Regardless of how set in stone something appears to be, everything eventually changes. It’s the very nature of the world we live in. For those who love happy endings, nowhere is this change more apparent than in the evolution of the romance novel. The last decade has shown substantial change in what readers enjoy, but with social mores developing so quickly after the new millennium, there’s little doubt that readers will have a new world of romantic novels in the coming years.
Where Romance Novels Have Been
Anyone who read romantic fiction during the ’80s and ’90s no doubt garnered a view of the world that was prevalent at the time. Contemporary romance during that period meant a damsel in distress encountering an alpha male that could save her from whatever sorrow she was experiencing.
This was the formula for success ever since “The Flame and the Flower” — the first romance novel on a mass-market scale — was released in 1972. Even in this early example, though, there was foreshadowing of what would come. The hero represented society, and the damsel was all women. The end goal of the book was equality between the two.
While it wasn’t so overt at the time, “The Flame and the Flower” set the stage for what was to come in the following decades.
Romance Novels in the New Millennium
The formulaic outline of romance novels remained unchanged for decades, but in the world that followed the new millennium, it seems there was no longer a “right way” to write romance. Diversity became key. A quick perusal of the romance novel aisle shows everything from football wives and pleasure hotels to LGBT and BDSM.
What made this diversity necessary? It can be attributed to a changing and diverse market. It was easy to imagine the typical romance novel reader as a lonely housewife during the ’70s. By 2005, though, romance made up more than half of all mass-market paperback sales. At that point, it became much more difficult to envision the average reader as anything average.
Popular culture affects popular fiction, and that’s exactly what romantic fiction is. Storylines change as society evolves, and when looking at the current state of women’s issues, it’s easy to imagine how big changes could be coming fast.
Women’s Issues and Romantic Fiction
There’s no denying that the last two years were the biggest of the new millennium when it comes to women’s issues. While many saw “feminism” as a naughty word in decades past, it’s now expanded outside of the common conception of women burning bras in the streets. The #MeToo movement coupled with perhaps the largest women’s rights march in history exposed an undercurrent of females being ignored and held down. It’s not hard to imagine where this will lead romance novels in the years to come.
A full 84 percent of romance fiction readers are women, and 35 percent have been reading these books for over two decades. This means the solid foundation of romance isn’t likely to disappear. This doesn’t mean, however, that it won’t evolve. Diversity will still be key, but it’s hard to imagine a future in the romantic genre that doesn’t focus on equality and female empowerment.
To be completely honest, this is what romance novels have always been about. There’s just no longer any need to hide it in the closet.
A Future Untold
The evolution of romantic fiction is a continuous cycle, and the novels being read today may eventually seem like relics of a happily forgotten past in the span of a few decades. As for now, the strong alpha male still exists in all his greatness, but heroines have finally found an equal grounding in the genre. Even in novels focused on control of female characters, the woman has a strong voice and the overriding power of consent. As time wears on, who’s to say where else romance novels may venture?
This post was submitted by a guest blogger.