How Good Does a Romance Novel Need to Be?

From a reader’s perspective, how good does a romance novel have to be to be worth reading? When you talk about plot, characterization, and other writing skills, a lot of the romance novels I’ve read would rank pretty low.

Which makes me think there’s a kind of spectrum:

  • ok to read once
  • worth re-reading but not often
  • good enough to look for other books by the same author
  • need to own

And needing to own means lots of re-reading and looking for books by the same author. In other words, the best writing and reading levels of the lot.

Thinking back to books I’ve read in each of those categories, I can see that I’m way less picky about romance novels than I am other genres. As if the romance novels are graded on a curve. If there’s a decent love story tied in there somehow, I’ll forgive a lot. In fact, as long as they don’t throw in stuff I don’t want to read about, there’s a good chance I’ll finish the book. Well, unless the grammar is so bad it’s painful to read.

In other genres, it’s different. The writing quality matters a lot more, and the plot is a big reason for reading. Yes, in fantasy and science fiction, the world you create can make up for some plot holes, but the plot and characterization are still a large percent of the final score. The story as a whole matters more than one aspect of it (such as a romance).

On the one hand, that’s a pretty big plus for writing romance novels. Takes some of the pressure off, right? At the very least, it implies that people might be willing to overlook some major plot holes. Or even other writing quality problems if they like the relationship developed.

Then again, other people might have a different scale. They could be pickier about romance novel quality than I am. And even with my scale, it’s obviously better to be toward the top – more people buying and willing to try other books I might write (will write). But with someone else’s scale, it could be harder to get there.

What do you think? Are people less critical of writing quality in romance novels? What does it take to make a romance novel “good”? And how good does a romance novel need to be for you to read it?

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