Category Archive: Writing Romance

Writing Gender-Inclusive Romance

For more than a year I’ve been writing and story editing a dating adventure game called LongStory. At the start of the game, players select their avatar and gender, choosing whether they want to be referred to as “she”, “he” or “they”. We don’t write different dialogue or storylines for different player genders. LongStory is written to be gender-inclusive.

What does that mean? Well, gender-inclusive or gender-neutral means using language that avoids bias towards a particular gender. This might seem daunting considering this is a dating game that includes romantic storylines, but it’s not if you follow these three tips…

#1 – Recognize Stereotypes

Unless you were raised by gender-free aliens, you’ve been conditioned to see people differently based on their gender, especially when it comes to romance. Heck, society conditions us not only to see people differently but to act differently based on our assigned gender. It’s important to recognize these expectations for what they are: stereotypes, not facts. Stereotypes such as “girls are more emotional” and “boys don’t talk about their feelings they act on them” abound. While some boys may not be comfortable talking about their feelings, some boys are. And vice versa; not all girls want to engage in lengthy heart-to-hearts.

#2 – Identify Your Biases

Here’s a test for you: write a romantic scene between two characters (boy-girl, girl-girl, boy-boy, agender-bigender, etc), then switch up the characters’ genders. Does the scene still make sense? If you don’t think it does, ask yourself why and identify the lines you’ve written that you think are more one gender than another. Are the lines stereotypical? If so, can you make them more well-rounded or original? If the lines in question don’t evoke specific stereotypes, what is it about these lines that makes you connect them to a certain gender? Figure that out and you’ll have identified your own biases. Now challenge those biases. Instead of concluding “a boy would never say that,” consider the type of person, regardless of gender, who would say that. Write for character, not gender.

#3 – Find Commonalities

We humans tend to focus a lot on our differences, but if you’re writing gender-inclusive romance, you need to zero in on all the things we have in common. This doesn’t mean making character dialogue bland and generic, it means developing characters based on their personalities not their gender. Do not fall back on stereotypes. Stereotypes are simple shorthand and the opposite of well-rounded characters.

Now, you may be thinking this is all well and good, but Heather, why would I ever need to write a character whose gender is unknown? To that, I first say — why not? That’s an interesting character! The second thing I would say is that with the increasing popularity of narrative games, more writers are finding work writing dialogue and storylines for players who could be any gender! Bottom line, being able to write gender-inclusive stories has become a valuable skill. And I’m proof…

A couple months ago I interviewed for a job as Lead Writer on a video game in a genre I love but in which I don’t have any actual paid writing experience — a virtual reality sci-fi adventure for adults (I usually write comedy and/or romance for kids and teens). The game sounded awesome and I wanted the job so bad, though I worried I didn’t have the right experience to get it. However, the producers want a game where players not only pick their gender but also the gender of their in-game spouse, and the fact that I had written and story edited a gender-inclusive game was a big plus in their eyes, so I got the job! Yay!

Do you consider gender inclusivity when you write? Have you ever written a gender-neutral character? If so, or if you have any questions, let me know in the Comments.

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Using the Forbidden Love Masterplot

Last year we ran a whole series of posts called Masterplots Theater from A to Z. Because we had some plots that started with the same letters, we had to cut several fantastic masterplots. ‘Forbidden Love’ was one of our unhappy victims as Heather wrote about the Fool Triumphant Masterplot instead. We did cover several other love-related plots in the series, Buddy Love, Happily-Ever- After Love, Unrequited Love, Love Story, but today Forbidden Love gets its own special post.

Do you like to write romance? The all-consuming kind, where the relationship quickly blossoms only to falter and struggle under the heavy burden of insurmountable external tension? A romance that leaves the reader in constant doubt, never knowing if the lovers will find a happy ending? If you said yes, Forbidden Love might be the perfect masterplot for your next story.

Classic Forbidden Love Plot Notes:

This is a character driven plot. The narrative is inside the heads and hearts of the main characters most of, if not all of, the time. This masterplot is often told by alternating two first person POVs. However, it can work in close 3rd person POV too.

The lovers share a nearly instantaneous attraction. The characters know they have met their soulmate, someone unlike anyone they have met before. This love cannot be denied! The power of this love is too strong for the characters to fight.

Within moments of meeting (either before or after) the lovers are confronted with the knowledge the relationship is taboo in their society. Common taboo themes are: adultery, class differences, economic factors, geographic boundaries, religious restrictions, race-related tensions, family feuds, May-December romances and same-sex relationships.

This masterplot often features a closed society. One of the lovers typically comes from a group that maintains a long-standing ideology of Us vs Them. This plot also works using two closed societies that overlap in an uneasy truce, a truce the lovers will fracture with devastating consequences.

