Romance (updated)

What’s your favourite romance? I mean that in the broadest possible sense. It doesn’t have to have been published as a romance. (I think most books are romances in some way or other.) What is your favourite book where a love relationship is a big part of the story?

And what was it about the way that relationship was written that so appealed to you?

What writers do you think do love stories particularly well?

Feel free to give me examples from Young Adult, Adult, mystery, romance, science fiction, mainstream, or whatever. Don’t care. Oh, and don’t forget about manga and graphic novels. I’ve been reading Emma by Kaoru Mori and it’s currently one of my favourite romances of all time. Because of the subtlety of the writing and the interplay between it and the images. The tension just sizzles from panel to panel.

I look forward to your thoughtful long answers! Which is my subtle way of saying I don’t want just titles. I want to know what it was about the romance that worked for you.

Oh, if you can do that without too much spoilerage I’d be very grateful. Unless you’re talking about a really famous book like Pride & Prejudice or Gone with the Wind or something. Then it’s okay to talk about how Darcy gets left at the altar as Elizabeth rides off into the sunset with Charlotte. Or was that Sense & Sensibility? I’m always mixing these things up.

Wow, I am being demand-ery today. Tell me where to buy precious things! Answer my questions! Peel me a grape! French me a fry!

Update: Karmela Johnson in the comments reveals what doesn’t work for her in a romance. Most useful and fascinating. She’s right, it’s just as revealing as what you do like. So, please, feel free to tell me the don’ts as well as the dos.

And thanks so much for all the comments. Fabulous!


  1. Diana on #

    What makes a love story work for me is tension and conflict. Whether the story is one of requited love or unrequited love, it has to be *conflicted.* “He’s just not that into you” isn’t interesting from a narrative sense. He’s into you, but not allowed to be, or not into you *because* he’s not allowed to be is interesting to me.

    An example of the former would be someone like Mr. Darcy. It’s right there in the proposal: he’s “struggled” against his attraction to her, but it has “overcome” all of his arguments against it. He’s not supposed to be in love with Lizzie: she’s not his type, she’s not his social standing, she doesn’t have a pound to her name, and he’s kinda supposed to marry his cousin. But oh well. He’s conflicted, but he loves *her.*

    Unrequited romance is also romantic if it’s one of those “if they only knew the real me” kind of conflicts. Shakespeare did this all the time, with girls pretending to be boys to get close to the object of their affection.

    And the conflict doesn’t have to be entirely internal (like different social class or crazy amounts of baggage like Ann Elliot and Col. Wentworth). Sometimes it’s very external. I mean, nothing is really keeping Sarah Connor and Kyle from jumping into the sack but that crazy killer robot. The second he’s put out of commission for a bit, they DO jump in the sack. (I think in the terminator, the romance comes from the fact that, for kyle at least, it was for many years an unrequited romance because, well, he couldn’t be with someone who had died in the past.)

    And then there are couples whose conflicts could be viewed as — superficially at least — to be class based (the smuggler and the princess in Star Wars), but the good romantic fun comes from watching them bicker in a desperate attempt to keep from.. wait for it… hopping in the sack. Very light tension, but oh so much fun.

  2. Rebecca on #

    er, i don’t know how to do this without being spoilerific, but i’m guessing you’ve read this one anyways. so there are spoilers for the bermudez triangle in here, which is currently my favorite romance-y book. and i guess the best way to describe what i liked about it was how real it was. no fairy tale endings–in fact, i wouldn’t even say there was an ending in the traditional sense. which is what made it so great. life goes on. i loved mel’s and avery’s romance, and although i was sad when it came to an end, it felt like it was right, too. nina’s relationship with steve-the-environmentalist was good too–a painfully vivid and accurate portrayal of why a long distance romance is very hard to maintain. i felt like all the relationships in this book just got it right. the way the characters felt seemed so familiar in a lot of ways, and even when i couldn’t relate to them myself, i saw things that some of my friends have experienced too. and, i always seem to like it when the romance doesn’t end with the perfect couple getting together. i like it when things go wrong for them instead. 😛 b/c that’s how it really is. i also like it when the couple is more….evenly matched, i guess. one doesn’t take over the other. in bermudez, the relationships were still good ones, even if they didn’t work out in the end.

  3. Rachel Brown on #

    i really like the romances in barbara hambly’s fantasy novels. her romantic couples are usually not confident and beautiful (or at least, not both) and are usually some combination of geeks, misfits, middle-aged people with children, widows, accountants and so forth– so they seem very real, and when they do manage to overcome their insecurities and the difficultry of having a relationship while their world is under attack by giant flying Cthulu bugs, for instance, i totally identify and cheer them on. (Wish-fulfillment!)

    generally, the romances I like best are the ones where there’s another story going on at once. I tend to prefer romantic obstacles to be at least partly external, because if they’re entirely internal i usually find it hard to believe that they’d really be happy together. also i really like the “fighting side by side” motif which, again, is most likely when the romance is not the whole story.

    lois mcmaster bujold is really good at depicting sexual and romantic desire. this is especially good in komarr and mirror dance. but my favorite of her romantic couples is miles with taura.

    megan lindholm’s “ki and vandien” series has a great ongoing romance between an established couple. I like that too– romances where the story isn’t about how the couple gets together, but how they relate afterward.

    i love seeing the geek or sidekick or “nice guy” get the girl (or guy.) Maybe my favorite example of that is in Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion, in which the traditional alpha-male rake loses the girl to an adorable dandy who is absolutely dependable and kind and really loves her.

    i like friendships that almost imperceptibly become romances. And co-worker romances. and wartime romances.

