Tag Archives: romantic stories

Churn ‘Em Out, Stack ‘Em High

A few days ago, a friend and I were discussing – what else? – writing, specifically the thorny issue of money, and how to marry your writing with your desire to earn. My friend is also a writer, thankfully in a genre that is vastly different to mine – I say ‘thankfully’ because she writes extremely well, and with a savvy eye toward the business-related aspects of the craft. She has experience of self-publishing (at which I’m a total newbie, though I’m learning), and has been a source of support and advice to me for years.

Gimme an S! *S!* Gimme a J! *J!* Image: chatwithrellypops.wordpress.com

Gimme an S! *S!* Gimme a J! *J!* Image: chatwithrellypops.wordpress.com

However, the other day I learned something new about my friend. She told me that she has also published (under a pseudonym) a romance novella, which was, apparently, easy to write, didn’t take up a whole lot of time, and – importantly – earned her a small advance, paid by an American publisher who churns out hundreds of similar novellas every month. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to make it interesting.

‘You should try it,’ she urged. ‘What have you got to lose?’

Interestingly, this is something I have considered before. It’s almost a cliché that writers of romance novels earn packets of money, and writing a good one will propel you into a financial stratosphere of heights heretofore unimagined. There is a huge market for romance novels, because they include everything which is good about humanity in their rather broad church – love, acceptance, growth, learning about oneself, happiness, contented marriage, stable families, happy endings, fulfillment, partnership, personal power – and reading one must be akin to taking a warm bath.

I say ‘must be’ because – and I swear this is the truth – I have never, in my long and eventful life, to the best of my knowledge ever, read a romance novel – as in, a novel wherein the romance is the primary plot feature. Not if you don’t count ‘Twilight’, at least, or some of the YA books I’ve read which feature romantic relationships. I’m talking about the Mills & Boon-type books, the Harlequin Romances, the Nicholas Sparks-type books which (and I don’t mean to offend anyone by saying this) usually bring me out in a rash. I am not a fan of romance novels, which is not to say I am not a fan of romance. I love to love. I just don’t like to read about it. I’m not even a big fan of romantic movies. The only films which might broadly be described in these terms which I can remember really enjoying were ‘(500) Days of Summer’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.’ Technically, I guess, you could call these films romantic, but not really.

Shyeah right. As if I'd be in a romcom. Come on! Ramona Flowers, lead character in 'Scott Pilgrim Vs The World', as played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Image: rottentomatoes.com

Shyeah right. As if I’d be in a romcom. Come on!
Ramona Flowers, lead character in ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs The World’, as played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Image: rottentomatoes.com

But the unarguable fact is: romantic books and movies sell, by the bucketload. They are popular. The authors who write them know what they’re doing, the people who read them know what they want, and it’s a perfect symbiotic relationship.

But here’s the rub.

I firmly believe you can’t write well in a genre unless you’re fully immersed in it, and unless you’ve read widely in it, and unless you’re intimately familiar with its rules and conventions (because, much as we might hate to admit it, every genre has them); so, how on earth would a newbie like me write a successful story in a field in which she has no experience? And, more importantly, should a newbie like me even try?

If I were to write a romance novel, or novella, it would take a huge amount of research. It would involve me changing my usual style, employing different techniques, relying more on description and interiority than dialogue, perhaps; it might involve me toning down my usual snark (which works well in kids’ writing, but not so much in romance, I suspect.) In short, it wouldn’t be as simple as sitting down at the keyboard and bashing at it for a couple of weeks until a fully-fledged novella falls out. Now, in theory, none of this is a bad thing – changing up your writing style, experimenting with new forms, stretching yourself as a writer, and finding a different sort of voice are all good things, which can only add to your skillset. However, I still find myself reluctant to try.

My reluctance stems, I think, from my conviction that it is not fair, nor right, to attempt to cash in on a genre merely because it’s widely perceived to be ‘easy.’ I don’t believe it’s fair to assume that readers of a genre won’t spot a cynical attempt to make money from them; I don’t believe it’s right to expect them to accept second-rate work, and I feel that my own attempts to write in this genre would, by definition, be second-rate. When I write, I do so because I love it and I feel I have something to say. It comes from somewhere very personal and secret. It is me. Writing anything else would be dishonest.

Having said that, I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with writing, say, a non-fiction piece which requires research. If someone wanted me to write two thousand words on the history of lavatory seats, or the precise mechanism by which a safety belt operates, or the relative frothiness of one brand of washing-up liquid over another, I feel sure I could deliver. I have no particular expertise in any of these fields, and I am not an expert in non-fiction, either. But I’d find this less challenging than writing a romance novel. So, then, is it more to do with the fact that not only am I inexperienced in the genre, but I don’t want to engage with it? It’s not so much the research, perhaps, as the subject matter I object to.

Why is that?

Hmmm... Image: theguardian.com

Hmmm…
Image: theguardian.com

I don’t consider myself to be a prude, or a literary snob, but perhaps I am. I don’t like to think that any sort of literature is ‘inferior’ to another; if people are reading, and enjoying it, then it’s all to the good. But, having said that, I rarely read outside my own ‘comfort zone.’ The idea of reading romance novels in order to prepare myself to write one just seems crass and artless, and even slightly suspect.

