormal and suspense elements.

  4. As a writer of contemporary romance, you’ve caught my interest with this post, Kait. Honestly, I feel the same way, but I do believe the day-to-day conflict between these couples is very relatable. That being said, I tend to like stories where the conflict isn’t necessarily a personality clash between the hero/heroine but more them dealing with what life sends their way.

    Starting to ramble so I’ll stop? Thanks for the post!

    • Absolutely. And I think that relatability is really at the root of the amazing popularity of the genre. I think, too, that many of the…less than satisfying reads I’ve had in the genre, were also reprints of category length fiction that is often hemmed in by both length and publisher requirements that often lead to predictable and formulaic plots. Which is a disservice to the authors’ abilities, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

  5. I used to like contemporary romance a lot until I started reading more paranormal romance, mysteries, and suspense. But, if it’s well written, I can read contemporary romance, especially if there’s a lot of humor in it. After reading a lot of dark stuff, sometimes I want something light and fun. Something normal. Then it’s back to the dark stuff. 🙂

  6. I think if the conflict could be solved with a simple conversation, then it’s just poor writing, not necessarily the genre itself. (Not that I’m biased *cough* because I write *cough* contemporary erotic romance.) 😉 I tend to have the problem of trying to write too many layers of conflict in my own stories, and maybe it’s because I’m trying to guard against having that simplistic–we just need to admit we love each other–story line. Hope you won’t give up on the whole genre yet. 🙂

    • Nah, not giving up. I’m too much a sap. I think this particular problem is often a real issue when you have storylines where the hero and heroine already have a history, are in love with each other from the start, and really just have to admit it. With the stories where hero and heroine are new to each other and have to get to know each other and go through the whole mating dance, there’s a lot more room for growth and interest.

  7. I’m with you Kait…I like stakes. I like there to be mystery and intrigue around my romance, not just a love story. I don’t even watch “chick flicks” if I can help it. Because I have met so many new authors online, some who write contemporary romance, I will read it; but it’s not my genre of choice.

  8. I read Contemp. YA, and I find that I need to read them in bits (one here, one there) rather than a slew all together. I agree, stakes make or break a novel, especially this type of novel. But that said, I think most books I’ve read in this genre do a good job of managing the stakes well. Overall I prefer the ones that lean heavily on other genres for support (mystery for example) just to give it that added dimension beyond ‘love story’.

    • Contemporary YA is something I tend not to touch with a ten foot pole. I think I’ve read ONE that wasn’t some other subset of YA. I don’t read YA because I want to go back to high school again. High school was hell. I read it because I love seeing those characters on the cusp of adulthood go do something amazing (and usually rooted in the paranormal in my case) and out of this world.

  9. I can see that. The lack of communication thing bugs the heck out of me. That’s why I like historical romances [g] No silliness, not in my stories anyway…

  10. I love romances of any type, but I have to say… everything I like is because of the author. For contemporary romances, I’m a huge fan of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, because of her humor and her sassy MC’s. I like Jude Deveraux for the same reason, and she does both historical and contemporary.

    I have to admit, though, I never analyze the time I spend with my foofy books. As long as I enjoy the characters and the story, I’m good. 🙂

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