  4. Karen on #

    I don’t read much that could be classified as romance, but I really enjoyed The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. Great stuff. The formula is clear enough that the outcome of the story is never in any serious doubt, but getting there is fun because girl and boy are both such lively, funny, smart and slightly wicked characters that their relationship is a delight to watch. They’re each far more interesting than everyone else around them, and there’s something a bit genuinely daring and dangerous in every interaction between them, and they’re the characters who, if I were in their world, I’d most want to know (or be). So I like spending time with them. Sorry this isn’t a more in-depth comment, but it’ll have to do for now.

  5. Rachel Brown on #

    and manga, of course, has a lot of excellent relationships that are very close and intense and may or may not be romantic, depending on your interpretation. Such as the complete works of kazuya minekura. (Did you know two volumes of wild adapter are out? Run! Buy!)

    hyoue and amane is one of my absolute favorite romances, in her majesty’s dog. i love that amane is so awkward but actually studies and observes and learns about human relationships, and notices when she’s hurting people and tries not to do it. And that hyoue is so crazy about her and will do sneaky things but never wants to hurt her. and they have witty banter. couples ought to have witty banter.

  6. evalangui on #

    hey, I was just reading your rant on English’s split infinitives and double negatives, i know it’s old and everything but I thought I would tell you anyway that in Spanish double negatives do not only exist but are the standard(see here:
    “NO quiero NADA” “NO quiero NINGUNO” “NO vino NADIE”, it’s so standard that I had never heard it being set appart as a special construction before learning English.

  7. Katherine on #

    I think I’m attracted to romances with two really strong characters with great banter. My significant other and I had really great banter as friends before we started dating, and since then I’ve found myself drawn to that type of relationship between a hero and heroine.
    Like so many other women I love Pride and Prejudice, have since the very first time I read it. I love how strong Elizabeth is in a time when that type of strength and independence was rare and apt to be looked down upon (versus today being the age of “girl power”). I love Darcy, so witty and charming. As my boyfriend puts it “Darcy is the pimp.” lol
    One of my other favorite romance is the relationship between Kahlan and Richard in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. Again, two very strong characters, but less banter in this one. They are two characters that at the beginning have no actual hope of being together, but they love each other so fiercely and with such dedication that you can’t help but cheer when they get their chance.
    Another fantasy with a romance I really loved was The Symphony of Ages series by Elizabeth Haydon. There is a character who has feelings for the heroine and I was very moved by his story, even if it isn’t a typical romance (in the sense that they aren’t actually together and she loves someone else).

  8. jenny davidson on #

    the romance-type books i love involve painful misunderstandings! for me it has more to do with character than to do with pacing or tension, though. marisa de los santos’s “love walked in” is a quite wonderful unexpected romance, if you haven’t read it. i must confess that i think the novels of eva ibbotson are one of my favorite things in the world, both her adult fiction and her young-adult are magically good on this altho it is certainly the same relationship between the same two people described again and again! victoria clayton also very good, in fact i think i am going to flake out and go and reread one of her books right now! i think diana wynne jones also captures the feeling of being in love very aptly–“deep secret” is rather good on this, if i had that here i would also reread it for about the fifth time! the classic romantic fiction that i really love is of course georgette heyer and mary stewart–joan aiken, i guess, also, though she’s a somewhat more complicated example–and in each case the thing that makes it work comes about in the author’s depiction of the appeal and vulnerability of the female character and the kind of achiness-inducing desirability but also unknowability of the male one.

  9. lili on #

    georgette heyer, of course (and i’m lumping them all in as one book).

    when i was a little i used to just LOVE the romance between Alanna and Jonathan in Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness Quartet. Gender-bending mistaken identity is HOT.

    katherine: yes. banter. banter is great. (non literary example: logan and veronica mars)

  10. Karmela Johnson on #

    I’d like to take the opposite tactic and tell you about romances that don’t work for me. Specifically, those romantic stories that are completely one-sided, where only either the hero or the heroine brings something to the table. What do I mean by that?

    A quick example that comes to mind is the movie “The Wedding Date” with Debra Messing. In this movie, she’s a deeply insecure woman in her thirties about to attend the wedding of her younger half-sister. In attendance will be the man who dated her for 7 years before dumping her. So she hired a male hooker to act as her date.

    Predictably, Messing’s character falls in love with the hooker. And why not? He’s suave, sophisticated, acts solicitous around her, caters to her every whim. I can see why she fell for him. I’m aboard.

    But then the movie absolutely ruins it for me when HE falls for HER in return! Why is this?