A third major character (or group of characters) usually represents the antagonistic force, but not always in the traditional sense. This character works as the mouthpiece for the rules, all the reasons the lovers shouldn’t be together. It is often a friend or authority figure in the lover’s family.

Because of the social issues, the lovers are parted and reunited several times during the course of the story. The lovers take dangerous chances to be together, and they look for allies to help them hide the relationship. The lovers are always in fear of discovery, and the cycle of separation and reuniting give this masterplot high emotional tension.

One of the lovers is usually the dominant personality, the one that wants to disregard the risks. The other character is often more concerned with repercussions. This leads to tension within the relationship.

This masterplot always has one of two endings: the lovers find a way to stay together, often by fleeing their homeland, or the story ends in tragedy as the lovers are separated.

This masterplot is a fantastic subplot, and was used very successfully in the film BLADE RUNNER where it gave a bittersweet edge to the story’s ending.

Future Research:

There are many sources for this masterplot, most notable is ROMEO AND JULIET. Elements are also found in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen.

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Masterplots Theater: L is for Love Story

l Masterplots Theater-7

Welcome back to Masterplots Theater! Today we are exploring one of the most popular masterplots of all time: The Love Story. And even if you’re not writing a full-on romance, most stories have an amorous subplot which contains the same plot elements. So without further ado, let’s fall in love!

Love Story Plot Notes: 

The defining element of this masterplot is the love interest. No kidding, right? If there’s no one to fall in love with, well, you don’t have a love story. And before the protagonist can fall in love, they have to meet the object of their desire. This is commonly called a “meet cute.” I had never heard this term until Robin blogged about it, but it’s true – every love story has that scene where the future lovers meet for the first time.

But if the characters met and were like, “Awesome! Let’s start a loving relationship right now!” Well, that wouldn’t be much of a story. So there’s always a Major Obstacle keeping them apart. The obstacle can be personal (character is already married), professional (character’s job prevents them from having a relationship with the other), family-related (in a historical romance the dad doesn’t approve of the union), situational (characters live in different places), etc. 

It’s also common that the characters in a love story seem ill-suited for each other in some way: popular teen and nerd, prosecutor and defense attorney, rich kid and poor kid, criminal and do-gooder, etc. Again, because people who are obviously perfect for each other don’t make very interesting stories. Ramp up that conflict!

The lovers are tested throughout the story, both individually and together. Why? Because love must be earned. Also, this is a good tip to make sure you show that the couple is in love (through tests and challenges) and are not just telling the reader they’re in love. Actions always speak louder than words, especially when it comes to romance.

Many love stories have happy endings, but they don’t have to. What’s important is that love was found, even if it can’t last.

Example to Study:

BookCover-Eleanor&ParkELEANOR & PARK  by Rainbow Rowell

· MEET CUTE: Eleanor and Park meet when none of the other kids will let Eleanor sit with them on the bus. Park takes pity on her and moves his backpack so she can sit beside him.

· MAJOR OBSTACLE: Eleanor’s step-dad is a creepy dude who does not allow her to date or do much of anything.

· ILL-SUITED: Eleanor is a weird, poor kid from a broken family; Park is a half-Asian misfit who’s actually a tiny bit cool. No one expects them to get together, not even themselves.

· TESTS: Eleanor and Park’s relationship is tested whenever they’re in public together. They’re also tested individually with their own family and friends. How they react to these challenges slowly reveals the depths of their feelings for each other. 

· ENDING: Spoiler alert, but the ending of this novel is not a happily-ever-after. Still, it’s real and raw, and the love they had was true and changed both characters.

Future Research:

Novels: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, THE NOTEBOOK by Nicolas Sparks, GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell


Thank you for joining us today. Other episodes in this series include:

A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love
C is for Chosen One
D is for Dystopia
E is for Escape
F is for Fool Triumphant
G is for Gothic
H is for Happily-Ever-After

I is for Institutionalized
J is for Journal 

K is for Kinsmen

We hope you enjoyed L is for Love Story and we invite you back tomorrow for our next installment of Masterplots Theater, M is for Metamorphosis.

What are your favourite love stories? Do you have any tips for writing romance? Please share in the Comments!

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Top Ten Tuesday: 5 Pet Peeves + 5 Fab Fixes for Romance in Books

TopTenTuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a list created by the book loving crew at The Broke and the Bookish. Every Tuesday is a different topic and everyone is invited to join in the fun. So let’s do this!

