Thursday, July 12, 2018

Review: Writing Silly Romances, Part II

I know it seems unlikely but honestly, How to Write Romances is a serious book--or sees itself that way. It could possibly be a very deep, in-joke, but I picked it up in the How to Write section in the library (808 in the Dewey Decimal System).

Yes, the title was re-imagined.
And truth is, for people who have never even picked up a pen (or typed on a keyboard) at all, I suppose some of the points in the book have to be made . . .

Note: The focus in these posts is almost entirely traditional romances but don't worry: silliness shows up in yaoi and M/M too!

* * *

Since this how-to book IS about romances, I must discuss the PG-13 bits. The author makes a big deal about the difference between sensuality and sexuality. Sexuality is all very well and good, it seems, but it is sensuality that sells the book [okay, I actually agree with this--just not the example].

Sensuality falls in to the category of "a phone call in the middle of the night to tell you how much he needs you" which proves that sensuality is all relative since I, personally, would consider battering Mr. Lover Man to death with a brick for waking me up in the middle of the night. (Actually, the conversation would go something like "Wha? I don't-- Uh, sure. You in trouble--need a lift somewhere or something?")

On to sex: "There are closet scenes, anthill scenes, love among the pine needles, and lovemaking under water." An ANTHILL? Not really up there with Lady Chatterley's Lover [addendum: I have since read Lady Chatterley's Lover, and it is at about the same level; LCL is a remarkably stupid book].

And I'm sure the sex education folks will be relieved that "some publishers now accept clinical descriptions" EXCEPT, the author adds, "[T]oo much realism--on any score--destroys the fantasy we are providing and that includes the discussion of safe sex."

[Along these lines, Katie Roiphe, author of The Morning After, wrote a fascinating book in which she discusses the fantasy v. the reality of sex-in-the-moment and why the latter, despite public education, is still considered more romantic. I also recently picked up a book called Predictably Irrational, which argued that all the sex education classes in the world aren't going to make teenagers behave sensibly "in the moment." When the hormones get going, "cold" promises go flying out the window. Culture and supervision are far more effective; over 50% of teens do use contraception, no matter the age; however, teen girls and teen boys who abstain cite religion/morals (culture) rather than worries about STDs as their primary reason.]

Back to character development and sex, repeated several times by the author is the instruction that (1) the heroine cannot be promiscuous; and (2) the hero cannot be a wimp.

I don't find the first particularly puzzling--it's part of finding-the-one-and-only; besides, behavior in the past often dictates behavior in the future--but the second is a non-starter. He can't be a wimp means the hero is not only supposed to be physically pro-active, he is supposed to be ambitious/rich. So this workaholic, ambitious, unrelentingly super-dynamic multi-millionaire is also supposed to take time out to be sensitive, caring, loving, and gentle, blah blah blah.

I work for workaholics [when I was a secretary] and believe me, it is NOT romantic. Walking around with a cellphone sticking out of one's ear is NOT romantic. Demanding, "I want my fax NOW" is frankly irritating. And an obnoxious boss getting stuck helplessly overnight in an airport due to snow is just funny.

Anyway, there's something intensely schizophrenic about the romance hero who has to be all things to the heroine (and vice versa).

Okay, that's enough of the PG-13 stuff. Back to plot, specifically violence!
It always creates a strong plot point to surprise the reader and kill off a character or two who seemed to be a vital part of the book. But I was reminded by a speaker at a writer's conference to never kill off too many characters in a novel because it all but eliminates the possibilities of a sequel.
Agatha Christie wrote some very funny passages in which her alter-ego, Mrs. Oliver, complains that whenever the publisher demands another 3000 words, she simply kills off another character. But then Agatha Christie, whom I greatly admire, was writing mysteries, not supposedly character-driven romances. There's something downright annoying about writers (book and script) who kill off characters not for the puzzle but to "shake things up." Rather than "shaking things up," it is usually far too convenient.

On the other hand, I like this advice (about the Middle Ages):
It is difficult to sell a book set during any time when civilization was at an extremely low ebb.
Here is one very good piece of advice (the book does have some):
Don't write about trees.
This is actually great advice! The author is saying that writers should always be specific. If you write about trees, call them "maples" or "birches."

Then, presumably, you can stick your heroine among the birches or maples and have her ruminate, discreetly, about her life.

So, using the principles noted in these posts, the result would be something like this:
Rochelle walked through the tall fescus (Festuca elatior) grass under the looming oak (Quercus) trees, thinking of Bradley's devotion to his job, yet how he always managed to take her to champagne lunches while putting through mergers and giving money to charity. He even took time to text message her: i luv u--lines as sincere and moving as Shakespeare's poetry, the bits from The Merchant of Venice where everyone is talking about money. Perhaps she should confess to him that she'd been systematically siphoning off money from his accounts for six months, but it was probably better to wait until he confessed his undying affection. There are limits to how much a women should put out.