    She brings NOTHING to the table. When he utters a line that could have been terrifically romantic, it comes out of left field with no context whatsoever and left me going, “Huh? Where did that come from?” It was completely one-sided, with him showering her with affection and understanding while she…has sex with him.

    Ugh. I ended up hating that movie even though it had elements of everything I love — romantic comedy, weddings, English setting, English weddings. Coulda been so wonderful. Sadly, the romance, and the entire movie, fell flat for me because of the extreme one-sided nature of the romance.

    And THAT is what doesn’t make a romance work.

  11. Libby on #

    I think the romance in Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief trilogy is really compelling–it’s not clear that they are a couple, or why they are a couple, for the longest time. But they share important qualities–super competence, for one, and concern for their people, for another. And, yes, they do great banter. Among the classics, I do always buy into George Eliot’s rather doomed couples–Maggie and Stephen in The Mill on the Floss (though, yes, she loves her brother more), or Dorothea and Will (who may not quite be doomed) in Middlemarch, but perhaps best is Gwendolen and Daniel in Daniel Deronda (though it’s not my favorite of her books), since they have an amazing attraction but won’t act on it. Perhaps my favorite literary couple of all time, though, is Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter and Harriet Vane, who both have baggage, who are great at banter, and who both hurt each other but manage to forgive and move on. Busman’s Honeymoon is absolutely comfort reading for me in that regard.

  12. hereandnow on #

    The thing I’ve found about romances is they’re so personal – what works for one person is anathema to another. (So much potential for flamewars!)

    My favourite romances usually involve people who learn to be equal partners. I am not all that interested in reading about (a) alpha male saves swooning lady and continues to save her for the rest of her life, or (b) woman manipulates man into poorly-written relationship. Basically, however, the execution is everything: if the author can make me believe, I’m there.

    I also want there to be enough plot for the book to be equally driven by internal and external conflict. And there are a number of cliches found in romance-type plots that will usually make me run away screaming. For example, the Magical Healing Body Part (usually the hero’s Magical Healing Penis that causes someone to get over rape trauma in one night. ARGH).

    Some romances that work for me:
    * Howl’s Moving Castle – I totally agree with about the witty banter! Also, a great example of characters with a flawed relationship that I can nevertheless believe would work.
    * Most of Jennifer Crusie’s books, particularly Welcome to Temptation, Faking It (caper plot!) and Manhunting
    * I also enjoyed about half the Barbara Hambly books I read – the other half didn’t click with me, and I can’t tell why.
    * Most of Loretta Chase’s books
    * Most of Laura Kinsale’s books
    * Freedom and Necessity by Stephen Brust and Emma Bull: strong characters, great conflict, excellent voices
    * The Changeover: romance as part of the bigger character development picture – it’s one element of what makes this book work. Great secondary characters, too. (See also The Catalogue of the Universe.)
    * Persuasion by Jane Austen: I’m a sucker for a self-sacrifice plot.
    * Sarah Waters’s novels: fascinating historical detail, evil twisty plots, interesting relationships
    * This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
    * To Say Nothing of the Dog: holy banter, Batman!
    * Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers: high angst in an interesting plot, strong (competent!) characters, witty banter – the trifecta.

    I would also name a Book That I Know You Can’t Stand here [redacted by the blog overlord—no one gets to know what books I can’t stand but me!] because I think it works on a total wish-fulfilment level – that can be powerful.

    Anyway, here endeth the world’s longest comment.

  13. hereandnow on #

    Eep! Justine, I hope I wasn’t too specific about the book you can’t stand – please feel free to delete that para if you want! Stupid non-editable comments.

  14. Robert Legault on #

    Dunno about in print (though Mil Millington’s Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, which is really more of a classic English comic novel, could certainly qualify as a romance), but the Billy Wilder film Love in the Afternoon would certainly be my favorite cinematic romance.

  15. PJ Hoover on #

    The Time Traveler’s Wife brought me to tears. I think it was the love across so many obstacles. The promise of being together in the future. The anticipation of seeing each other at what could be any time, but never knowing just when.
    And I have to add (though it has nothing to do with romance) – what a clever plot.

  16. alisa on #

    i love romance in stories. so get ready for a long one! (you asked for it!)

    Favorite romances:

    Pride and Prejudice
    All three of them in Little Women
    Cal and Meg in Madeline L’Engle’s books
    Doctor Who (2005) and Rose
    Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe
    Lady Nerise and Mandorellan (Belgariad)

    Mostly what I love is romantic tension. There’s this awesome little romance novel called The Rake. I don’t know who wrote it, and it’s a million years old, one of those where they didn’t kiss till the end. But it’s about this girl who makes eyes (so brazenly) with this gorgeous man she sees from the side of the road, on her way to meet her new guardian. Of course, when she meets her new guardian, it is the man from the road, furious that she’s such a hussy (though of course he liked her before he knew she was his charge). Anyway, it’s one of those where they both have strong feelings for each other (that certainly grow), but they don’t feel that their feelings are appropriate, and their roles (him as her guardian) make things awkward.

    It had loads of tension.

