Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writing Romance

I mentioned on Monday that I always wanted to try writing romance - I have always loved the character-driven aspects of books the most, and the idea of an entire genre that's character-driven (because, really, what else can you call a genre that's all about two people figuring out how to be together?) appeals to me a lot.

For anyone who feels the same, Kate Walker has posted some tips for writing category romance over on Sally's blog. Even if you don't write romance, several of the tips are useful for other genres (I especially liked No. 11, the Intense Black Moment).

Ms. Walker has written successfully for Mills & Boon for many years. I admit I have only read one Mills & Boon book, which came free with a magazine (so I didn't even generate income for a publisher - oh, the shame). I read it when I was 14 or so, and in spite of the fact it didn't have Holden Caulfield in it, I found myself enjoying it. The premise was especially mad - from what I gather, it was madder than most M&B novels - and involved a woman ending up in the wrong room on her honeymoon (well, not really a honeymoon as the wedding had been postponed). She slept with, and later fell in love with, the guy in the wrong room. By accident.

So not the most realistic premise. But I cared.

I cared about the characters. Their situations may have been far-fetched, but the quality of the writing was strong and the characters sympathetic. Based on my one experience over ten years ago, Mills & Boon - and their writers - do their job well.

It drives me nuts when I see people patronise genre fiction - any genre, whether romance of sci-fi or mystery or crime. There are many readers who have a particular genre they love, and they read widely in that genre (sometimes exclusively, sometimes not). They are not undiscerning - they are the exact opposite. They are experts.

And you can't fool them with pretty language or literary tricks. They know what works in their genre, and what doesn't. They know when your idea isn't original, when your character is a secret rip-off/homage, and when your plot twist doesn't ring true. They get all your in-jokes. Such readers consume a genre extensively because they love it, and they expect your book to keep that love alive.

No pressure.

Now, I'm not saying that the book about woman who ended up in the wrong hotel suite is an overlooked work of high art. But it's not surprising to find that the writing and the characterisation were strong - it was written by someone who was writing for a genre audience.

Do you write genre fiction? What's your experience been like?


  1. That sounds like the set-up to a bad rom-com!

    I love genre fiction. I'd often be happier to sit down and read genre fiction than literary fiction for the same reason I like going to the same restaurants - I know what to expect. So if I'm in the mood for dark cults, mysteries and magic, I'll read some Urban Fantasy.

    I love writing Urban Fantasy. Being able to play with so many different narrative conventions sets my brain buzzing with ideas.

    That said, I think the various forms of Romance should be read by all writers. One of the most consistent pieces of advice I see is that readers want stories about people first, and setting or plot gimmicks second. And like you said, Ellen, Romance is all about people and their relationships. We should read it, study it, learn from it, see how it can add to our own writing.

    Though perhaps our characters should be more inclined to turn the light on when going into a room, huh? ;-)

  2. I haven't gone into a room without switching on a light since! And I won't touch Mai Tais (they were in Hawaii, there were Mai Tais involved. . . ). I will never defend the premise but the writing was strong!

    I agree that romance has a lot to teach writers in all genres - character has to carry the entire book. Plots are fine, gimmicks are fine, settings are fine, but in romance, the book will fail if readers don't find themselves desperately wanting the characters to end up together.

  3. I'm with you, Ellen. I love character-drive novels, no matter what the genre. If I care about the people and the writing is good, I'm a happy reader.

  4. I often feel a little trapped when I read genre fiction, because I know the work is only going to go within certain boundaries. (Hmm...I feel the same way when I watch I Love Lucy, too, I guess because I know Lucy's never going to be allowed to be in Ricky's show.) But that said, I do read it and enjoy it sometimes.
    I grew up on romance novels. I grew out of them, too, but I've never dismissed them since I realized Jane Austen founded the genre.

  5. Ellen: I'm targeting category romance and still struggling with the character driven story line. It is NOT easy to write at all. I just got an revise and resubmit from Mills & Boon's Modern Heat line. I await their judgment of my revised work right now. I can say that the focus of the revision letter was to deepen the characters and dump most of the external plot stuff.

    That was hard work!! I am working on a new story and I am already worried that there is too much going on outside the characters' heads. We'll see if I can pull it off.

    I'm popping over to that blog by Kate Walker. She's a fabulous writer! Thanks for sharing the link.

  6. Karen, I am the same, characters make the book for me. One of my favourite books is Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood which has no strict, linear plot (it's about an estranged mother and daughter reconciling) but it keeps me reading because the characters are so compelling.

    Laura, that is a point with genre fiction, it can be predictable. I think part of the challenge is overcoming that, which I think good genre fiction does. I'm thinking of Patricia Highsmith especially, who did great work within the confines of crime/thriller/suspense writing.

    Christine, that's really interesting - my problem has always been adding plot so I imagine being told to do the opposite is bloody tough! I really hope they like your revision, I think if you've done plot extraction work, you deserve to have them like it!!!


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