Although I haven’t really read or watched that many things (relatively speaking) in the romance genre, I was reminded of one of the really interesting features of the genre whilst writing a film review recently. So, I thought that I’d take a slightly deeper look at settings in the romance genre today.
One of the really interesting things about romance fiction and romantic films is that they seem to have much more emphasis on place than stories in other genres usually do. Although science fiction and fantasy often pride themselves on creating interesting fictional “worlds”, the sense of place in the romance genre is often a lot more solid and emphatic.
Whether it’s Rickey & G-Man’s restaurant in Poppy Z. Brite’s excellent “Liquor” series, the two houses (and the space between them) in Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights“, the frequently-shown locations in “Lois & Clark“, or the old house in “Practical Magic” – things in the romance genre often tend to have a surprisingly strong sense of place when compared to other genres.
This is mostly achieved by focusing more heavily on one location (or a smaller number of locations), rather than the wider range of locations found in many other genres. There are quite a few reasons why this tends to happen a lot in the romance genre.
The most obvious reason is that, because the emphasis in the romance genre is on the relationship between two characters, this usually means that these characters have to be in close proximity to each other for a fair amount of the story. As such, both of them will usually spend most of their time in a single town, village, city, house etc…
Since the romance genre focuses on the relationship between two characters, the narrative pacing is also often slightly slower too. Whilst many other genres (such as the thriller and detective genres) rely on more frequent and varied location changes in order to tell a more dynamic and fast-paced story, the romance genre doesn’t really need to do this as much.
In addition to this, the focus on a single location also helps with audience immersion too. Since the emotional components of the romance genre rely heavily on the reader or viewer living vicariously through one of the main characters, the smaller number of locations helps to immerse the audience a lot more firmly.
By focusing most of the descriptions, set design etc.. on a smaller number of more distinctive locations, romantic stories help the audience to imagine that they could actually be living there. The additional descriptions, screen time etc.. devoted to a small number of locations also helps the audience to create a much stronger mental image of these places, which helps them to feel that they could actually live there.
Likewise, since one element of the romance genre is wish fulfilment, escapism and fantasy, there’s also often a need for more interesting settings. The romance genre is a feel-good genre that allows the audience to take a brief “holiday”.
So, even if the settings are still relatively “ordinary”, they will often be interesting or distinctive in some way or another. Whether it’s a distinctive old house, an old castle, a charming rural town, a city in another country or even a tropical paradise of some kind, locations in the romance genre are often the kind of interesting places that readers would want to visit.
Finally, the emphasis on one location also helps with the atmosphere and emotional tone of romance stories too. By placing the events of the story in just one place, the romance genre is able to create a sense of intimacy and cosiness that complements the relationship between the main character really well.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