Everyone loves romance, even if you don’t specifically read romance novels. No matter what genre you prefer, there is often a romantic subplot skipping through the story. Especially in YA. Teens are preoccupied with finding love. How could they not be with all those new hormones coursing through their bodies? Since YA encompasses every genre imaginable, it should be the best place to find a wide range of romantic scenarios, but too often YA lit falls victim to the tried and true cliche. Here’s a list of the worst offenders and what I would rather see instead…

LoveTriangle-Twilight1. The Love Triangle

What bugs me about love triangles is not their shape, but their composition. The vast majority of these trios are two hot boys vying for the love of one girl, and frankly it’s boring. Why not mix it up and make the heroine choose between a hot boy and a hot girl. Or make the other girl or boy the heroine’s competition for the third person’s love. Or make the fight not about romantic love, but about friend love. Or have the objects of lust not notice the heroine so she has to pursue them without knowing if either even likes her! See? I just gave you way more than one fix for this overused trope, so please stop writing heroine + hot boy + another hot boy.

2. The Heroine with No Girlfriends

Maybe it’s something about writers who were loners as teenagers, but I’m so sick of the shy, nerd girl who isn’t popular and doesn’t have any friends except maybe one (who is always more popular than the heroine), and then this hot guy comes along and shows interest in her and wow! Her whole life changes! Please, this isn’t a low-budget TV show without the funds to give the lead actor more than one friend. This is a book! It doesn’t cost you anything to make the heroine a sociable musician or popular athlete or smart-girl-who’s-not-a-loner. Give her some pals! Give her a life! It’s not only the lonely who are looking for love.

3. The Perfect Boy

Often the heroine’s love interest is good-looking, smart and rich. And oh so mysterious. Plus his eyes are probably blue. Bonus points if he has an accent. I know that romance is supposed to be a fantasy, but I want some realism! Give me characters with a range of looks and talents and economic backgrounds. Make the protagonist fall for someone who is not seemingly perfect, who has faults and makes mistakes and isn’t impossibly tuned into the heroine’s feelings. No one needs to be perfect to be loveable. Trust me.

4. The Innocent Virgin

Things have changed since I was a teenager. The Internet wasn’t good for much in the ‘90s. It took many minutes simply to load a photo. Needless to say, I learned about sex by talking to my friends, listening to rumours, watching movies, and going out with guys. But in the 21st century, information about sex is everywhere! Most pre-teens know more about it than I did in my mid-twenties! That’s not to say they have experience yet, but for better or for worse they have information regarding the act the previous generation did not. So when I read about teen characters who are all innocent and clueless, I can’t help but roll my eyes. It’s just not believable, unless they’ve been held captive in a backwoods cabin with no computer their whole lives. This doesn’t mean your characters can’t be virgins. They can be, just make sure they’re not completely naive regarding the subject.

5. Love Taking Precedence Over Possible Death

I admit that most of the entries in my teen diaries were all about boys, but I was not living in a dystopian wasteland or trying to survive a war or hiding from hungry zombies. Yet I read books with these life-and-death stakes where the romantic leads spend way too much time making moony eyes at each other. Come on! You’re about to get your brains eaten! You would not be thinking about kissing him, you’d be thinking RUN! To fix this, moony eyes and romantic thoughts should only occur when the characters are momentarily safe.

And there’s my list! I’m sure you noticed I didn’t mention Instalove. That’s a pet peeve so big I’ve already written an entire blog post on it – complete with fixes as well. Check it out here.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I would love to read some romances that subvert these overused cliches. If you have any recommendations, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!


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Romancing the Genre: That “Guilty Little Pleasure”

Sharon's Heart Logo for WebI’ve written some sweet romances, but I found I prefer my romance a bit stronger. For whatever reason, I just happen to love writing about sex. Maybe because in real life I love it, too. Back in June, I wrote an initial piece about the romance genre. As recently as August, Sister Caryn considered why people trash such a popular genre. During the economic downturn, romance novels were selling when many other books weren’t.

Romance is a category easily dismissed by others. Men expect women to want romances, the happily-ever-after kind with the impossible-to-emulate hero, so some of them feel free to ridicule the books and films featuring a love story. Women of a certain bent disdain romances as shallow, poorly written excursions into pulp fiction, demeaning of women as equal to men.

And some of that is deserved criticism. But that criticism can be aimed at any genre novel. Trite, clichéd story lines exist throughout published works. Character tropes who are hackneyed and unoriginal. Those books are predictable and don’t sound genuine, authentic. But it’s not just presesnt in the romance genre.STITCHES-1

Let’s face it, love is central to many stories whether it is the major plot line or a sub-plot meant to elaborate characters and make them multi-dimensional. There is more than one love subplot in sister Kathy’s new book, Stitches. Some of the love is healthy and some is not. While categorized as women’s fiction, rather than straight romance (ooh, that could be taken more than one way!), still there is romance aplenty.

The best way to think of it, in my opinion, as a Libran finding balance, is that romance in books is on a continuum. There are the traditional, dare I say, Harlequin romance books at one end of the continuum that has women’s fiction on the other end. In between, there is chick lit. Chick lit has romance, and the woman is in search of it (Harlequin leanings) but she finds who she really is without needing that to depend upon her love interest (women’s fiction leaning). In chick lit, the romance finally found is the plus in her life, not her whole life.

