Always wanted to write a headline like that.
Not everybody appreciates Romance novels. Not everybody reads Romance novels. That said, more people DO read Romance novels than any other single genre out there. A genre that continues to grow. A genre with more passionate readers and writers than any other.
Which means, we should all pay atention to what’s going on there.
I just got back from giving an intensive “advanced” workshop to about 100 Romance authors, a bash thrown by the Rose City Romance Writers, a wing of the Romance Writers of America that flutters hearts out of Portland, Oregon. When I was invited to speak a while ago, I was immediately slammed by two realizations: a) I needed a quick crash course on the genre, and b) I was more than a little intimidated.
It happened. I survived. Am licking a few wounds. And I’ve fallen in love.
Here’s what I learned.
I learned that from this point forward I will refer to the genre with a capital R. The genre is Romance.
It deserves more respect than it gets outside of the club. The novels are legitimately difficult to write. They demand mastery of the most challenging of all the Six Core Competencies (characterization). They have expectations and “rules” that are unique to the genre, and it’s a crowded market.
I learned they have more sub-genres than anywhere else. If someone can fall in love, in any way, in any combination, in any place, at any point in time, in any dimension or on any planet, there’s a Romance sub-genre for it.
My preparation not only included reading a few titles…
… but scouring the web for the conventional wisdom. I was relieved to learn that the underlying fundamentals of story structure are no less valid in Romance than elsewhere… but they are somewhat complicated by the concurrent unfolding of two plotlines. Not merely plot and sub-plot, but legitimately two story arcs that must eventually, if you’ll excuse the term, marry.
I’ve learned that the genre has evolved — loosened up with the times in terms of archetypes — but those expectations remain cast in stone: a HEA ending (Happily Ever After), a quick connection between a female protagonist and a male love interest who looks great with his shirt off.
I learned that the female protagonist is referred t0 (in the club) as “the heroine,” and that her shirtless male love interest is called “the hero.” I gave in on that one, some things change easily… the story still has a primary protagonist, and it’s always the woman. Which, in the larger vernacular of storytelling, makes her the hero… a word that is without genre in the writing world elsewhere.
No big deal, I can live with that.
I learned that scene execution is even more critical in the Romance genre. These stories read like movies, there is very little expositional omnipotent connective narration, no musings about the state of things, just a tight focus on the moment.
I learned that these writers are smart. Killer smart.
On Day One, when I asked my usual warm-up question — how many of have been published? — well over half of the 30 available hands shot into the air. I quickly learned that many of these writers had been extensively published, with 10 or more novels out there. One had 23, another 24. One had written over 40 — an admitted “pantser” who confessed that it took several dozen tries before the rhythms of structure became solid enough allow her pantsing ways to work… music to this Storyfixer’s ears. Now she’s huge in the Romance game (see the cover shown above).
There was a sense that they had been there, heard that. More than at any conference I’ve worked. This tells me these writers are well-studied, that they haven’t grown their craft merely out of a vicarious reading experience, that they are far down the road to a professional level of craft. Good on them.
I learned that these writers care as much about the “outside” source of story conflict (the non-Romance plotline) as they do the love story. In fact, when we were offering and debating story ideas, hardly anyone gave the Romance plot any airtime in the discussion. I found that fascinating… it was as if the Romance plot (which occupies up to 75 percent of the contextual content of the story) was a given, an easy-deal, and it was the exterior plot that challenged.
I learned that these writers were hungry for insight, tips and pointers that would empower them to elevate their work. At the pace at which these writers work — some have contracts for three or four or more novels a year — this is a good thing.
I learned that these writers like sexual content, and context. I mean, really like it.
I learned there is sometimes a vernacular attached to the genre that is misinterpreted, similar to the hero-heroine point above. A misinterpretation can lead a writer to the conclusion that the rules of Romance fiction are separate from, and above, those that underpin any and all genres, and that the structure of Romance is immune to the natural laws of what makes a story work.
They aren’t. My hope is that I convinced at least a few of these writers of this truth.
I left them with with two areas of emphasis.
One: elevate your concepts. Yes, Romance is driven by concept, too. The stronger the better. And Two: keep passion — you wouldn’t think I’d need to hammer this one, but I felt as if I did — as the driving fuel of the story. Not only to write about passion, but to write with it.
Love Your Genre
That’s critical, I think. Consider writing in the genre you love to read. To live in the world where your dreams, fantasies, experience and hopes reside. Where your brain is challenged, your heart enriched and your hormones — whatever their flavor — are percolated.
And when you need a break, grab a romance and fall in love.
My personal bottom line — because I am a romantic by nature anyhow — I think I love this genre. I think I might give it a go. I even have a pen name in mind, one that would look totally hot on a book cover.
If you’d like to see what one of the attendees wrote on her website about this workshop, click HERE. Still trying to figure out what she meant by not swooning… okay, sorry I don’t (or no longer) look like the guys on your covers.