    Also, understated romance is lovely. LITTLE WOMEN SPOILERS! I loved the way Laurie and Jo interacted in Little Women, yet it seemed supremely right that she got with her professor and Amy and her “Lord” got together after a few adjustments and arguments.

    But I’m also a sucker for those little bits like – I can’t remember which it is…where he goes and actually kisses the carpet where she stood.

    BUT. The NUMBER ONE, MOST ROMANTIC thing I’ve read in my entire life has to be The Scarlet Pimpernel. The scene in the garden, when they kiss, is so tragically wonderful. It is a case of the very seldom that it works and isn’t frustrating or seemingly extra-complicated by the author. They are separated by this gulf, and yet they love one another, and if they could just communicate… ah… 😀

    So, I think what really makes me love romance most is restraint. Sort of knowing there’re feelings and there being some real reason why they’re apart, and why they have to be careful what they say or do. Love triangles are excellent. 😀

    i also loved (if anime counts) blue seed – kusinagi and momiji – mmmm mmmm!

    I think it works best in a story if there are other, “bigger” plots going on, and it’s a progressive side element.

    i also really like snarky interaction between the two – ala princess leia and han solo, or darcy and liza.

    i asked my husband and he said:

    “Han Solo and Princess Leia
    she hates what he is and he has no concern for what she is when they meet, yet there is a chemistry between them. as it progresses, he grows to appreciate her as a person. these two strong wills, and as he steps up to become the hero she wants him to be, she falls in love with him.”

  17. Diana on #

    Alisa, Percy *does* kiss the step where Marguerite stands in Pimpernel… The carpet I don’t know about, but the step for sure. It’s a killer scene.

    So often it’s the little things. Like in Emma when Knightley realizes that Emma has made a concerted effort to change because he was disappointed in her behavior but he can’t say anything so he just takes her hand and holds it for a second. Or in a recent-published book, major crush by Jennifer Echolls — oh, wow, such amazing chemistry between these two characters. No spoilers but yeah, everyone should read that book. Blew me away. (was edited by the new editorial director at Bloomsbury)

  18. suzi on #

    i really love the vibe between clary and jace in city of bones by cassandra clare. you can tell they’re attracted to each other by the things that they do even though they’re arguing most of the time. and jace is always saying things to make it seem like clary means nothing to him punctuated by moments of vulnerability where you see his inner turmoil over his feelings. and now for the spoiler alerts although i will try and keep it circumspect. *SPOILER*








    the ending, where it makes it too gross for them to be together, even though you know in your head that its wrong, you still want them to be together, and THAT is what makes this pairing so heartbreaking.

    Also, this probably sounds a bit childish, but when i was 12, i loved sailormoon & tuxedo mask/serena & darien. at the start, they didnt know who the other was and the banter was so endearing. and when they finally found out about each other, darien got stabbed and turned evil (in the anime, anyway) and serena had to work so hard to get him back. anyway, when i was a kid, i thought it was great and watched it religiously.

  19. The Bibliophile on #

    oh my, the time traveler’s wife. that book didn’t just bring me to tears, pj, it had me sobbing uncontrollably for about 45 minutes! i think what that book illustrates is just how much caring about the characters really matters in a good romance. all the romantic elements could be there, but if the reader can’t empathize with the characters, or doesn’t want to empathize with the characters, it’s all for naught.

    the other neat thing about the romance in that book was how much they loved one another, no matter the time or place. *sigh* i must read it again, but possibly i should buy stock in kleenex first.

  20. Sarah on #

    I really adore The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinley. There are two great romances in it, with tension and conflict, and I love that sometimes the best choice is the lesser of two evils, and that happiness doesn’t just ‘happen’ to you – you choose it.

  21. Mary on #

    I started reading actual romances at way too early of an age, so now I’m completely picky about both genre romance and romance in non-genre books…

    I think, like most writing, great romance comes down to the character development. Romance is the best when the characters are on equal footing, you know why they love each other in the end, it isn’t one-sided or just lust on one of their parts.

    Julia Quinn is the master at this in the actual romance genre – not only do all of her books make you laugh, but her characters are perfectly drawn…for each other. Even if she’s pitting the over-the-hill spinster with the most charming man in town (Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, my favorite), she makes it believable – you know why they fall in love. And, best of all, if they were real people, they would act exactly that way! Even my non-genre-reading friends adore her books…no one can complain about well-drawn characters.

    Other favorites like this:

    Eloisa James – historical romance, The Duchess Quartet and The Essex Sisters especially.
    Connie Brockway – historical romance, As You Desire (amazing!)
    Elizabeth Peters – mystery, Crocodile on the Sandbank
    Nancy Atherton – mystery, Aunt Dimity’s Death
    Jennifer Crusie – contemp. romance, Bet Me
    Susan Elizabeth Phillips – contemp. romance, absolutely anything by her, even my romance hating mother loves SEP…her stories are just magic, nothing cheesy or purple about them!

  22. Jason Erik Lundberg on #

    John Kessel’s Corrupting Dr. Nice was fantastic in this regard (in addition to being a kick-ass time travel story). I believe he based the plot on The Lady Eve (though please don’t hold me to that). Jonathan Lethem’s blurb was something like, “If there were great date books like there are great date movies, this would be one,” and it sums up my experience of the novel perfectly.