So are we agreed romance is highly visible in real and fictional life? Of course there are a few books and movies without a romance element, but, in reality, it is a reality that human relationships and interactions are part of life. Thus, they show up in various media over and over.

One of my dear friends, while suffering from chemo effects, didn’t want serious or tragic stories to watch or read. She chose romances to read, light, quick, guaranteed happy ending (Harlequin end of the spectrum). On an even closer front, when DH was recovering from eye surgery, he couldn’t watch or read serious or tragic stories. Same syndrome. Now he didn’t choose romances, but we did watch a Muppet movie and some stupid sitcoms. He couldn’t tolerate drama during that phase.

And what’s wrong with that? Not a thing. Escapism has always been the purview of literature. Romances touch something in us that is life-affirming. It will work out. There is a solution no matter how grim it gets. The sun will shine again.

The focus in a romance novel, as opposed to a novel with romance in it, is the centrality of the romantic relationship between two people that results in an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending”. The biggest difference on the romance continuum, as near as I can tell, is the role of the heroine’s partner. In Harlequin-type romance, the partner is a major piece of the final happy ending. In women’s fiction, the partner might still be around as a romantic element, but happiness doesn’t depend on the partner. The woman’s journey and change are the biggest elements.

I have to tell you, I have friends who would take that definition to the woodshed on more than one count. The first trip to the woodshed, is for the traditional “optimistic ending.” The HEA ending (Happily Ever After) is de rigueur for many.

Those who write series romances say each book doesn’t necessarily have to have an HEA for each book as long as the series wraps up that way. That a “Happy For Now” ending (HFN) is good enough. But the series has to end with marriage or a commitment to remain together. Preferably marriage. Others disagree. Life doesn’t always have happy endings. Sometimes love sucks, but the ending must be appropriate to the story. In any genre, by the way.

The other woodshed trip some of my friends would take me on related to the definition is “between two people.” Polyamory is all the rage on TV and in books. Why does love have to be limited to two people, they would ask? Romance writers have included GBLT and BDSM for some time. Can polyamory be far behind?

Traditionally, the romance genre has not garnered much literary cache. Some would say that romance books are the woman’s equivalent of men’s pulp fiction or genre westerns of the past. All highly read. All dissed by literary critics. And you know what the Write on Sisters think about snobbish literary critics, those self-appointed arbiters of my reading tastes!

Let’s all just play nice together, okay?

Who cares if you like romances and I don’t? Really, who cares? I almost never ask someone what the genre is for a recommended book. I want to know the premise. I read a good book because it is a good book no matter the genre.


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In the Spirit of Halloween: Ghostly Love in Film and Books

Sharon's Heart Logo for WebI was one year old when The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison) was released by Hollywood. I found it in my pre-teen years as a TV offering. Then and there, I fell in love with the idea of ghostly love. Which is kind of weird because we lived in a house with a ghost, and I was terrified of it. Go figure!

My unpubbed-as-yet NaNoWriMo novel from a couple of years ago, The Quick and the Dedd, is the fruit of that interest. While there are ghost story cycles, we are not currently in one. I say let’s bring ‘em back! And what better week to do so?

There have been so many movies where ghosts and live men or women fall in love and even have a relationship. High Spirits stars Peter O’Toole who makes up a haunted house story about his castle as a way to attract tourists. Oops! It actually is haunted, and there’s a great scene with Steve Guttenberg and Darryl Hannah (the ghost) that shocks him into reality.

Forget Superman, I fell in love with Christopher Reeve when he was in love with a woman in a portrait (Jane Seymour) who had been dead for a long, long time. Somewhere in Time remains one of my all-time favorite movies.

And no one who saw it can forget the amazingly sensual scene where Patrick Swayze connects with Demi Moore through Whoopi Goldberg’s comic intervention. Ghost was a beautiful tribute to the power of love beyond death.

If you are not familiar with the genre of romance movies with ghosts, here are a few more to get you interested:

Portrait of Jennie (Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones)

Half Light (Demi Moore)

Sandcastles (Jan-Michael Vincent and Bonnie Bedelia)

Now and Forever (Mira Kirshner and Adam Beach)

Why are people drawn to ghost love stories? I think it’s because there is something in us that wants to believe love is stronger than death. So, let’s say you want to write a ghost love story. What does that require? These elements will get you there:

Build Your World, Then be Consistent

One debt we owe to Stephanie Meyer’s saga (and to be upfront, I am not a fan) is her world-building in spite of the existing canon on vampires. She claims not to have known about vampires and their lore prior to writing her YA series. Okay. That gave her permission to build the world she needed for her story, unconstrained by the generally accepted “facts” about the undead.

