After all, Prince Charming looks damn good in a three-piece suit.

Last night, I was writing a plot for a romance novel focusing on a prince—yes, a real royal one from a made-up country in Europe—who has a one-night stand with a beautiful American woman and goes to great lengths to find her. It’s a story that follows their romance across Amsterdam and Brussels, into Paris, and back to her small hometown in the rural Southern United States. This is a popular trend in romance right now, with a lot of big name authors crafting a royal bad boy for their catalogues. Prince Albert by Sabrina Paige tells the tale of a royal stepbrother seducing his innocent new stepsister, while Dirty Crown by Marci Fawn involves two things we romance readers love most—a secret wedding and a secret baby. There are myriad others, a cadre of princes waiting for the interested reader.

And I couldn’t love it any more.

I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to write a romance focusing on a prince and his princess. There are endless possibilities—romantic vistas, evil royal families plotting their son’s demise, damsels in distress, and heroic acts of bravery. As I continued my plot, staying up far later than I should have as the mother of a kindergartner, I realized that I was drawing on some of my old favorite stories—Cinderella and Rapunzel. My prince is chasing the ordinary woman he can’t stop thinking about—Cinderella—back to her ancestral home where she’s embroiled in a conflict with her overbearing stepmother, who bears a striking similarity to the witch from Rapunzel. Pleased with this analysis, I added a few more fairy tale elements—a deliciously evil set of parents for my hero, a tragic back story for my heroine, a whimsical shop owner who points our damsel in the prince’s direction.

A fairy tale for early autumn; I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it’s going.

It has gotten me thinking, too. And I’m a student of literature as well as a writer—I like to think about stories and what they mean to us as a culture. And yes, romance has just as much to offer as any book taught in a college course—don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, dear readers.

So, the fairy tale thing. That’s what I keep coming back to as I write and read, and write and read some more. The romance I’m writing has clear similarities to the fairytales I read as a child, and no wonder. I was immersed in fairy tales. My well-loved copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales sat on my bedside table, and I’d often pick one to read before I went to sleep. And since my parents (bless them) didn’t regulate my screen time, I had a wide selection of Disney VHS tapes as well—Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Sleeping Beauty were perennial favorites.

But as I began to think of some of my favorite romances—all focused on non-royal characters—the patterns pop up over and over again. The innocent young woman who was “asleep” until she was awakened by the hero’s kiss (and perhaps his collection of handcuffs)—well, that’s our Sleeping Beauty. A hardworking woman toiling away until she’s saved by the billionaire CEO of her company—Cinderella. And my favorite—yes, I like the darker plot lines—the young woman given over to the mafia to become a mob bride. She’s the Beauty. He’s the Beast.

Not every romance hits these tropes, but many do. Sometimes it’s intentional—Krista Lakes even put “Cinderella” right in the title of Yours Truly. Other times, we writers fall back on the stories that have simply become a part of our lives. In talking to another writer, she told me she had no idea she was writing a Beauty and the Beast romance until she’d published it. It makes sense, though, doesn’t it? Each fairy tale—especially the versions Disney provides—contain heroines who must face danger, nasty villains working against the main characters, and a happy ending that rewards both the hero and heroine for defeating the bad guys, finding their true love, and overcoming peril.

Sounds like a pretty engaging plot for a romance, doesn’t it? I’d read that. In fact, I’ve read it, watched it, and I seek it out every time I pick up a new book.

Why do I want to read the “same story” though—and why do I search through my Amazon recommendations to find it, week after week? Well, they’re not the same. Not in my experience. Though these fairy tale romances are tales retold, they come with a different twist, a different style, and different, fantastically engaging characters each time. The nuances that set them apart make them special. The fairy tales they hearken back to make them familiar, comforting, and rewarding.

 

The fairy tales they hearken back to make them familiar, comforting, and rewarding.

In our day-to-day lives, many of us like to follow the same daily “adventures” time and time again—the same vacations or trips abroad, the same exotic recipes we fall in love with from the first time, and the same hobbies that bring us pleasure no matter how many times we repeat the required actions. Why shouldn’t we see this trend in what we read? If a book hits all the right places in my brain one time—just as Beauty and the Beast did when I first read Grimm—then I’m happy to seek that experience again.

And as we romance readers know, if there are steamy scenes to spice things up, that makes our favorite fairy tales even better. No wonder we keep coming back. After all, Prince Charming looks damn good in a three-piece suit. And the princess, older and wiser now, isn’t only interested in true love’s kiss.

I’d read that.

Time and time again, in a land far away, all the way to the happily ever after at the very end.

Books Mentioned in This Article

 

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Lexi Whitlow

Lexi Whitlow is originally from the middle of nowhere in a tiny county in Virginia--though now she's enjoying her days as a suburban romance writer in a neighborhood with a big, shiny pool. She spent her early years growing up between Virginia and her grandfather's farm in North Carolina. She's Southern by heritage and a world-traveler at heart. Writing books allow her to travel to distant, unexplored lands in her mind, but she spends most days chasing her six-year-old and shouting at her dog to stop sneaking onto the sofa while she's writing. She holds a master's degree in English literature, and her mom is so proud she's "using her degree." Lexi harbors a not-so-secret love for bad boys. She loves fighters, dirty princes, crooked cops, and criminals. Her husband is a scientist... but he has the heart of a bad boy. She spends what little free time she has crocheting, painting, and occasionally cooking for her family. On big writing nights, everyone is happy eating cereal.

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