Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sunday Story - romance genre

We've had Valentine's Day, where there seems to be a flurry of reporters having their dig at the romance genre, and this always gets my brain working. But I've also had chats with reader friends who have got my mind going too. So, I need to blog to sort my head out a bit (again!).

I'd never read by sticking to one thing. I read eclectically, picking up anything that grabs my attention. I read award winners, things off a shelf that no one recommends, things friends recommend, or hate. I've belonged to a Book Club for years and read whatever was set for the month. I also belong to a Classics Book Group and read the book that we've chosen there too. I read Mum's books, Dad's books, my books, my sisters' books, friends' books. I have been known to visit someone and pick up a book, and then ask to take it home to finish it. I'll devour anything.

So, in 2006 when I started to write towards publication, deciding what to write was a bit tricky because I read so widely. I didn't quite understand the 'boxes' that publishers put books into, or why these boxes were important. So I straddled boxes. And not sub-genre boxes. I went for the big boxes - like straddling literary and genre.

I learned that you couldn't  straddle boxes because no one knew how to categorise your story, which meant you couldn't be shelved or found by readers. This doesn't sound like a big deal, does it? But when it boils down, publishers don't but your books if they can't market them. Now that I finally understood that, I had to find where I fitted.

I ended up in genre and romance, largely because I could get a lot of help to learn this genre.

Having not been a romance-only reader, I struggled to understand the conventions - actually I still struggle with this.

In broad terms, romance requires a HEA (Happy Ever After) or a HFN (Happy For Now) ending. No cliffhangers, the romance has to be 'concluded' and it has to be a happy conclusion. That seems to be the only real and abiding 'rule' for the genre.

But there are other things that the genre wants. These are:
  • an emotional journey
  • characters need to change
  • language needs to be emotive
  • the inner workings of the character(s) minds needs to be shown
  • a journey for the romance to follow - which usually includes a 'dark' moment where you think things will never work out
I've struggled with some of these, and still struggle with others.

Emotion took me an eon to understand - well, I knew what emotion was, but getting it onto the page correctly was an almost impossible task for years.

I don't like depicting the inner workings of a male mind because I'm not sure I know how that works, and I fear that I do it in a 'female' way.

I hate the 'dark' moment. I feel like it's a total and complete fabrication. I try to have something, but I cannot 'invent' something to make it as gutting as some authors do.

So...when I hear people say that romance is 'a bit much' or that it's 'formulaic' or that I write well enough to 'do something decent', I get a bit of a burr happening. I don't really know what they mean, and when I question them, they often can't really explain what they meant and they back track a little.

But I think it's these genre conventions that many non-romance readers don't like/understand.

Emotions aren't an easy thing to discuss/face/write/read. A large part of society is focussed on ensuring that we know how to be XXX (whatever emotion here - eg happy, sad, angry, grief-stricken) in the 'right' way. This seems to be a huge industry. And from what I can tell, everyone has a different and unique way of expressing and dealing with emotion. I think that's why so many writers can write about love, and so many readers keep reading it - there are a bazillion ways to 'fall in love'.

But, falling in love is 'soppy'. It's an emotion associated with women. It's an emotion associated with softness, vulnerability, and for some, a time when they let their guard down and were damaged. For some it has lovely memories, and others it hurts.

I think this is why there's backlash against the genre, and it's often not seen as a legitimate form of storytelling.

The formulaic comment, I think applies to the fantasy aspect of romance. It's not written true to life. It's written to tap into higher emotions than we often feel. It exaggerates the good and the bad, yet it always ends well...often after a huge 'pit of despair'. Not all romances do these now, but the stereotype carries over.

And the 'write something decent', I think means literary, but I may be wrong with that. Maybe commercial literary would cover it. But that's a hard market to write for, because the trends change so very quickly. If I wrote what was selling now, by the time I finished, the trend woudl be passed. Literary takes a style and a genius that I have yet to perfect.

I'm happy in kind of romance...where I don't 'fit' all the rules, but I still find readers and publishers who like my stories.

It's taken me years to learn my craft. Years to understand the intricacies of the genre and the readers' expectations. I don't expect to ever know all of it, but I bend my mind trying to keep on top of it all.
I will probably always get annoyed at those who criticise my choice using cliches that, to me, are ambiguous. I'm not so much annoyed at the criticism, more annoyed that you can't articulate what you mean and have chosen to use, what I feel are, derogatory terms that I've heard many many times before. I'll try to bite my tongue and I'll try not to snarl, but my writing is important to me. This is my career. I am a romance writer.

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