I took that as permission in The Quick and the Dedd to keep aspects of the traditional ghost story canon and to reject others and substitute what I needed for my story. I describe where Riley is between appearances, how time works for him, and how he can “manifest”, or become corporeal. I need to know the logic of my world and stick to it.

Additionally, the atmosphere of the story needs to match the kind of ghost love story you are creating. Is it dark and threatening and moody? Or is your environment light and bright and fun? Or perhaps you change the mood as the story progresses.

Since no one really knows, create the world your ghost lives in and don’t worry that it’s not “real”. Think about that.

Keep it Vague

In the world you create for your ghost love story, don’t rush to explain in too much detail. Don’t worry about physicality. It is your world to create. In The Quick and the Dedd, I chose to have electromagnetic readings of Isabella’s office to bring in ways people actually search for entities, but then I went further. By setting a story in the context of real equipment and search protocols, you can bring people along to your world without having to explain too much.

Decide the Role Your Ghost Will Play

In most of the romantic ghost stories, the dead person and the live person fall in love. Sometimes they can consummate the love, sometimes not. In other stories, the ghost is the impetus for two live people finding one another, either through the fear evoked or ghostly machinations to bring them together.

Is your ghost the comic relief or the love interest? Or both? Perhaps your ghost is fierce and scary to rid the place of the live person and then turns mushy with love. Whether your ghost is a protagonist or antagonist will drive the plot in very different directions.

Come to Acceptance Slowly

The live person has to go through a period of dissonance before coming to accept the reality of a ghost in his or her life. Would you just believe what was happening to you? Wouldn’t you seek other explanations? Reject what your eyes and other senses tell you? Wouldn’t you be fearful?

Sure. So make your live person rationalize and explain away phenomena before accepting the truth. In my tale, I had a double acceptance factor. Isabella Quick had to come to accept that Riley Dedd was a ghost returned to her office. Riley, on the other hand, didn’t know he was dead and had to deal with his new reality, too.

Reality Intrudes and Complicates the Plot

Though a ghost love story will not be gory or filled with gratuitous sex or violence, it is appropriate to create impediments to true love as with any love story. People think you’re crazy for imagining a ghost. The live one is transferred to another state. Your ghost has “commitments” in the “other place” and disappears. The house burns down or is badly damaged in a tornado.

Tangle the Path to True Love

Whether a ghost love story or a traditional love story, there are always complications. A ghost story love allows some interesting variants on that theme. Another real-life love interest is a common trope. People get busy and ignore one another to the detriment of the relationship. Someone trying to exorcise the ghost is common. And just how does one consummate love with a spirit?

Writing a ghost love story is great fun. There are not really any rules except the ones you make. So, break the mold. You be the one to reinvent the public’s understanding of ghosts and how they function.


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Retro Caryn: Writing Erotic Romance

SEXCaryn is down for a bit after some minor surgery. Today we’re running one of her best-loved posts on the trials of writing erotic fiction. We know you’ll love this post and Caryn will be back with us all in no time.
When Fifty Shades of Grey crashed into the publishing world, everyone was aghast. On so many levels. Talk shows brought in therapists and psychologists— specialists on sexual abuse and relationships, and quickly labeled it mommy porn. Stuck home with my first broken ankle and nearly dead from boredom, I couldn’t resist the idea of reading something so risqué in the privacy of my own home. And thanks to the instant gratification that Amazon provides I fired up my eReader and was reading in less than five minutes. I’d never read anything like it and can’t deny it ambushed my libido in about a nanosecond.

It soon became the hot topic of conversation among my reader and writer pals. We debated and confessed: we loved it, we hated it, wanted to hate it but didn’t, wanted to love it but didn’t. The quality of the writing came up, which always annoys me. If you don’t like the writing, then stop reading. I don’t criticize other people’s writing unless they ask me to. Just like you don’t comment on someone’s clothing or haircut unless they petition you for your opinion, and even then I tread lightly. It’s different if it’s a crit partner, then the need for complete honesty is paramount, although I always bench my comments with a reminder that it’s just one person’s opinion, and other than technical errors, it’s up to the author as to whether they should take the advice to heart or not.

Conversation among my writer pals and my editor heightened. “Someone should jump on the bandwagon and write an erotic romance novel!” they all agreed. “It’s a huge new market and a great opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.” Hmm…I thought. That sounds kind of cheesy, like rushing to write a dystopian novel because of the success of The Hunger Games, or getting on the Vampire and Zombie train, it’s just felt wrong. Writing to Market is a topic of many a pitch conference, but doing it intentionally just to follow a craze seemed well, again, just wrong. We write the stories inside us, the ones we want, not one designed to please others.