  23. alisa on #

    diana, you’re totally right, i was not remembering well, but it was percy and concrete.

    justine, thanks for letting us think about romance! 😀 hee! i assume you will tell us why?

    it’s been helpful to me, as i’ve been looking at the romantic relationships and their progression in my wip.

  24. alisa on #

    well, not concrete, stone. good grief.

  25. Jo Leigh on #

    Thanks for sending me this way, Diana. Great topic – really made me think. Oddly, the best and most powerful romance I’ve read is from fan fiction/slash. It’s a Mulder/Krycek story and I swear by the time they finally got together, had that first kiss, I had the most intense visceral reaction. Even thinking about it now I get shivery. It was all about the tension and them not being willing to admit that they had these feelings for each other.

    Big thing for me was that no internal thoughts betrayed their feelings. It was all in their actions. The reader was left to put together the pieces, instead of being fed for pages and pages about internal monologues about how they were pining for each other.

    That’s perhaps why my next greatest romance for me is in film, and it’s The African Queen. Gorgeous slow build, the transformation of the characters is all action, no whimpering.

  26. bandhiaduit on #

    my two favorite romances, from different times in my life:
    The Princess Bride: S Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman. Not the movie (although it was a pretty fair homage to the original story.)
    Why? Because it has everything: true love, sword fights, giants, spiders, and it made my 19 year old heart go pittypat with its humor, its pathos, its warmth and, of course, its passion.

    Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
    Why? Because it begins in the present (well, relatively speaking) and quickly sweeps the reader away to another time. It feels like a romance, but before long it’s walking the tightrope between historical fiction and fantasy. And the romance is delicious. The characters are vivid and well drawn. The details have all been well researched, and that makes, please pardon the cliche, the story come alive! It was recommended to me by someone who knew I did not *do* ‘romances’, but made me promise to try the first 100 pages. I did, and I was enjoying well enough, but not planning to do much more than finish it. By the time I was 150 pages away from the end, I could not put it down, and when I was done, I started reading it all over again, because it would be several days before I could find the sequel (yes, it is a story that covers a lot of ground, as well as time). And it made my 42 year old heart go pitapat, too, with humor, passion, intrigue, and the sexy bits!


  27. Diana on #

    Jo Leigh herself is very good a writing romantic tension. There was one scene I remember, from an old category novel of hers, where the hero is separated from his beloved and wanders the perfume counters smelling bottles until he finds her scent.

  28. calliope on #

    probably i loved this lullaby by sarah dessen. i loved watching remy and dexter get close, but your still not sure if they’re just friends. and there this cool scene where she buys tupperware for him and then he finds it and knows the.y’re together. also, i just loved dexter. he was my favorite character ever, and i loved when he had band practice cuz remy was just kinda there, but still integrated in the scene. also, dexter was more open about his love, but the author added little details to show you that remy cared to. and in the end, it doesn’t work out perfectly but it’s still nice.

  29. Libba on #

    wowee. Okay. I’ll bite.

    I’m a sucker for banter, which I think is verbal sex. Give me a guy who can trade witty barbs or toss off a naughty aside, and I’m a little pool of romanceglobulin. I don’t care for passive characters. I like really flawed characters whose aggression/pigheadedness/insecurities/neuroses/pride, etc. provide obstacles. Because really, if they were perfect, or if one person were just really easy-going, there’d be no tension. It’s the two people trying to establish top doggery, to try to win without exposing their vulnerabilities, that makes for exquisitely painful sexual tension. And of course, I want them to be changed by each other over the course of time, to learn to let their defenses down. But I want it to take a good, long while.

    BUT–and I’m loathe to admit this–I also like that brooding, star-crossed, this-will-never-work thing. I’m thinking Heathcliff and Catherine in WUTHERING HEIGHTS or Spike and Buffy or, recently, Azazeal and Cassie on “Hex.” I also love Rochester and Jane in Jane Eyre. I love screwball comedies with Cary Grant or film noir, which is tough-love romance. I loved “Moonlighting” where Bruce Willis was a sexy, obnoxious, funny jerk with one foot on a banana peel. (I’m smiling just thinking about the scene where Cybill Shepherd is on all fours looking for something and Bruce Willis comes in, smirks in appreciation, and says, “You praying or did you finally come to your senses?”)

    I don’t want the characters too broadly drawn. It’s all those quirks and tics and assholian defenses that can’t quite be let go of even for love and the various missteps and foibles that make my heart ache as well as leap. I need them to be fully human in order for me to be fully engaged. That’s why “Say Anything” and HIGH FIDELITY work for me as well. (Well, yeah, and because it’s John Cusack. Sue me.) So I guess for me the romance is an outgrowth of character. If it’s just all about the romance and sex without any of the underbelly of what makes those characters tick, I won’t care.

    I realize I mostly used movie/TV examples, but fehhh. It’s still romance.

  30. Kris on #

    I’m not going to be nearly as well-spoken as some on here. Some people take their romance very seriously! With lots of deep analysis!

