Saturday, March 28, 2009

Romance Novels

I talk a lot about speculative fiction on this blog, but not so much about romance novels.

Earlier this month, I got to go to the NOLA RWA chapter conference in Shreveport, Louisiana. Not only was it a new state to visit, but the ladies there were warm and welcoming and fed me cake and cookies.

And we talked about romance: what we like and what we don't like and what the genre is in general.

One of the things that I remember saying is that to me, all romance is a love story. You are writing love stories, even if you're writing erotica, because sex (many times, although not always) is a form of love between two people too. And because romance novels are love stories, they are character driven stories.

Which then leads to the question:

If you are writing a love story, and granted, love stories have many shades and nuances--how do you make your characters stand out? How do you make them unique enough to want to fall in love with, which I think every romance reader does to a degree? What characteristics do you put in to make the reader empathize with your romantic leads?

And how do you take that characterization and turn it into something neat with an actual plot?

A lot of people disparage romance novelists, but I heartily disagree. It takes talent and tact to write a romance novel well enough that a reader can see some aspect of themselves in the book.

We read romances to see how our own love stories have been and how they might be one day. We read them to discover bits of ourselves, or escape into fantasies. We read them because we like a darn good book.

And we read them, I think, because there's a part of us that wants to believe in love and happily-ever-afters. Escapism is good for you, in measured doses.



Margay said...

Jenny, I think a key to character in romance novels is that they can't be perfect. No one wants to read about perfect people falling in love (I know I wouldn't - boring!) unless that perfection hides some major flaw that the character will do anything to keep hidden. I think characters with flaws are so much more interesting because you never know what they're going to do and it gives one (okay, me) hope that one (okay, me) will be able to find one's Prince Charming. Wow, that was a mouthful! And I think characters with flaws help the reader to connect with the story and that's what we want to do when we write - reach out from the pages of our manuscript and grab the reader by the shirt and figuratively say, "You can't do anything else until you finish this book!"
Well, that's my 2 cents, anyway. Thanks for posting about such an interesting topic. I mean, really, who doesn't need a little romance in their lives? And why should we feel guilty about finding it between the covers of a book?

Margay Leah Justice

Lisa Iriarte said...

Hmm. I don't read much romance, but I do read a lot of science fiction romance. (My mentor writes in that genre). And while I would never say that category is "easier", I do believe the characters may stand out more because they have another genre to play around with. Science fiction romance, paranormal romance, etc., open whole new worlds for their characters to explore, make mistakes in, and fall in love in.

So, I think originality is the key to making the characters, even in a strict romance, stand out and be "lovable." A career choice we haven't seen, an unusual personality quirk, a not overdone personal trauma, a new setting, can all provide great material to develop characters that are memorable.

Oh, and a side note about romance writers in general. I have met a great number of them over the past year, and I must say, they are some of the warmest, most generous writers out there. I write science fiction, but have learned a lot of tips on writing technique and the business of writing in general from romance writers who have been more than willing to answer all my questions.

Kalika said...

I flee everything labelled 'romance'. I've read so many harlequin romance in my teens (I would read anything back then) and it became the only genre I hate. Romance to me is not capable of standing on its own, it is a story component that should be introduced into a much bigger plot. If all your book has is 'romance', it's got nothing but hot air. Give me a real plot and then add love.

Kathleen MacIver said...

I couldn't agree more! I know not everyone cares for romance story (like the above commenter), but I read a story FOR the romance. I'm not talking about sexual chemistry...I'm talking about the magic that happens when two people begin to find each other the most fascinating thing in the world, and when they learn to care about each more than anything else, and begin to learn to work together as a team.

It's the emotional growth and change that is, to me, the most fascinating plot line out there. And I LOVE to write it!

The only problem can't really sell a book on "two people fall in love." What makes a book initially sell is how interesting the other plot line is, or how extraordinary the situations are that the characters find themselves in, or what they have to go through when they fall in love. Well...that and personal recommendations from friends you trust.

How well you actually write the romance is what will keep romance lovers coming back and earn you those recommendations...but you have to have something else to get them to read your book to begin with. And unfortunately, that's what I have trouble with. That something else. ::sigh::

marikris said...

When I was a teen, I read everything in the romance isle of the library. I mean literally read everything till I reached a point where I had to wait for new ones to come in. Romance has always tickled me, though I specially love it if it's mixed with my other passion, fantasy.

I think I just really love the happily ever afters, and, even though I think there's a certain template in the stories I've read, it really is a mix of story and story telling that made a romance good for me. Yes, I'd love a plot that is original, but with millions of stories having been told, I can understand if that's a little hard to come by. But if you write it well, if you are able to make me connect with the characters and their plights, then I don't mind that it's not the most original storyline ever.

I remember reading this romance novel way back in high school where the hero and the heroine do not meet each other till the last page of the 500 page book and, boy, I was pretty put out to say the least. I mean, yes, that is interesting and different from the other books I've read, but it left me mightily unsatisfied. It may as well not have been under the romance genre, I thought.

These days I've been watching a lot of Korean romantic dramas (subtitled hehe). It reminds me of what I love about romance novels: the low-to high-to low-to happily ever afters; the misunderstandings, the touching moments; but most specially the courtships. And with 16-20 hour-long episodes, the characters are usually very well developed. I guess it's my new obsession ^_^

Anonymous said...

I can't say that I've ever read a category romance. Nothing wrong with them per se. I have read a couple single title romances which I've enjoyed. I like bigger books. 65,000 words is such a short amount of space to create an indepth story. You have to really be on the ball to accomplish that I think. Also, I tend to like bigger plots, but I always like romance of some kind in stories I read. I get the impression here, that you are talking about category romance when you say 'romance novels.' They tend to focus (generalizing here) on the falling in love aspect. These can be great stories. For me, they're too short. Lame excuse perhaps, but picking up a thin book off the shelf is an automatic strike for me. I watched an older movie today, very sentimental, but fabulous nonetheless, called 'Always.' It's a Speilberg film, and the sort of love story I would pick up off the shelf.

Jenny Rae Rappaport said...

jimnduncan, I'm talking about all romance novels in general. Both category and single title.

Dara Edmondson said...

I've never read a published romance novel that didn't have a plot along with the romance. Like them or not, there's a reason romance accounts for a huge chunk of all fiction sold.

Becky said...

I love romance novels as long as they have an adventurous story plot. For example, Ginger Blymyer's latest book "Flying into the Sun" had me going from page one- I couldn't put it down. All of the exciting places the main character went and the wonderful opportunities that she had really drew me in.