But my mind started to wander. I discovered there is a whole world of books that follow the BDSM lifestyle and I began to read them. Confined to my couch, I had nothing much else to do. I’d write for some part of the day, but I was pretty much limited to reading and TV to amuse myself for months, especially after I broke my other ankle. I read a lot. And my mind wandered some more. Using my usual What if…? prompt when I went to bed at night, a story took shape. I furthered my musings, day after endless day. The debate and near-hysteria among my friends continued until one day a writer pal said to my editor (who was desperately trying to convince one of us to write such a novel) “Caryn’s the one! She can do it!” Well, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Was I insulted or pleased that I came to mind?

I soon confessed that I thought I had such a story in me and decided to give it a shot. The story came easily enough, romance not too difficult to write, but the sex scenes? Well, they were rough, and I’m not just talking about the sex. One of the trickiest parts for me is the language. I’ve written before about writing a love scene and Jenn has tackled the mechanics of writing sex, but this was on a whole new level. One of the reasons I liked FSG so much was that her language didn’t make me cringe. Some people like to talk dirty, but it’s just not me. I do have quite a potty mouth, but it doesn’t seem to find it’s way into the bedroom. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s left over from my good-girl Catholic school days, or my mother’s indoctrination about being a lady. In seventh grade she told me not to dance the twist because the Blessed Virgin Mary wouldn’t do it. It made me angry then and of course I disobeyed her, now it makes me laugh. Okay, TMI, I’ll stop.

Crafting a BDSM sex scene without going too far became my aim. And, of course, my female protagonist is never going to become a wimp or a true submissive, even if she’s involved in that world for some ulterior motive as an undercover FBI agent. And so UnderCovers is finished, and in the hands of my editor, who has been incredibly enthusiastic about it’s possibility for success. We’ll see. I had a blast writing it and even if it never sees the light of day, and it remains ‘undercovers’ forever, I had a ton of fun. The only thing that still makes me uncomfortable is: do I publish under my name or use a pen name? Not sure how my sons would feel about this endeavor… Yikes!

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Writing “Bad Boys” in Romance

I posted Tuesday about characteristics of bad boys in books and how to write believable ones. In doing research for that post, I gathered so much information, that I thought I’d share the leftovers here.

Well, not really leftovers, actually, since this is new content, but the content is complementary to what I posted Tuesday.Rappers men gesturing

My erotic romance (written as Angelica French), Streetwalker, features hero Harlan, a bad boy for heroine Carrie. I LOVE Harlan. He is brilliant, powerful, confident, rich, gorgeous, great in bed, and more than a little bit flawed.

Harlan’s rebellion against society’s rules led to losing his medical license. So of course, he started a high end bordello on New York’s Upper East Side, enrolling as clients the rich and powerful of the city as insurance against prosecution. A bad boy.

Not all bad boys wear leather jackets, sport multiple tattoos and piercings, or have a scruffy look about them. Harlan is a great example of an elegant, successful, and living-life-on-his-own-terms, bad boy. And did I mention his sexual prowess?

In a nutshell, a bad boy exhibits certain qualities. I identified these as: exuding confidence, allowing his own interests to take precedence over others’ interests, moody, paradoxical, edgy, displaying an attitude, rebelling with or without a cause, engaging in dangerous hobbies, and being mysterious, complex, and complicated. Women respond to their perception that his strength will bring them protection, a universal need.

In writing your bad boy, be sure to avoid the stereotypes as the only traits. Make him more complex and he’ll interest your readers more. To clarify, we aren’t talking villains here. Villains in our books primarily exist to foil the protagonist, not to act as a potential love interest. Though it does happen.

We’re talking bad boys as guys who appeal to women in books (and real life?), guys you see around every day.

Think about Diane Lockhart’s fascination with Kurt McVeigh, a man different from her in nearly every aspect. Can you see the appeal for her, a buttoned-up corporate type? He’s so wrong for her from her friends’ perspective, and when she meets his friends, she finds nothing in common with them. Women who fall for bad boys risk being isolated from other friendships. Kurt is on the softer side of the bad boy continuum.

Another classic bad boy is Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. He flaunted convention and contrasted well with the ultimate nice guy, Ashley Wilkes. Scarlett, who schemed shamelessly to entrap Ashley, never could shake her attraction for the dangerous and rule-breaking Rhett.

On the harder side of the bad boy continuum, think to Morelli, Stephanie Plum’s nemesis, virginity-taker, and man she simply cannot get out of her life. Adding in another bad boy, but a more complex and softer bad boy, Ranger, just adds to her man dilemma. There is no way Stephanie Plum is going for the nice guy. No way.

An interesting piece I came across, and then lost the link to when I had a computer glitch causing me to lose all my research, was on women and how birth control had changed to put them more in charge of their relationships. The gist of one section was that ovulating women are attracted to bad boys, and women who are on birth control seek men who are perceived more as nice guys. I interpreted this to mean, women want strong, healthy babies (from the rugged men), but they want a nurturing male who will be faithful to them to raise the babe. An interesting notion.