    I like it when two characters dislike each other at the beginning…usually because of some mistake or rumor or just a bad first impression. I like it when the man is unable to return or show the love he has for the heroine because of some obstacle. Typically because of his personality (he is reserved or shy) or because love has kicked him in the ass too many times and he is hurt. I also like the heroine to be somewhat clueless that the hero is that turned on by her. But not in a TSTL way…

    A bit of unrequited love on the man’s side is great. For some reason this never works for me when it is the woman.

    I will agree with one commenter who used Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. She just has absolutely no interest in him beyond being his friend. She thinks he likes to tease her because he is just a boy and likes to tease girls. His actions towards her are completely misunderstood. Love it!

    I also really enjoyed “It Happened One Autumn” by Lisa Kleypas (a recent read of mine) because


    the hero was reserved and had trouble expressing his feelings towards the heroine whom he found very attractive. She was all wild and crazy, and he loved her for that. But she thought he was stodgy and boring and absolutely annoyed with her. That made for such a great book! He was tortured over his love for her, and she thought he despised her. Lovely read, that was.

    I also do not like it when the sex comes too early. Before the characters get to know one another. Either one of those ‘accident’ type things where the heroine is thought to be a prostitute or through some quick marriage and an even faster deflowering (can you tell I read a lot of historicals?). I like the physical bits to be drawn out somewhat until I am dying for the two characters to get together.

  31. Sheron on #

    What really works for me is “undying” love. No matter what the obstacles are, those two will keep at it and hopefully get together at the end. A great example of this is Michail Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita”, which is one of my favourite books.

    HUGE Spoilers follow!

    Margarita falls in love with a writer (Master) who is tormented by his own book, so much so that he almost goes insane writing it. Wanting her to be happy (not with a poor insane writer like him) he dissapears out of her life. She spends a few years miserable with another man, until to make the story short she basically sells her soul to be with her lover.

    I just love her undying loyalty to the one she loves. She was willing to be with him through anything because they worked so well together that nothing else mattered. If an author can make me believe that nothing else matters, than I consider it a great romance.

  32. Alyria on #

    What I look for in an romantic relationship whether in a book, on television, or in a movie is loads of tension. I’m not interested in a relationship where everything comes easy and it’s all love at first sight. Drama is what draws me in.

    Probably my favorite scenario of a romantic situation is one where two enemies suddenly find themselves attracted to each other but are convinced it’s one-sided. It leaves room for tons of sexual tension and fiery sex scenes.

    Stemming off that subject, I would have to say my favorite relationship in book, TV, or movie would be Phedre and Josceline from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series. This is probably the most thought out and complex “forbidden love” scenario I have ever encountered. Phedre, a prostitute and maschist falls in love with her sworn protector, Joscelin, a priest of their warrior God sworn to celibacy.

    In conclusion, any romance that brings to the table a whole lot of tension and drama and steamy-ness is a satisfying romance story for me.

  33. PJ Hoover on #

    Funny, Bibliophile, because that’s exactly what I meant when I said brought me to tears! I was listening to the audiobook while exercising, sobbing uncontrollably, thinking how strange it would look if someone walked in just then.

  34. barleystone on #

    In reading romances, I tend to like reading slow, lengthy build ups. Two characters who within the first few chapters are already starry eyed with true love, I just find too easy. I like watching characters work to get to the point of falling in love, instead of falling in love first and working towards the relationship.

    Vivian Vande Velde and Diana Wynne Jones are writers who portray romantic elements that I personally love. It’s not like the characters always hate each other at first; there is initial attraction, but it doesn’t immediately devolve into face-sucking.
    Also, I love rooting for the underdog. Jimmy Stewart’s character in The Philadelphia Story, Erik from Phantom of the Opera, jilted lovers… It’s an interesting tension because on one hand, I’d hate the heroine for choosing the main man and breaking the underdog’s heart (who is usually clearly the better man), but on the other hand, I wouldn’t buy into it if she ended up choosing the underdog either.

    I think I’m more interested in reading how two people learn about each other’s personalities than about their physical attraction to each other. A good romance for me does not necessarily have to end in kisses or consummation.

    I’m a sucker for comedic romances, among other things, and currently, my favorite manga artist Ai Morinaga has a series out called ‘Your and My Secret’. There’s genderswitch, lots of confusion, and as the series progresses, the initial pairing between Akira (girly guy stuck in a girl’s body) and Momoi (manly girl stuck in Akira’s body) begins to recede, and another, even stranger romance starts climbing to the foreground. It’s hilarious and silly and never takes itself too seriously, which is definitely something I appreciate.

  35. Sookie on #

    Right, I suck at analyzing WHY something works for me. But here are a few of my recent favorites:
    Will and Lyra in His Dark Materials
    Mitt and Maewen from Diana Wynne Jones’ Dalemark-Quartet, Book 2.
    I guess what unites these is the sort-of “unhappy” endings.
    Rhett and Scarlett are old-time favorites.

