One Writer’s “Romance” Genre Dilemma

We ventured yesterday to La Caleta. It’s a village here in Tenerife above Los Cristianos, and it has some pleasant restaurants. It was well-worth an afternoon:

La Caleta, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. [Photo by me, 2016.]
La Caleta, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. [Photo by me, 2016.]

While we were eating, a twenty-something guy and (presumably) his girlfriend (they didn’t seem like husband and wife) caught our attention when they stopped along that fencing briefly. He snapped her picture repeatedly as she posed “model-like” – hand in her hair, or gesturing with her hat, or leaning her head back dramatically….

Presumably, they ended up on her (or his?) Facebook or Instagram?

After they walked on, my wife laughed, “Should we go down there next and you take my picture that way?”

“Come on, let’s go,” I pointed with a smile.

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“Romance” as a word, defined in its main usages by

Screen capture of
Screen capture of

It can be awkward to have your books labeled “romance,” though. Why? Google and Buzzfeed demonstrate why here:

For the past few months, Google has been feeding text … [into] … an AI [Artificial Intelligence] engine — all of it taken from steamy romance novels with titles like Unconditional Love, Ignited, Fatal Desire, and Jacked Up. Google’s AI has read them all — every randy, bodice-ripping page — because the researchers overseeing its development have determined that parsing the text of romance novels could be a great way of enhancing the company’s technology with some of the personality and conversational skills it lacks.

Those are considered representative “romance novels.” That’s actually really sad. So presumably they aren’t feeding in, say, some Jane Austen too?

A Google employee interviewed in that Buzzbeed piece asserts “romance” essentially boils down to this:

Girl falls in love with boy, boy falls in love with a different girl. Romance tragedy.

He’s not wrong. There are certainly generalities within the genre. Let’s look at Casablanca – my favorite film – through that prism:

  • Man falls in love with woman, but woman is already married and husband escapes from concentration camp. Man shoots Gestapo officer and joins Free French forces.

Or Gone With The Wind?

  • Woman falls in love with man, but man is in love with another woman. Woman pretends to fall in love with every other man in Georgia and Union forces eventually burn Atlanta.

And what about The Winds Of War?

  • U.S. navy officer somehow meets every world leader and dictator of consequence, while younger son wanders aimlessly around Europe and falls in love with Jewish grad student. Japanese aircraft bomb Pearl Harbor seeking to distract from Tokyo’s real goal: to kidnap Janice.

Okay, okay, a bit of a laugh. Especially in the final part of that last sentence above: I was just checking you are paying attention. 😉 On that one, you know I was absolutely kidding, I’m hoping.

* * *

Seriously, those three tales – Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, and The Winds Of War – are examples of “romances,” too. I don’t know too many who wouldn’t want their work fit into a category alongside those. Yet, as with Austen, we have to assume Google isn’t using those to “humanize” its AI either.

The overarching problem for “romance” is it is far too broad a category. There’s really no good, widely recognized “sub-category” that immediately alerts readers to the decided difference between a “bodice ripper” and, say, The Winds Of War. I flatter myself in asserting I aim to write far more like the latter, but I do try to. Yet the genre is overwhelmingly dominated in readers’ (and in media) minds by books like those Google is using for its AI.

The whole issue drives me crazy when I think about it. It’s actually deflating at times. So I just put my head down and go back to work writing my latest novel.

Hope you’re having a good weekend, wherever you are in the world. 🙂