Research into what constitutes a bad boy always leads one to a book by Carole Lieberman and Lisa Collier Cool, Bad Boys: How We Love Them, How to Live with Them, When to Leave Them. Dr. Leiberman’s research led her to identify 12 archetypes for bad boys. She used movies and folk and fairytales to name them. These destructive men to avoid are: Fixer-Upper Lover, Wanton Wolf, Commitment Phobe, Self-Absorbed Seducer, Wounded Poet, Prince of Darkness, Lethal Lover, Power-Mad Prince, Misunderstood & Married, Grandiose Dreamer, Man of Mystery, and Dramatic Daredevil. A more recent book by Dr. Lieberman is Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them and How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets. Analagous to the bad boys book, there are 12 bad girl archetypes. Maybe that will be a later post.

Involved with a bad boy or want to be? Know this. The chances of changing him are slim. And why would you want to? The parts of him that attracted you would disappear, and then what? You leave him because he is no longer edgy, dangerous, challenging? Who wins in that?

If you want more, here are some links so you can do reading on your own.

Writing the Bad Boy

The Trouble with Bad Boys is Them Bad Boys are Trouble

Why Women Love Bad Boys and Dump Nice Guys

Why Do Girls Like Bad Boys?

What’s Your Literary Bad Boy Type?

Four Literary Types You Shouldn’t Date

10 Literary Bad Boys We Love to Love

Bad Boys of Literature & How to Spot Them in Real Life

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Trashing Romance Novels: Why?

Heart ArrowLast week I wrote about the vitality that male crit partners bring to your writing process. I admitted to my prejudices, that I thought men were mostly into political thrillers, sports biographies, and the like, and hinted that I was shocked to discover how many men were avid readers of romance novels; and a significant amount actually write romance novels. According to Romance Writers of America, 9% of romance readers are men. The genre generated $1.4 billion in sales in 2012 and was the top-performing category on the bestseller list, and yet it never gets the same coverage or respect in media as literary books do.

It got me thinking. Exactly what is a romance novel? The generic definition might be something along the lines of a plot that revolves around two people falling in love with an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending—a happily-ever-after? And the complete opposite of Gone Girl. (see my review)

However, consider stories like The Bourne Identity, The James Bond books, The Thomas Crown Affair: they meet a woman who goes along on their spy adventure and then wind up in some romantic setting that hints at a happily-ever-after. Interestingly, they are never marketed that way. Could this be about marketing?

I’ve been struggling to understand why romance novels are so universally disdained. Especially since it’s the most widely read genre. Why are people so reluctant to openly admit they love to read about love? It’s like a dirty little secret, and I’m not talking about Fifty Shades of Grey, which people unabashedly enjoyed, although I did hear the frequent comment about how it was convenient to read it on an eReader so no one could see that you were reading such trash. And yet, romance novels continue to be the most disdained of all genres. Often not just disdained or dismissed, but reviled with an unbridled hatred.

Is a romance novel a guilty pleasure, something to be ashamed of? Like the chocolate you keep hidden and never admit to indulging in? I realize that these male characters are often a gross stereotype—wealthy, good looking, all-powerful, great in bed, intelligent, and well adept at saving the lady in distress. They take the hero model to the extreme, and yes, we love it. Do they defy reality? Yes. But it’s fiction, not reality, and we all like a little escape from reality now and again. In fact, that’s the main reason I read.

I get that nobody wants to admit they’re reading about Fabio. Although the stories might be okay, I haven’t really read anything of that ilk, but I don’t look down on people who enjoy books like that. Not playing psychotherapist, I do however wonder if reading a romance novel is therapy for men, who are often expected to keep their feelings buried. The romance novel gives them the right to explore how they might express themselves more fully. I don’t think it’s because men don’t feel emotion, it’s just that they’ve been taught to not let it show.

Love is universally considered to be one of the most powerful feelings of humankind, an instinct to mate—biology teacher speaking here. We feel it’s tender pull in elementary school with that first crush. Middle school drags Romantic couple in the morningus crying and screaming through the halls of misunderstood love cues and interfering classmates, often escalating to dramatic heights when our love is unrequited. In college, or at that first job, we act impulsively, stupidly, attracted sometimes to the wrong person, making irrational choices based on sexual trappings. We kill for love, empty our bank accounts, walk away from our families and friends, all for the one we love. Finding that soul mate (I do dislike that expression, but it sums up our desires well), a partner who sees us and understands us for who we are and is willing to travel the path of life at our side is…well—absolutely intoxicating. We all want that.

