I write romance novels and just signed my first publishing contract with Decadent Publishing!! As an official romance novelist I feel I can make the following critique. Please understand that I am not bad mouthing specific authors or books, I'm making a general analysis of the romance novel. This has been written in good fun, just for laughs.
After spending an obscene amount of time researching romance novels (read: getting lost in a fantasy while taking a bubble bath) I have come to the conclusions that romance novels follow a specific set of rules.
The first rule of writing a successful romance novel is to find a Chippendales reject for the cover. Romance novels are covered with the same type of male. This male doesn't need to be smart, doesn't need to be straight and doesn't really need a pulse. As long as the male in question has a huge chest, killer abs, and wavy long hair you're good. All male cover models have the same hairstylist. And while he always looks like he just climbed off his Harley, sailed the globe or stepped out of the shower, they all have the I-didn't-try-to-look-this-way look down. In reality, what does their hair say? It says that the male in question uses shampoo, conditioner, deep conditioning hydrating hair mask, detangler, mousse, gel, hairspray, blow dryer, flat iron, curling iron and, possibly, those little pink sponge curlers we used to sleep on as young girls.
The second rule of writing a successful romance novel is to write a cover blurb to snare your reader. Here's what the back cover of a romance novel really says.
Bricker (because all men in romance novels have names that sound like last names or dog names) is an ex- special forces operative (because no real romance man would be an accountant) who has lost hope in humanity. His time spent serving his country has left unseen scars on his soul (because PTSD is way sexier then the loss of a limb or a gunshot wound to the belly). Bricker is troubled by unseen demons (being haunted by the spawn of Satan is much cooler than having bad dreams and flashbacks). His life is turned upside down when he meets the beautiful (because romance women are all cast from the same mold as Angelina Jolie) Kevin (because all romance women have male names). Kevin is a successful attorney (because while all romance men barely passed their GED, romance women all went to Harvard on an academic scholarship) who has dedicated her entire life to her career (because all romance women are workaholic spinsters at the age of 24). When the client of a pro-bono murder case (because all romance men are demons and all romance women are saints) becomes obsessed with her, she must rely on Bricker to save her life (because romance women always put their lives in the hands of total strangers). Will their love be able to survive when things take a turn for the worst (because it can always get worse than being hunted by a homicidal maniac)?
The third rule of writing a successful romance novel is to have your main characters in the sack within twelve hours, in love within 72, and engaged within the week. When a romance couple meets the meeting usually goes like this. Kevin finds herself in peril and Bricker intervenes to save her life. She thanks him for his kindness. When he insists on following her home she protests but he refuses to hear it and, much like her stalker, he follows her to her house. When they get there she refuses to let him come in. Again he insists on checking her house, much like her stalker, to make sure no one is lying in wait. Kevin makes Bricker leave but, much like her stalker, he sits outside her house in the shadows to make sure she is "safe". When the villain breaks into her house Bricker busts down the door chasing him off. In thanks of his heroic actions, she sleeps with him. In the morning Kevin thinks she made a mistake and runs Bricker off. But he won't accept that she's not giving "them" a chance so he starts following her again to protect her from the man following her. Bricker saves Kevin's life again, they sleep together again, and when they wake up in each others arms the following morning he tells her he loves her. She doesn't reciprocate but, after he saves her life again, the cold footed companion confesses her undying love. Several more life and death scenarios later, Kevin and Bricker are engaged, even though they don't know each others religion, occupation, partner history, or last names.
The fourth rule of writing a successful romance novel is that you have to wrap up the dangerous situation, love situation, and the future situation in the last five pages. While 95% of the novel is filled with the meeting, misunderstandings, fights, time apart, and romps in the sack, the novelist can completely wrap up the lovers lives in five pages. To do this the author usually brings in an absolutely unrealistic situation. It usually goes something like this. Just as the villain is about to slit Kevin's throat in front of Bricker, the sun explodes killing the villain while leaving Kevin and Bricker unharmed. They rush into each others arms vowing to never be seperated by more than three inches for the rest of their lives. Publishers Clearing House knocks on the door and hands them a giant check worth $100,000,000.00. Kevin reveals that she's pregnant. Bricker picks her up, absolutely thrilled to become a father out of wedlock and with a woman he's known for a week. Bricker's childhood dog, Rover, walks into the room inexplicably raised from the dead. And, wait for it,...they sleep together (because their is nothing that can't be fixed by a roll in the hay).
Some people could argue that romance novels have completely destroyed the institution of marriage. They could claim that the average female reader is looking for a male model special forces vampires that is, quite literally, willing to die for her. She is convinced that marriage is nothing more than a life spent on the run and engaging in hot and heavy panting for the rest of her life. She doesn't understand why only geeky, accountant, mortals who wear socks with their Birkenstocks are the only ones asking them out. After she lowers her standards to marry the mortal accountant she may feel she has been completely wronged by the universe because her spouse leaves his socks in a puddle on the bathroom floor. She fantasizes about people trying to kill her just so her husband can save her life. I disagree with these people. Yes, the woman may be stuck with a quiet, unexciting life of waking up to the one person in the world who knows all her neurotic tendencies and loves her because of them. She may be trapped in a marriage, while not as hot as a romance novel, is tender, loving, and fulfilling. She will never be tied up in a dungeon waiting for her love to bust down the door and save her. Instead, she will be forced to wait for him to come home from work, gently kiss her and tell her how wonderful and beautiful she is even if she hasn't had a shower or brushed her teeth that day. Romance readers are intelligent, passionate, realistic women (and men) who, over the years, realize that even if her life isn't the heart pounding adventure she thought she deserved, it is the one she wants.