  36. Patrick Shepherd on #

    I’d like to mention one that is not normally thought of as a romance: Robert Heinlein’s Glory Road. Besides its satirical take on the entire sword and sorcery genre, the relationship between the two main characters for the first half of this book has all the typical elements of a romance work: two people who obviously like each other who can’t quite get it together because of their station in life. But what makes this different is what happens after they do get together, showing at least some of the problems married couples face, and how love requires not just understanding between the pair but sometimes a little space and room for each person to be themselves.

  37. Libby on #

    I’ve been waiting for someone to say Rhett and Scarlett! I just blogged about this over at my site because I felt I was going on too long here… great conversation!

  38. Chris S. on #

    There’ve been dozens of names in the previous comments that have made me say, “Yep, yep, loved that!”. I’ll see your Eva Ibbotson, Jennifer Crusie, Loretta Chase, Georgette Heyer, Lois McMaster Bujold, and raise you Shana Abe, Mary Stuart, Sharon Shinn, Shannon Hale, and Elizabeth Hoyt.

    The most important quality is that the main characters are real. They have to have context, and think, feel, hurt. Grow. If they don’t, it’s all just words on a page. And ‘think’ is important: stupidity for plot’s sake is just annoying.

  39. barbara on #

    I love bestfriends turn to lovers story. I like a good plot and sexy and controlling hero.

  40. Penni on #

    I like watching love develop and grow and take on new textures and nuances. Time Traveller’s Wife is a great example of that. I like seeing what love turns into after the first gush of heady love, still romantic, but a different kind of romance. Less about building on sexual tension and delayed gratification. In the play Helen by Euripides, Menelaus discovers the real Helen in Egypt (the Helen who ran off with Paris to Troy was a fake, wh dissolves into a puff of air). It’s a great middle-aged love story about love, comfort, trust and marriage. I think Anne Tyler does this beautifully too, writes about love and discovery years at the other end of marriage, people finding their way back to each other. There’s something fascinating about how the rhythms of love in the everyday, whereas a lot of romances are about a huge rupture in the everyday, a big black hole called love sucking everything into it. Love is the thing that explodes the ordinary world. I like love being part of the ordinary world in the beginning and then seeing what happens next.

    Like Libba, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I find brooding, ill-fated, obsessive, tinged by darkness romance extremely sexy. The best two examples I can think of are Buffy and Angel (no Cordy, no Spike, no no no, Buffy and Angel are the great loves of each other’s lives. Full stop.) and Labyrinth, even though it’s totally unhealthy codependence, and in the case of Labyrinth, it’s basically entrapment and torture. But I always felt completely suckered in by David Bowie’s breathy adoration ‘Live without the sunlight/Love without your heartbeat/I cna’t live within you’. Of course this is pretty much the worst kind of love in real life.

  41. sherwood on #

    I like St that changes balance.

    I absolutely loathe romances in which all one or the other brings to the relationship is beauty, and the reader is clearly expected to think that sufficient unto itself. Feh.

  42. Mimi on #

    I tend to find romances annoying, unless there’s a lot more going on than the romance itself,* so I’m not sure I have any business commenting here. But I’m going to do it anyway, because you did say that you meant the question in the broadest possible sense.

    My favorite love story as love story then, with competition nowhere in sight? A Fish Dinner in Memison, with its sheer over-the-top strangeness, its glorious language, its couples that are really all differing aspects of the same divine and eternal couple, and its central dinner party with surprise ending. I may not agree with any bit of Eddison’s philosophy, but that doesn’t matter: the thing’s a tour de force, and one of the glories of the English language.

    *Social relationships in general, minutely observed, will do nicely. So not only do I love Pride and Prejudice, but in other circumstances I can and will merrily argue that it is Not A Romance At All. Comedy will do the trick, and I’m fond of The Grand Sophy. But romance qua romance? Bah, says I. And you don’t even want to get me started on the romantic-misunderstandings plot, where everything would be cleared up in a heartbeat if the characters would just talk to each other like grown-ups.

  43. Adrian on #

    (CoffeeandInk sent me.) I’ve been enjoying reading the other responses, even though some of them are really not my kind of romance at all. I *hated* the Anne Shirley/Gilbert Blythe romance, especially the sappy inevitability of it. It looked like a trainwreck where there is only a single track and no brakes.

    I rarely see Kate Wilhelm’s stories mentioned as examples of romances, but I am always touched by the love between Constance Leidl and Charlie Meikeljohn. It’s not the romance of discovering first love, but rather the romance of ongoing, continuing, love. I like that.

    I also really like the love between Temeraire and Will Laurence. Naomi is showing something as deeply human and mutual, when I’ve often seen it as purely one-sided and possessive (the love of a person for a ship or an airplane.)