In general, I still believe that a great story will attract readers no matter the genre, and good writing is the draw for any book. Often, romance novels are subpar when it comes to writing expertise, overwrought with cliches and stereotypical expressions which does contribute to the bad reputation. Not to mention the cover art which often advertises the denigration of both men and women. I guess it brings me back to that same old broken record. (I’m old enough to hear that ancient record player hissing at me.) We like what we like, and we should be unashamed about what we want to read, or write! In essence, I think it amounts to literary snobbery. Some of us think we’re better than others. And…we’re not. I liken it to the elitism of some film critics, they hold us to a higher standard, and what I would consider an arbitrary one. Who makes the rules for literature, for storytelling? Other than books that are meant to expose corruption or enlighten us academically, I think reading a good old-fashioned love story enriches everyone’s life. A guilty pleasure. An escape. For sure. C’mon! Who can really argue with that?


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Romancing the Genre

HeartsI am co-authoring this post today with one of my alter egos, Angelica French. Angelica writes romances of varying degrees of heat. (I have another alter ego, River Glynn. River writes paranormal, science fiction, and fantasy.) The fourth Tuesday of each month I’ll post about issues in romance, writing romances, or provide general information like today.

Why alter egos? Why don’t I write all my books under a single name? That’s for another post. Today, Angelica and I are here to entertain and enlighten about romances. When discussing the romance genre, several questions arise: What are the various romance genre? Why so many? Who reads romance? Why do they read romance? What makes a romance “good”?

  • What are the various romance genre? Why so many?

Romance genres heat levels range from sweet to erotica. By the way, pornography is not a romance, since there needs to be more than sexual acrobatics. By definition a romance has to have romance.

“Sweet” romances depict love with yearnings not backed up by action (certainly not outside of marriage), whereas, some accuse “erotica” of not having any subtlety at all–it’s all about “the act.” Erotic romance, on the other hand, does keep a relationship as a central component.

There are multiple levels of heat along this continuum and when authors submit to a publisher, they must identify the heat level according to each publisher’s guidelines. Even the erotica publishers have their limits, however. No pedophilia, bestiality, and other acts generally deemed offensive or illegal.

Within the heat levels, there are categories of romance genres. These include historical, contemporary, inspirational, paranormal, suspense, mystery, and so on, as in general fiction categories. And, as with general fiction categories, historical romances might be the Old West, Regency, Civil War, Pre-World War I, Post World War II, and so on.

It’s pretty obvious why there are so many categories and heat levels. If there weren’t readers, there wouldn’t be books produced. That simple. Lots of folks like romances, men and women.

  •  Who reads romance?

There’s been a good bit of research to identify the demographic for romance readers. In a study by Romance Writers of America (RWA) a few years ago, 42% of romance readers had at least a bachelor’s degree, and 15% earned or were working on post-graduate degrees. While still mostly women, nearly one-quarter of romance readers are male.

In the RWA study, half of romance readers were married, four percent were divorced, thirty-seven percent were single, one percent were separated, and eight percent were widowed.

Most romance novels readers in the study were ages 35-44. The next largest group was 25-34. The third highest age group of romance readers were ages 45-54. Only seven percent were 17 or younger.

After I (Angelica) finish the trilogy for my “Sex Sells” series, I am going after crone lit. There are LOTS of older women looking for romance and titillation in their reading. Old folks can have and enjoy romance and sex, too!

  •  Why do they read romance?

People read romances, I think, for the same reasons they read anything. A peek into how and where others live. An escape from their own reality. An examination of how others solve a problem they have. A chance to live in another world for a while. Maybe a bit of titillation and fantasizing. 

  • What makes a romance “good”?

A good romance shares the same things that make any fiction book good–interesting characters you care about (Gone Girl is a notable exception), unpredictable twists and turns that still make sense, authenticity of setting/characters/events, or learning about another place/time/event.

Romance, more than most genres, has been criticized for being clichéd and formulaic. I admit to boredom with those overtly predictable stories as well. The best romances, as in any genre, provide surprises that weren’t foreseen but were still logical in the story. I also am weary of the women who must have a man in their lives to define them and solve their problems. Give me a romance with a woman who takes charge of her own life, and then, oh, by the way, falls in love with a fellow (or gal).

Chick Lit, one of the categories in romance, is characterized by the growth of the woman (apart from a partner) who with humor and good will stumbles around in life and relationships before finally getting it all together.

The Romance Writers Report, journal of the Romance Writers of America, recently had an article about the canon of romance books. The author took on a critic of romance genres, critical that there was no set of generally agreed upon representative books.

According to the author, a canon is not necessarily those books that are the best in the genre so much as game-changers, books that initiated a change of direction in format or content. It was a pretty compelling article. [Is There a Romance Canon? By Wendy Crutcher, June 2014, 34 (6), Romance Writers Report]

It’s interesting to me how romance genres are more likely than any other genre I know to be denigrated. And, on the other side, hotly defended. Do you read romances? Are they one of your guilty little secrets? Or do you disdain romance readers as unsophisticated and naïve?

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