Friday, August 13, 2010
Romance genre -- The forbidden tropes
I bring this bright and bouncy back to show everybody.
Or at least, everybody who's writing straight genre Romance. I can't imagine this particular blog has a wider audience.
So. These are some 'Romance genre rules' I came up with.
This is in random order, not running from more forbidden to less or something. And I'm talking about standard mass market Romance genre.
Which is all very specific and technical and also behind the cut:
What you can't do in Romance genre:
-- unsympathetic heroine
In Romance, the reader has to like the heroine.
That means snarky is okay. Malicious is not. Materialistic is okay. Greedy is not. Unsure and shy is okay. Cowardly is not. Jealous is okay. Cruel is not.
It's all in the shading.
-- Can the heroine kill?
Yes, if she has a good reason.
UF, (Urban Fantasy which is also not Romance. I know. I know.) does killer heroines a lot.
It's part of the whole kick-ass thing.
-- Can the heroine go sexxing around?
Before the book begins, yes. Afterwards, no.
-- Can the hero go sexing around?
Before the book begins, yes. In fact, it's expected, chasing strange being manly and all that.
Outlander is about unique -- yes, I know it's not Romance genre but it is so nifty I try to sneak it in anyway -- in having a virgin hero.
I was going to say the hero shouldn't go chasing tail after he's met the heroine, but then I remembered Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. I just hate it when an inconvenient specific goes and messes up a fine generality.
-- What about adultery?
You need a really strong workaround for this.
Hero lost at sea for three years works. Hero being a homicidal maniac works.
This all comes back to the need for an HEA. (HEA = Happily Ever After.) If marriage is not exclusive, this imperils the HEA.
-- Can you kick the damn puppy? Speaking metaphorically.
Terrible things can happen in Romancelandia.
They are terrible things of two sorts.
There's the suspense/thriller/mystery/action kind of terrible thing where the heroine wades into the crash scene.
Romantic Suspense has a large audience. The book will be clearly marked as what it is.
But 'kicking the puppy' is something else. That's not the crash scene with anonymous dead, it's the heroine's little sister hit by a car. It's her child dying on-stage from leukemia.
That sort of close-up, heart-wrenching tragedy is rare. Possible, but rare.
-- Can you kick the puppy literally?
Can you kill them and cut them up for stew meat and cook them for dinner?
You're going to lose readers right that minute the puppy squeals and dies. Books are going to snap closed.
Readers -- lots of them -- will not buy a book where a child is harmed. Where an animal is hurt. (Or where any serious bad things happen, really.) They check reviews to make sure they're not in for a surprise.
I . . . ummm . . . I had a villain kick a puppy once. Inside joke and all that.
Rape of the, 'he raped me and now I love him' trope, is an automatic, 'put it back on the shelves' for most readers. I wouldn't call it forbidden, but you definitely limit both the editors who will find this acceptable and the reading audience.
The same titillation, without the act itself, will be more marketable.
Rape or being molested as a child, when it is a horrible trauma and in the past, is not uncommon.
-- Child haters?
Truly disliking them will probably come across as unsympathetic. I'd call it, not utterly forbidden but another thing that limits the readership.
-- And the many sorts of sexxing.
Say there are 10,000 sexual possibilities for humans. In Romance genre, there's three or four of these that can be described in detail. Maybe ten more can be referred to with greater or lesser degrees of coyness.
If sex were food, Romance genre would have a very limted menu, but the hamburgers would be just great.
-- Not wanting to get married
. . . and not ending up wanting to get married.
You can do this now. It's part of the HFN, (Happy For Now,) movement.
-- Serial books with the same protagonists.
Because Romance genre is 'courtship' stories, books that deal with the later development of a relationship tend to ease themselves right over to the edge of Romance genre and go swimming off into General Fiction or Historial Fiction or some other fool thing.
That said, this serialization has been done time and again. Readers love to follow a wonderful heroine through book after book of adventures. Look at Sergeanne Golon.
It may get you moved to another shelf in the bookstore if you keep it up, is all.
-- Multiple POVs
There's supposed to be a rule about Two POVs Only.
In shorter lengths, craft is going to keep you to two or at most three POVs, not some Romance rule. It's technically difficult to develop more than two or three POVs in 60K words.
Longer lengths you can play with more POVs. I think I've used five.
-- Exotic settings?
You can visit exotic worlds in Contemporary and Historical, Category and Single Title.Go wild.
BUT there are expected and familiar settings. If you venture outside the favorite locatiions, it'll be more difficult to sell.
-- the convention of the first male.
This is a very Romance thing. The first male the reader sees is assumed to be the hero.
If you drop a man into the opening and he isn't the hero, you have to Tell The Reader this. He has to be too old, too young, too evil, of the wrong social class, related and so on.
In the beginning of My Lord and Spymaster, I had to take some care and effort to do this, eliminating both Doyle, (who shows up early,) and Adrian. Putting the reader's eye on Sebastian.
-- the providing male
The hero of a Romance is almost always desireable in terms of money, earning potential, power, and status.
Look. Lots of women out-earn their husbands. I don't see Romances where there's a presumption the woman will be providing economically for the man.
Maybe because I mostly read Historicals.
I suspect this is not forbidden, but just seen as removing some of the glam from the HEA