Writing: Genres Part 3

Coming back from being lost in illnesses/fair induced stress and then injuries/wrapping up the print version of Ten with an update to my genre writing series. Now, this one is considered the easiest genre to write and break into as a new writer…I could argue about it being easy to write, but it is easier to get into but for different reasons than people think: Romance.

Romance books have their cliche images: the bodice ripper, sex scene heavy books with half-naked characters on the cover that is sold for about six bucks at the grocery store. However, if you go into the actual romance section at a book store, you’ll find a little more variance on the price, but the bodice rippers will be accompanied by some less provocative look books that still center around a romance, just with another genre as a side dish. Usually fantasy or action/thriller, some are also mysteries or something in that vein.

Here’s the reason why these books are the easiest to get published…if you do your homework. These publishing houses have contracts and lists where they send out so many new titles a month–more than any other genre. They make their money through quantity, not quality, and by appealing to a very specific formula. By keeping things within a certain parameter, they are able to produce the books cheaply, keeping actual costs down so they can sneak into as many sellers as possible. They don’t pay as well as other genres, but you also have a higher chance of paying back your advance and getting royalties. And if you can pick up the rhythm, there are writers who make their living just by turning out a new book every month or so.

These books have to be within a certain range of word count/print pages (varying a bit by publisher, so be prepared to add fluff or cut it away if you have to bounce between them), they have to have a certain number of beats to them, and obviously need to focus on the romance and have a happy ending for the couple involved. Most create a common enemy to bring these two people together, others just put two people into a situation where they have to work together to achieve a goal–whether or not its a common goal is up to the writer, but either way they have to work together to achieve it. There is a heavy focus on the characters being in their twenties to thirties–rarely do they cross over any older than that, despite the main readership for these books being in their forties and fifties, but I digress.

The really tricky part when it comes to writing romances is what you have to keep in mind–no matter what, your primary antagonists…are your protagonists. I know this is weird, so hear me out. The formulas mean that publishers are looking for the main conflict to be between the hero and the heroine. Whether its because they are constantly fighting with each other, one side of the equation is trying to fight the urge to be together, or there are circumstances keeping them apart a la Romeo and Juliet, the central conflict needs to be what is keeping your couple apart.

That said, your characters still have to be likeable. Ever wonder why the characters are so simple, cardboard cut out like? It’s because this way, the writer can easily flip them from being a jerk to being the nicest guy ever without seeming to contradict themselves. The girl can go from a whiny crybaby to the bravest woman in the world, and its waved away as character growth. There are some writers who are good at making this work for them, for creating a strong character and showing real growth. But those who are milking the system for money only, well, they use the formula and go with it.

There are a few beats that are particularly important for a story. You’re going to have to write a sex scene, unless you are in a subset aimed for younger readers or ultra-conservatives. Sometimes you’ll end up writing more than one, if your plot goes that way. There’s going to be a big-bad-break-up fight at least once. Sometimes there are multiples, but if so each one is bigger and worse than the one before it. (I never said this genre showed healthy relationships, did I? Cause it really doesn’t.) And then the last one is going to depend on what sort of story you are dealing with. If you are writing something with outside forces, this is where they seem to get the upper hand and the two have to come together to finally overcome it/solve the problem/whatever. If you are focused purely on internal conflicts between the couple, whoever was the biggest butt is going to “see the light” and save the other character from their misery without their other half.

If you want to write just for making money, don’t turn your nose up at romance novels. They are the easiest to make money and live off of, and they do pay well in the long run if that’s what you are after. However, if this happens to be the genre that you just want to write it, stay away from the ones who are famous for publishing in romance because you aren’t likely to fit their patterns. Really work on fleshing out your characters, and if you play with what the audience wants from the tropes and give them a good story besides, you’ll appeal to both the long-standing members and those like me who just browse the section of the book store occasionally.

Recommended romance novels (because I actually read these things): The Goddess Rising series by PC Cast, The Accidental Werewolf by Dakota Cassidy

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About Rebecca M. Horner

A spinner of yarns (of the story sort, though I do crochet...and sew, and learning to make armor...) View all posts by Rebecca M. Horner

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