Romance, Sex and Context: A Theory

I’ve been thinking about sex in romance novels lately. (This is going to ramble some. My Deep Thoughts often ramble.)

I used to get reviews that said my romances were pretty hot. I reread a couple of those books recently and compared with what’s out now, they’re barely lukewarm. That’s fine with me, but I’m wondering now what the blurring of the lines between romance and erotica means to the genre. That is, how is it redefining romance? I have no problems with erotica, but it doesn’t have the same aims as romance, any more than women’s fiction is romance-centered. I’m not even sure chick lit is romance, but then I’ve never really been sure what chick lit is. The point is, romance is the only genre that’s romance centered, so what happens to romance within the genre is important.

And I think sex is mugging it. Continue reading

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HWSWAnswers: Characters

And we’re back with more answers to questions you asked earlier in the week. There’ll be more on Monday. Today, it’s all about character.

Nicole asked:
How do you prevent your characters or plot from always being the same thing while on the surface level they aren’t? There are a few authors I’ve read where it’s always the same story in the end – dif plot, but it just feels the same. Continue reading

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Hope Is the Thing With Feathers, or At Least Fairy Wings

I started reading Sarina Bowman’s The Year We Fell Down, about a college freshman with a spinal cord injury , and when this first-person narrator meets her roommate for the first time, she says . . .

“. . . a little specter of hope had alighted on my shoulder. And this feathered, winged thing had been buzzing around for weeks, whispering encouragements in my ear. . . . Now, facing [my roommate] in the flesh for the first time, my little hope fairy did a cartwheel on my shoulder.”

She has a little Hope Fairy. I rolled my eyes. (Yes, I am a bitch.)

But as the story progressed, the Hope Fairy became less twee, showing up nineteen times in the course of the book to help the narrator undercut the anguish of her situation, and I started to pay attention to what Bowen was doing with her. Continue reading

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Questionable:How do we know when it’s okay to Tell instead of Show?

Olga asked:
The old writers’ dilemma of ‘show’ vs. ‘tell’. All the writing teachers and textbooks instruct us: “show, not tell,” but many successful writers use ‘tell’ a lot. Georgette Heyer is one of them. There is a lot of ‘tell’ in her novels. I’m not even talking about Jane Austen and other old-timers.
Did this demand of ‘show not tell’ change with time. What was allowed 50 years ago isn’t recommended today? Or are there some universal guidelines? How do we know when ‘tell’ is okay? And how much of it?

First, you can do anything you want. It’s your book. Seriously, if it feels right to tell, tell. Continue reading

Writing the Real Thing

The thing about writing love stories when you’re a naturally cynical person with disastrous relationships in her past is that achieving the willing suspension of disbelief necessary to convince the reader that they all lived happily ever after is really difficult. I have found, in trying to do this, that the most useful thing to remember is that we’re writing to promise mature love. Immature love/infatuation is easy to write, but everybody knows that doesn’t last. Mature love, the connection beyond conditions, is hard to write, but if we can get that promise on the page, it’s what powers the romance.

So when I turned back to Nita and thought, Okay, it’s a romance, but they’re only going to know each other five days, how the hell am I going to foreshadow mature love in that time?” And then I was reading the Gil Cunningham mysteries which made me think of Renaissance poetry (those mysteries are pre-Renn, but still, ye olde times), and I remembered my favorite love poem of all time, John Donne’s “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning.”
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It’s the Characters, Stupid

This book is going to be the death of me.  

Okay, that’s probably just me whining.  But it’s making me think about story in different ways than I have before and making me second guess myself.  I think that’s good, but it’s disconcerting.

So this weekend I did something very Bob-like: I set up a table for the major action events, divided by acts, and then analyzed all of them for character arcs and relationship arcs.  The tables looked like this:

 

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Questionable: What’s the difference between “Protagonist” and “Point of View Character”?

CarolC wrote:
So many romances show the story from two points of view (and many readers complain when there is only one) that I was under the impression that romances at least were better with two protagonists. Obviously, I was mistaken in assuming two points of view, even if given equal time, meant two protagonists, but I was curious why you felt the story should belong to one protagonist, even if some scenes were in the other point of view.

Let’s start with the first question (the one I put. in the title) which is what’s the difference between a protagonist and a point of view character?

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Questionable: Sociology vs. Psychology in Writing Story

Jinx asked about a Scientific American essay called “The Real Reason Fans Hated the Last Season of Game of Thrones.” by Zeynep Tufekci: 

“I read a recent article from Scientific American . . .  with a thesis . . . that the series broke its implicit promise to viewers because when it reached the end of the author’s previously published material, the new showrunners switched from Martin’s more sociological approach to plotting and character development to one that is common to most film and tv writing these days, with a purely psychological perspective.  So… individuals moving through their conflicts with others, in place of individuals within a social framework adapting to others and finding their place in a complex social world.”

Criticism and analysis can be thought-provoking and insightful, but it’s rarely good writing advice.  It’s not meant to be writing advice, it’s not craft, it’s theory.  So while Tufekci’s analysis is interesting, it’s not a practical application for writers (which was not her intention, so not a flaw in her work).  The essay reminded me of my PhD course work (no I never finished the dissertation) when I did a ton of literary criticism, then started to write novels, then did my general exams.  One of my profs said, “Your criticism really changed once you started to write fiction.”  Well, yeah.  After publishing, I was on the inside looking out instead of on the outside looking in.  Big difference.

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Questionable: Can a Love Interest Be an Antagonist?

K asked:
“I have a question about villains – and layering them so that they engage with each other and the heroine. Some say the hero (love interest) is the main antagonist, others say there needs to be a stronger antagonist because he’s not one by the end. What say you? What have you found works the best?  Do more antagonists pop up as you write? How do you like to layer them? Do you have a limit/rule that you like or use?

Let’s start with the basics.

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