Sunday, October 10, 2010

Romance Genre No-No's

Thank you to Andrew at the WriteRunner for his list of Adventure Genre No-No's. Really, each genre is very specific. I write romance and there's a whole different set of rules. I think I have learned these much in the way one learns to swim after being thrown off a bridge (assuming the impact didn't kill you).

My blog is usually about my personal experience with writing and trying to become published. I make no claims to be an expert at anything, I just hope my blog is relatable and offers a sense of connection to people in similar situations. That said, I have never written a 'how to improve your craft' blog, I write about things I have done and/or will do with no expectation of being a mentor of any kind. This one borders painfully on being a 'learn from me' moment. For that, I apologize. If you feel I'm being too teacher-y, just know that all of the comments below were inspired mistakes I have made and irritations at books I have read. I am not a published author. The no-no list shown below is my brainchild, born of experience in not getting published. I have learned through a lot of mistakes and am still trying to align the planets just so. That said, I will not be offended at all if you choose to correct and/or ignore me completely.

Romance Writers of America describes the romance genre:

Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there's a romance novel waiting for you!

Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific sub-genres within romance fiction.

With that in mind, here is my list of Romance Genre No-No's:

Do not get too gritty. Yes, things sometimes smell bad or are slimy or whatever. Chafing happens. Hygiene is a modern value. Do not forget that part of romance is the fantasy. We get enough of bodily functions in our real lives. The romance reading demographic wants to read about physical relationships without the mention of BO or flatulence.

Do not overdo euphemisms.
I had a great time drinking one night with some friends. We sat around coming up with euphemisms for male genitalia. We got very creative and I swore never to use any of them in my writing. Why? If the scene is from your main character's point of view, then the penis should be called whatever your character would call it. I doubt many people, in the throws of passion, would call it his 'lance of power.' What's worse? A reader starting to get into the scene may well start to giggle. I know some of the more crude sounding terms might be what the character would use to label their bits and pieces and, out of context, those words might come off as vulgar. However, if the scene is well written and the reader is engrossed in the moment (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), the words might seem more natural than 'man rod' or 'sweet, honeyed crevasse.'

Do not use sex gratuitously. What? Isn't that what romance books are all about? No. They are about the two main characters falling in love. Sex is part of that, but the story is not about sex. Passionate scenes should only happen to further the story. Sex should be included only as a natural progression for the characters, and only if it's integral to the story.

Do not be a history teacher (note to self): You are telling a story about romance. You are not teaching a course on the social mores or costume design of the insert era here period. Be accurate and do your research. Give explanations to help the reader (assume they know nothing about Restoration England or whatever) but cut out whatever is not necessary to the story. The story is the star -- the history is just a backdrop.

Do not be a tease: If you write sweet romance, your story has a more emotional arc than physical. While the physical still plays a part, be careful not to have too many heated glances or allusions to the physical chemistry or have too many kisses that go nowhere. I, personally, don't find that believable. Also, it's frustrating to read ten pages of heavy breathing and soft caresses, and then have the lights dim, bringing us to the next scene where they were both sated the next morning. Come on. You tease.

Do not be afraid to laugh: I think many romance authors forget disregard laughter in lieu of something more intense. Of course, we must have conflict -- conflict is a romance genre (fiction in general) requirement. But do not forget that romances, overall, are feel-good books. While conflict is expected, if it is not kept in check or balanced out it oftentimes adds a dark feeling to the story. Don't get me wrong, a little bit of darkness can be engrossing, I just have to be able to still have faith in the happily-ever-after. Poignant moments along the way add true depth, but I've read many stories where the conflicts coalesced into one big downward spiral where, when the happy ending magically happens, it's no longer believable. To balance out the terror, depression, etc., do not be afraid to be silly. Is humor a facet of your characters? Are they irreverent? Witty? Slapstick? Don't be afraid to let your character laugh at an inappropriate moment. Don't be afraid to make your reader laugh. Some of the best books have been one's that made me laugh and cry.

That's all I can think of for now, beside making sure your cover has something to do with your story (but then, that's not really the author's decision). Any ideas? What did I miss?


Kathleen said...

As an avid romance reader, I'll tell you what I like in a romance novel:
1) I like the hero and heroine to have specific stories of childhood or previous adventures that helped to shape who they are explain their behavior, esp. if they are trying to avoid love, as they so often do in romance novels. Particularly, I enjoy stories with people who've had to overcome real hardships, like poverty, abuse, battlefield trauma, etc.
2) I want to be able to relate to the female lead (usually not too hard) but I want to be able to fall in love with the man. If there's not enough background on the guy or his feelings, that's hard. This is why Harelequin romances are so unsatisfying for me.
3) I don't like crazy, prolonged misunderstandings or out-of-character over-reactions to hidden truths. These make my eyes roll. I'd rather have sexual euphemisms than crazy assumptions causing all sorts of unnecessary problems.
4) I don't like when the male lead fights the idea that he wants a long-term commitment with the female lead for the whole book. I'm fine with the idea that he doesn't truly realize he LOVES her, but I want the guy not be a weanie. He can be against marriage to start, but he needs to figure out he doesn't want anyone but her by midway through the book for me to be happy. She can take the whole book to figure out that she wants him or is right for him or whatever.
5) I like strong family or friend characters...particularly if the dialogue is witty or the struggles are touching.
6) The love scenes have to further the love relationship...they often don't help understand the characters at all, which is a shame. I also must admit, although this is shallow of me, that I like it when the female lead has never enjoyed sex as much as with this guy. I know, this is total fiction for most people, but I like it. She doesn't have to be a virgin at all.
OK, that's my list for what it's worth!

Kathleen said...

BTW: I forgot to mention that I agree with most of your rules, particularly points 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6. Guess which one I don't agree with?!!:)

Andrew Rosenberg said...

Yeah, about #3. The other thing about sex is that it's inherently conflicted. So don't make the love scenes conflict-free. The resolution of any scene should be a surprise to the reader, so if she fears the sex will be bad it will be great, and if she really anticipates it, let it come up a bit "short". :)

Raquel Byrnes said...

Chafing happens. Hee hee...that is almost as funny as the whole "smells like apples" line from an earlier post.

I particularly like you euphemisms. I'll keep my comment short...I see you're busy. 0_0

Edge of Your Seat Romance

CA Heaven said...

Your comment on The Blood Red Pencil brought me to your blog and this post. I liked your post. It was interesting advice you had on what words to use or not use on genitalia. My favorite metaphor for the female one is oyster, might be I'm overusing it >:)

Cold As Heaven

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...