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First Monday Mentoring July 2018 – What’s changed in romance writing?

In life nothing stands still, not even in a genre as well established as romance writing. The changes may happen slowly but they do happen.

Many years ago at an Aussie sci-fi convention I met Kouichi from Japan, the fan guest of honour. I gave him a small gift in welcome and he gave me one in return. I soon learned that gifts are taken seriously in Japan and we’d be giving them for the next three decades.

He became my pen frendo and we exchanged many sci-fi and Star Trek books in our own languages, until I had a collection of books I could admire without understanding a word.  Authors are highly respected in Japan as I found when I sent Kouichi some signed copies of my Japanese translations and Manga, the graphic novels which have a huge following there. My status as a mangaka  was a pleasant surprise.

One of my Japanese translations

After a time I felt free to ask Kouichi what Japanese women enjoyed in contemporary romance novels. The appeal turned out to be the same as for readers around the world. They were uplifting stories that ended happily, in contrast to much Japanese fiction which ends tragically, the reason Japanese readers call we romance writers “happy ending ladies.”

These elements haven’t changed, but other aspects have. Love scenes that once ended at the bedroom door have morphed into the sex scenes of Fifty Shades. Many readers still like sweet romances but options vary widely now.

Length is another big change. My first category romance novels ran to 60,000 words. Even my romantic suspense novels which once were 80,000 words or more now stop around 60,000. Novellas were mostly only found in anthologies. The advent of ebooks and limited reading time has brought shorter novels and novellas into their own.

Graphic novels have taken off in English, too. Recently US book chain Barnes & Noble announced plans to create a dedicated division of graphic novels for children and pre teens.

Content has changed, for the better IMO. Category romance once paired innocent younger women with worldly wise men, the latter often arrogant and forceful. The two worked love’s magic on each other but took time, with much of the power on the man’s side. From the start I’ve preferred more equal pairings with all lovemaking clearly consensual on both sides. I also routinely make secondary characters female, especially doctors, lawyers and the like, so the authority world wasn’t seen as exclusively male. The so-called doctor-nurse romances have become medical romances where either or both characters can be doctors and again, the match is more even-handed.

There’s less of the travelogue in modern romances. Pre Google, readers enjoyed vicarious visits to exotic locales and different cultures. Today most of us have either visited or can visualise a stately home in Britain, a castle in Spain or a Sheikh’s kingdom. The focus is more on the relationship with a few background details adding spice.

Structure has changed in other ways beyond length. With many books being read on phones or other devices, paragraphs and chapters are generally shorter to avoid confronting readers with a solid screen of text. Writers do well to dive into the story at a point of change for the characters, avoiding rambling descriptions or people chatting to their dog or cat.

I remember being told I shouldn’t start a book with a line of dialogue. Lucky for me, I’ve never believed in “rules” for writing – only what works for the writer. I still start with dialogue provided it works for the story.

Dual or multiple viewpoint has also become a thing. Once the whole book would be told from the heroine’s viewpoint, with the hero’s thoughts only shared through guesswork which was often wrong. This kept story tension high but frustrated me – and many readers. When I ventured into dual viewpoint storytelling, sales spoke for themselves.

Likewise, publishers avoided cross-genre stories such as fantasy and romance, sci-fi and suspense with a romantic edge. Today with so many indie writers publishing their own work, almost any mix is possible provided you do it well enough.

What hasn’t changed is the need for emotion-charged, unpredictable stories where both characters have to work for their happy-ever-after, or as it’s become, happy-for-now, with Mr or Mrs Right becoming Right-for-the-moment. We still want them to find their perfect match, as we hope to find our own, the popularity of shows like The Bachelor and Bachelorette proving the point.

Do you still enjoy happy-ever-after stories as a writer, reader or both? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

www.valerieparv.com

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course,

Free The Writer in You

http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

 

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First Monday mentoring for 2013 – focus your writing life

Happy New Year.

Is this the year you finish your manuscript, self-publish new work, try a new genre? Whatever your hopes and dreams, this is a great time to bring them into focus.

First Monday Mentoring is our water cooler. Join me here on the first Monday of each month to talk about your plans, ideas and aspirations. Some talented writers and teachers visit this blog. Whatever your question about craft, writing life or getting published, you can ask it here.

To get us off and running, here are some ways to bring your plans into focus and reach your goals.

Set goals for yourself, never mind what others think

Set goals for yourself, never mind what others think

1. Know what you want to achieve.

Before setting off on a trip it helps to have at least some idea of where you want to end up. Depending on where you are in your writing journey, your “destination” may be to enter a contest and get feedback from the judges, or have a set amount of work written for a critique group or online support group every time you meet. If you’re more experienced, your goal may be to find an agent. Researching which agents work in the areas where you want to be published is a good start. Next would be writing or emailing them, or arranging to pitch an idea to them at a conference. Some writers may want to check out epublishing your own book or backlist. Again, what time frame would get you there?

2. Set definite steps to reach your goal

If you want to finish a novel or novella this year, how many words do you need to write? Breaking the total up into a weekly or daily word target will help you stay focussed and reach your goal in your preferred time frame. Remember to build in some time for family emergencies, illness and life getting in the way. If you want to meet a certain agent, you’ll need to plan ahead, find out any conferences where they may take pitches, and sign up. Or send out a certain number of emails each week until you get a positive response. Submitting work to publishers or teaching yourself epublishing can be handled in the same way.

3. Celebrate your milestones

When you get a positive response, even if it’s a “no” for now, celebrate. You kept your deal with yourself, sent out the emails, wrote the daily or weekly word count. Break out the champagne, chocolate or celebration of choice, see a movie, meet friends and share the joy. In the writing game, progress can be dauntingly slow.  Don’t wait till the book is in the ereader or on the shelf to celebrate your achievements. By then, readers will be looking for your next work. Take time now to enjoy the journey.

Can you think of any other steps to get you closer to your goals this year? Do you have questions you’d like answered? This is the place. I’ll be over by the water cooler ready and willing to help.

If you’re not sure what you’d like to achieve this year, why not read in your choice of genre and learn as you go, studying how the books are written, who is publishing them, and how you can make yours special within the demands of that genre.

Hint: if romantic suspense with a hint of science fiction appeals, you can read my latest book, Birthright (Corvallis Press) on Amazon for Kindle and Barnes & Noble for Nook. Post a review anywhere on line before the end of January and share the link here, to be in the running for a $50 Amazon gift voucher judged by my agent, Linda Tate. The winning review will be reposted here.

Let’s make 2013 a year to remember.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

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on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

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