What Makes a Good Romantic Novel?

ADSCN0005.1 friend told me, before I read The Virginian, by Owen Wister, that it was one of the most romantic books she had ever read. What did she mean by romantic, I wondered? Was it the Regency swash-buckling, bodice-ripping type, or something more meaningful? My friend was correct. This was, perhaps, the ultimate romantic novel. It skillfully weaves a story of the Adam and Eve type, where man yearns for what he lacks and finds it in the woman who completes him.

Having been married for 25 years myself, I have learned and come to appreciate the differences between a man and a woman. Watching Miss Wood discover this for herself, as she learns the soul of her Wyoming cowboy suitor, reveals the strength of Adam as created by God. While she doesn’t understand his wild ways and his stalwart attention to duty, responsibility, and enforcing justice, she comes to accept her rough cowboy as he is, and does not try to remake him into some female version of what she feels he should be. Likewise, the Virginian discovers the joy of finding another person to whom he can express the feelings and thoughts he had locked deep inside himself.

The reader discovers, through the Virginian’s act of baring his most private thoughts and sharing them with his chosen mate, that this is the most intimate act of marriage. Likewise, Miss Wood’s trusting in the goodness of her cowboy’s nature, even when she does not understand his reasons, models the strength of the Christian marriage: one does not trust the person so much as one trusts the strength of God in a person’s life, which creates a trust circumstances cannot affect. There is no need to share the intimate details of this couple’s physical relationship to make this a romantic tale–this is done through the development of their trust and understanding of one another. Romance writers would do well to follow this model, which subtly leads the reader through the development of the most intimate part of a relationship–the development of understanding, trust, and appreciation between two opposing natures.

On another level, I appreciated the writer’s ability to paint setting and characters through a minimal use of words. The writer is a master of “show don’t tell,” which I find gratifying, since it gives me the pleasure of feeling I have been led gently down the path of reaching my own insightful conclusions. I enjoy encountering a writer or friend who makes me feel, as I correctly draw my conclusions from the hints provided, that we understand one another while others in the room may not.


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