  44. Feaad on #

    I have to say that the best romances are ones that are more than romances; no fantasy story is truly complete without a secondary love plotline, but I believe that it takes a lot more work to pull off a book that consists of only a relationship in a similiarily satisfying way. That being sad, let’s go through the examples of my favorite romances.
    Hawksong by Amelia Atwater Rhodes is one of my favorite books ever, but also one of my favorite romances. The two characters, Danica and Zane, are the leaders of the bird shapeshifters and snake shape shifters respectively. Their countries are at war, but to make peace they marry one another even though they truly fear the other person. Watching them learn to trust one another is probably the most romantic things ever. It’s just beautiful to see it progress from hate, to respectful fear to love.
    Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine will always hold a place in my heart. The movie effectively killed it, as many movies do. Ella is a smart, resourceful, kind girl who sacrifices her love for the life her king, country and the object of her affection. She chooses the hard road and is tortured by it but eventually gets her justice. And they are just so sweet!
    Sarah Dessen is a young adult author who knows her stuff. I love her romance plots because they feel authentic and deal with the characters actually getting to know one another, often in funny or interesting ways. They don’t just fall in love like someone flipped a switch; they grow into it, sometimes at different rates. Because it feels real, it’s great. (someone else mentioned This Lullaby, which was great)
    Twilight/New Moon by Stephenie Meyer were also great, pretty much for opposite reasons than all the rest of my examples. They pretty much fall in love right away, decide that there is no other possibility but being with each other, etc. Okay, so the vampire fights it, but Bella is certain about them. There are obstacles in their way however, which makes things interesting. And I do love, in all romances, the build up that comes before any kind of physical contact. Books that make even taking someone’s hand important are always great to me.

  45. PixelFish on #

    Favourite romances:

    The Far Pavillions by M. M. Kaye – Ash and Anjuli’s story is made of awesome. Ash grows up, thinking he is a Hindu Indian, when he’s got English parents….and his childhood friend, Anjuli, whom he saves as an adult from suttee. Adventure, romance, historicity….omg, so good.

    Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander – Lovely but gritty books. I love how the characters change and evolve over time.

    Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword – I had such a thing for Corlath. (Also, this, Far Pavillions, and Dune all fit the Lawrence of Arabia story, which while not romantic, per se, imprinted itself deeply on my psyche. So I’m a sucker for that kind of story.)

    Elizabeth Peters – Her Amelia Peabody series are awesome. Man, I loved it when Ramses got older and became sexy. Also, the Vicky Bliss mysteries. Because who doesn’t want a John Donne quoting sexy jewel thief for a boyfriend.

  46. maria on #

    A lot of people are going on about banter, and I have to say that Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite of Shakespeare’s romances for that reason, and I actually like the Kenneth Branaugh version of that play. I also had to mention it because people are also bringing up Han and Leia as an example. My college (alma mater) recently did a Much Ado About Nothing and the design elements were inspired by Star Wars. So Benedict and Beatrice had kind of a Han and Leia design going on. It was wonderful.

  47. Alyssa on #

    I must say that i enjoy romances in which the two characters start out as enemies and throughout the plot begin to realize their true feelings for one another, i think it makes the moment when they both confess their love more passionate.

    *Crown Cuel (sometimes published as Crown Duel and Court Duel) by Sherwood Smith
    *Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt- this story is a light easy read and a bit fairytaleish but i still love it.

  48. verbminx on #

    So late to the table!

    hereandnow mentioned two books by margaret mahy, and those two totally worked for me, though the protagonist of The Changeover is very young (an age when most people aren’t quite dating yet and don’t have a clue what they want). Sorenson, the male lead, is like a blueprint for a lot of similar YA fantasy heroes. I think his charisma carries that one off, but I love Laura for her strength.

    Someone mentioned Robin McKinley – the romances in her Damar novels were very believable to me. There’s also a good romance or two in The Outlaws of Sherwood, if I’m remembering correctly.

    What about The Perilous Gard?

    If anyone has read the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Air, you find that Sophie and Howl are married and devoted to each other, but bicker constantly.

    I’m sort of with Mimi on romance-qua-romance. There has to be a lot more going on than that for me, unless the novel is a classic.

    Libba and Penni’s brooding intense romances: they *ARE* the worst kinds in real life, and I hate to see them romanticised (as in genre romances where the Byronic hero becomes all bright and sunshiny due to the ministrations of his loving wife, etc). But they can be fun to read about. Too many people read Wuthering Heights as a romance, when it’s… not. It’s a portrait of what emotional damage can do to a person. Heathcliff is a jerk; Cathy wasn’t nice either. But by the end, you understand *why* he’s a jerk. Thinking “I want to save that jerk!” – that way lies madness.

    On the other hand: lots of Austen has come up, but I love the contrast in Sense and Sensibility between Willoughby (who is all flash) and Brandon (who has substance and reliability, but no flash). The title could as easily refer to them.

    I’ve heard people interpret Marianne’s marriage at the end of the novel as sad, because Brandon is so much older than her and because Willoughby, although married, still has feelings for her. I never agree with this stance, and I don’t think it’s what Austen intended, either. Marianne’s happy marriage to Brandon seems like real-life growing up.

    I appreciate that Austen didn’t romanticize the charming and unreliable. In real life, you want to marry a Knightley or a Brandon, not a Willoughby or a Wickham.

    “Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About” was mentioned, and I think I said in an Amazon review that the couple in that book bickered so much and so nastily that it made them difficult to accept as a couple; there weren’t enough moments of affection and understanding in it.

Comments are closed.