By the way, I’m not including my friend in any of this. She is a broad-scope writer with fingers in many pies, and her portfolio of skills and experience vastly outstrips mine. Writing a romance novella, for her, would involve none of this mental machination, and I’m sure her work is excellent. I hope it sells by the truckload.

Image: depositphotos.com

Image: depositphotos.com

Then again, perhaps I could be induced. What’s a little research, after all?

One thing I do know is: if I ever do write a romance novel, none of you will ever know about it. It’ll be written under a nom-de-plume so exotic that nobody, not even my mother, will recognise it, and the only people who’ll be aware of a connection between it and me will be the tax authorities. It’s not that I’d be embarrassed by anything I’d write, but because doing it incognito would give me more freedom to say what I like – and that’s always a good freedom to have.

Does anybody have any particular expertise in romantic fiction? Any tips or pointers for me? Or, even, any suggestions for an utterly fabulous pen-name?

 

Genre Bending

So.

I have a question.

Image: irunoninsulin.com

Image: irunoninsulin.com

It’s concerned with genre, and why a particular book is considered to belong to one genre over another. It’s also concerned with what you expect to find, as a reader, in a book which proclaims itself to belong to a particular genre.

As I’ve said before, I love Young Adult books, and also stories written for children. These are the kinds of books I primarily read, and I’d like to think I’m fairly familiar with these genres. In most of the Young Adult books I’ve read recently, though, I’ve noticed a huge focus on complicated love and sexual relationships between characters, and a tendency to make those relationships a central part of the plot. In fact, sometimes these relationships are the plot! I wonder whether I’m behind the times a little in my taste, because those sort of relationships aren’t necessarily something I always look for in books that I would consider ‘Young Adult’. I wonder, too, if that’s because I tend to favour fantasy/SF type books, as opposed to contemporary Young Adult fiction – sometimes I think contemporary Young Adult stories have more of a focus on issues such as sexuality and love, which I suppose makes sense.

Before anyone thinks I’m a prude, I have to make it clear that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with books aimed at young adults dealing with complicated emotions and physical relationships. These themes are extremely important to young readers, and of course the literature should reflect this. Stories dealing with the complexities of love and relationships can be very affecting, emotional and beautiful, and if these issues are important to the characters in a story, then of course they should be included and dealt with. But if a book is written with teenage characters which doesn’t place sexual relationships, or an emotional, conflicted or complex love story, at the heart of the plot, I’m beginning to wonder if it should bear the label ‘Young Adult fiction’ at all. There’s been a lot of talk recently in publishing and writing circles about a new genre called ‘New Adult’, the definition of which I’m a little hazy on. It seems to be a genre encompassing books which are (broadly) about people in their late teens and early twenties, navigating sexual relationships and adult problems (like bills, careers, living away from their parents, and so on) – a sort of stepping stone between Young Adult and general fiction aimed at adults, perhaps. I wonder where the defining line between Young Adult and New Adult lies, and how a story is classified as being one or the other.

I’ve just finished reading a book which is amazingly well written, beautifully plotted, and fantastically enjoyable, but its protagonist is a 17-year-old girl who has had at least one significant relationship in the past, and who, during the course of the book, realises she has a strong physical attraction to an older male character who, for various reasons, she cannot be with. Her sexuality is one of her most important characteristics, and her desire to build a life and a future with the male character is one of the driving forces behind the book. She also feels the need to free her family from a terrible burden, but her connection to the man seems just as important to her, and her feelings for him certainly drive most of the story. The book I’m working on has a 16-year-old protagonist, so she’s only one year younger than the protagonist in the book I’ve just read, but the two stories couldn’t be farther apart in terms of the way the young female protagonists think about themselves, their bodies, feelings and desires. The book I’m working on is one I’d consider to be Young Adult, and the one I’ve read is also Young Adult. However, they are very different indeed. So different, in fact, that I wonder if they should belong to the same genre at all.

I suppose my question is this: if you’re a reader of Young Adult fiction, do you expect to find issues relating to sex and sexuality in the story? If the book lacks these things, do you feel it should more rightly be called a children’s book? Maybe this isn’t even worth worrying about, as I’m going to write the stories I want to write, and I’m going to let the character’s development dictate whether their sexuality should be an important part of their portrayal, but I’m just curious.

I’ve never really been a big fan of romance novels, and I don’t have a huge interest in writing romantic stories. I’m more about the adventure! So, if the genre I love is changing to accommodate more romance and a greater focus on love, I think I’ll be a little bit sad about it. Or, perhaps it’s an indicator that I need to read more widely in the genre – I’m sure this tendency doesn’t apply to every single Young Adult book being published at the moment.

And maybe it’s an indicator that I need to ‘get with the program’, as the young folk say these days!

Anyone have any opinions about genre, genre expectations, and the divisions between children’s, Young Adult, New Adult, and general adult fiction books? I’d love to hear ’em.

My favourite movie lovers!Image: fanpop.com

My favourite teenage lovers!
Image: fanpop.com