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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 June – should you write a book you don’t love?

Welcome to First Monday when I open this blog to discuss what it’s really like to be a writer – not the glamour stuff but the inside track on the fears, the struggles and yes, the joys of writing.

This week a writer told me she’d sold “the book of her heart.” Naturally I was delighted but curious – what was meant by “the book of her heart?”

Turns out it’s a cross-genre book about characters who’d haunted her for years, not the kind usually sought by publishers but one she desperately wanted to write, even if no-one loved it but her. She’d come close to publishing the book herself but didn’t have the cash and time to invest in the work.

That led to me to asking if she would ever write a book she didn’t love. After a long pause she said, “Almost all the time,” adding that she’d started out reluctantly, but had fallen in love with the story along the way.

This suggests you can start writing with your head rather than your heart. “Exactly,” she agreed. “I can’t afford to wait for the muse to strike. Sometimes I have to write first and the love comes later.”

And if it doesn’t? “Something else will,” she said.

With 90 books written over many years, there have been stories I couldn’t wait to tell, when the words flowed like warm honey. Others were like pulling teeth, needing many rewrites to make them work. And then there was the book on plumbing.

I’ve always treated my writing as a business, proposing book ideas to publishers who contracted me to write quite a few. At other times an editor would like my proposal but have another book they wanted me to write instead. Hence how to do your own plumbing.

First of all, technically you need a qualified plumber even to change a tap washer. Plus I had zero interest in water hammer, grease traps and septic tanks. But I’d signed a contract and I researched and wrote the best book I could, having a plumber friend vet it before submission.

Pleased as I was to have delivered the book as promised, that project made me determined to find a way to write books that I could also put my heart into.

Without the plumbing book, I might not have discovered romance novels.

I’ve always been a romantic at heart, but the plumbing book empowered me to try something new. Fifty romance and romantic suspense novels later working with editors in London, Toronto and New York, I’d become known as Australian’s “queen of romance” with translations in dozens of languages including Icelandic and Manga – Japanese graphic novels. And the only how-to books I’ve written since are on the writing craft, such as The Art of Romance Writing with editions in print with Allen & Unwin since 1993.

My muse, the wonderful actor, writer and philanthropist, William Shatner, says he believes in saying “yes” to everything. This has led him to amazing opportunities from motivating the astronauts on the International Space Station, to designing his own futuristic motor cycle. At age eighty-six he’s still the busiest man on the planet.

William Shatner recommends saying “yes” to everything

Saying “yes” to everything sometimes means writing about plumbing, but can also mean creating a sci-fi series that gave me one of the best experiences of my writing life. Google “Parv Beacons” if you’re curious.

My next “yes” is to collaborate with the talented Dr. Anita Heiss on a novel, something neither of us has done before. Who knows where that will lead?

What will your next “yes” be?

Here are three ways you can learn to love any writing project:

  1. Take pride in stretching yourself creatively. Find something to love, even if it’s the income from doing the work. How might that fund a project you really want to tackle?
  2. Use all writing as a learning experience. From writing advertising copy, I learned how to inspire readers to act on my words. From scriptwriting – how to tell a story in dialogue and action. From my nonfiction books on writing – not only what works but why, broadening my own understanding of the craft.
  3. Be open to writing many different things. Some will be fun, others not so. Learn something new from every project, even if it’s that you don’t want to spend your life writing about plumbing.

What people or projects have inspired your writing? Have you loved some writing and not others? Please share your experiences here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing!

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is out now

3 books complete in one volume

For international orders, print & ebook formats,

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Escapism – in romance novels, there’s no getting away from it

One of the criticisms often aimed at romance novels is that they’re escapist – as if that was a bad thing. Let’s face it, life has never exactly been a barrel of laughs. From the cave days when practically everything was out to eat us – the reason we developed a flight or fight instinct – to the rat race of today, survival is literally impossible. After all, one hundred per cent of vegetarian fitness fanatics also die.  Taking what comfort we can in our entertainment makes more sense to me than miring ourselves in misery and despair. If we aren’t going to get out of this world alive, why not make the most of the ride?

For me, romance novels fit the bill perfectly. Sure, the characters go through every kind of trial we writers can inflict on them. In the writing business, this is called getting your characters up a tree and throwing rocks at them. But we also have an unspoken deal with our readers that everything will end happily, or at least satisfactorily. Modern romances don’t have to end with a proposal of marriage, but there’s always the promise that things will turn out for the best, even if writers sometimes swap Mr. Right for Mr. Right-For-Now. I have a lot of trouble watching movies or reading books where everybody I’ve come to like dies in the end.  That’s real life, and it isn’t what romance novels are all about.

Romances cross all cultural and political barriers. My books have now sold over 30 million copies and are published in dozens of countries and languages as diverse as Icelandic, Bulgarian, Chinese and Korean. They’re sold in “chunks” on mobile phones, as Manga in Japan (adult novels in comic book format). They’re roaring onto ebook readers faster than you can say download. I even have a pirate edition of one of my books from Thailand. Why that excites me I’m not sure, unless it puts romances up there with Gucci and Nike. As far as I can establish, readers in all these languages and formats want much the same thing – an uplifting story that they know will end happily.

This doesn’t mean readers are  living lives of quiet desperation. I think it’s more likely we need escape from a too-hectic everyday life where women take care of everybody’s needs except their own. That may explain why virtual babies are so popular, demanding no time or care. Romance heroines frequently inherit property, giving them instant freedom from mortgage stress. The heroes are rich and powerful. Not hard to see the appeal in a world where women may well be the family’s sole breadwinner, or one partner can be out of work for months at a time.

Then there’s the sex. No matter how they’re written, love  scenes portray closeness, intimacy and consideration, correlating with what women often say they want  from a relationship. Love scenes can be anything from tame to torrid, as long as they emphasise these elements of caring and commitment. When Jennifer Byrne was my publisher at Reed Books, she asked me why women in romances are always attracted to bastards. The answer is that winning against a wimp is no triumph. There are no emotional stakes in loving a saint. Taming a tiger is way more satisfying. And a tame tiger is guaranteed not to trigger your fight or flight instincts.

Why do you read or write romance novels?  I’ve love to know.

Valerie

Follow me on Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

http://www.valerieparv.com

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