Okay, ready for a shocker?
I don't like romance novels.
Well, that's inaccurate. I don't read romance novels. At least not until recently (the past 3 years or so) and even then they were far and few between the other novels I do like:
Now – it's not that I hate romance. Any of the genres I read are welcome to have romantic subplots. And most of them do (Anne Boleyn, hello?) Let's face it, romance novels have a bad reputation as being fluff. I don't know why – I never thought they were fluff per se. But even on Friends, Chandler's mother, Nora Bing, tells Rachel how easy it is to become a successful romance novelist: “You just start with half a dozen European cities, throw in thirty euphemisms for male genitalia and BAM! you have got yourself a book.”
Not exactly describing fine literature.
So, you get the idea. I've been primarily prejudiced against romance novels.
What changed all that? A friend of mine said to me one day “Can you read this for me?” And I said “Sure!” without even stopping to think about the genre. Two paragraphs in and I thought to myself….
It's a romance novel.
But she's my friend. And friend trumps romance.
Thank goodness! Friend trumps romance. Because of her book, I have started reading more and more romance novels. And there is so much I have learned about writing by reading these novels, I thought I would share.
5 Things I've Learned About Writing by Reading Romance Novels
- Those little things you hate about yourself are the very same things that someone else finds irresistible. The two freckles on my top lip, the endless hours I spend at the computer, my introverticism. It really is true. And this was an important realization for me because in my writing, as I'm trying to figure out the logistics of how this person falls in love with the other, it's right there. So easy!
- Thirty euphemisms for male genitalia is a little wrong. Okay very wrong. Maybe that's how it worked twenty years ago when that episode first aired, but today that isn't going to cut it. But, one thing I've noticed about these romance novels not done quite as well by other genres is the extensive vocabulary put to good use. Synonyms and Antonyms galore, and none of them felt forced, as if they were only choosing a word to avoid repeating the other word. A natural use of a spectacular vocabulary – very helpful information for my own writing. Speaking of which, if you want to learn how to describe painful, heart-wrenching things – romance novels have that in spades.
- Sometimes, people need to be rescued – and that's okay. I'm about to commit heresy here, but Superman and Lois Lane used to completely flipping bore me. Blah blah blah blah, Superman save me! Even in Superman III, as he's fighting himself… Good vs evil. And he wins. Clearly he needed help, and he helped himself. Now, I'm all for helping yourself, but sometimes vulnerability in a character is exciting, and it brings someone else's strengths to light. Romance novels taught me that heroes don't have to be – and probably shouldn't be – impervious.
- Make sure your characters do more than just change. It's not enough to solve a problem that brings a character from unhappy to happy, kill the villain, or destroy that epic item if all that happens afterward is you go back home and live happily ever after in your same humble abode doing the same humble-abode-owning things. Experiences change people, sure. But the profound changes, the ones where you can see the brain actually getting rewired, those are the changes that are exciting and those are the ones I look forward to. Like in the beginning of the book the protagonist is a complete loner who trusts no one but by the end of the book he's a team player – maybe even equal partner or the sidekick.
- There is a big, big, big difference between romance and love. Romance, that all-consuming fluttery nervousness… the unknown and seemingly endless list of questions: Is he going to touch me? Is he going to kiss me? What would happen if we kiss? Is he thinking about me? Why is he dominating my thoughts? Romance is exciting. It's great. It's a good beginning. But if it never transcends from romance to love then there's a real problem. Love is a deep-seeded understanding and connection, a bond that ties two hearts together. Remember the saying, oh how did it go again? Romance conquers all! No – that's wrong. Love! Love conquers all. And there's a reason for it. In romance novels, you don't expect the characters' relationships to grow from romance to love – but when it does you can see the difference. In other genres, the characters never seem to get out of the romance stage even though they will exclaim their love. It's just harder to buy it when love is served up like romance.