This post is in response to a suggestion yesterday from the mighty Charles Yallowitz
I am going to release a new post each week as a part of an ongoing series about genre.
I think as writers, many of us look to the others in our genre for advice and inspiration in our own work. There is nothing wrong with this, the support is both necessary and a part of being an author. Still, I think sometimes people tend to look at the baseline of something and only remember a few key phrases or parts. This can breed trouble when you are writing.
What is a genre really about? Are there limits to it or is it the same few factors that define it no matter who the author is or how much time has gone by? These are questions worth evaluating if you are going to write for the first time, or write outside your genre. So the following is my idea of what I would like to see change in the romance genre. I tend to read a lot of these books as per review requests and honestly–I get bored with them rather easily. Feel free to jump in under the comment section and have a go at giving your own opinion of the genre.
Dear Romance Genre,
I have always kind of liked you. The idea of star-crossed lovers and impossibility becoming reality for those that are destined to be together hits my mushy side just right and makes me feel warm and snuggly. (Keep that to yourself.) This being said, I have already seen many of these characters fall in love with one another in a different book, under different names. Really. I have. Let me break this down for you and tell you what you might want to avoid in the future if you would like to keep my attention:
Female characters with food names. We have had enough Cherries, Lolli’s, Apples, Gingers, etc. Similarly, please do not give your character name a stupid abbreviation called out to them repeatedly by another character in the book. “Her name was Gaylene, but everyone called her GaGa.” It really does provoke a mental image that I cannot recover from and makes me feel differently about the character.
If you could also avoid obvious historical names like Cleopatra it would be nice.
Female character stereotypes: The perfect Barbie dimensioned woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. The also over used tall, leggy brunette with adorable brown puppy dog eyes. Finally, the irksome “fiery” redhead with green eyes. Give me a real female character that I can love for her flaws. She doesn’t have to be unattractive, but for heaven’s sake stop making me snort with laughter over her perfect everything.
Mix it up a bit. Give the readers a tall, blonde with green eyes. Give us a short, cute brunette with brown eyes. Do something, but don’t keep going back to the first three I mentioned up there ↑. Give your female character a brain. She doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist, but for all that is right in this world make sure she does not begin the book by running away from her wedding in tears, with six inch heels on in the middle of a rainstorm. Make sure she is a character worthy of having the male lead save her. Innocent is okay. I like that, there is a difference between innocent and brainless.
Similarly, if you are going to go the strong woman route–make sure she is not stronger than the male character. Putting up a bit of resistance works. I like it. Makes it interesting. Making me worry that she might hurt him inside the bedroom or out or making me think that she will be the one defending him in a bar–makes him look like a bit of a wanker.
Male character stereotypes:
Do all of the males have to be tall, with corded muscles blazing under their designer clothes, kilts and capes? Really? How many men do you know in real life who look like that? I know what you are going to say. Exactly! That’s what makes it fun. Let me let you in on a couple of things romance genre--#1. Readers–not stupid. Some people might pick up the little penny romances for a quick unbelievable silliness. Not most of us. We would like to believe in the characters and their ability to overcome obstacles to get to one another. Two perfect characters with a situation that you plucked out of a soap opera is not really that impressive. #2. The most common complaint from reviewers is that the book wasn’t realistic enough. Now, don’t ask me how a barbarian of blazing muscle that looks like a Greek God and has the brains of a rocket scientist is not all that believable, but some people are picky.
Give me a male character that is sexy. Not in the “oh wow look at that guy” kind of way. Give me one that will still be worth something when he is too old to rock that kilt. Give me a compassionate man who will fight to defend the honour of his lady, and yet cry tears of joy in front of her when they reunite. I need a male character that has brains.
It is hard for me to believe that the male and female fought so hard to be together so that she could admire the slab of flesh before her for the rest of her life while he drags her around by her hair calling her “ye bloody wench.” Maybe that would be fun for a day. I can hang. When the last page has been turned and the cover is at rest, I want to imagine these two characters that took up a few hours of my life growing old together. It needs to be based on something. Is that too much to ask?
If it isn’t too much trouble can please stop beginning your books with the following: A dream world, a viking ship, a doctor’s office, a barrister’s office or a strip club. Really. Enough already. The single mum-single dad thing has been done. Daycare is not where I want my characters to have their magical first glance. Come up with something original. Make me see the setting and imagine the characters there. Clichès are killers.
You want to attract an audience right? Great. Get cover art that matches your genre. If it is a romance book, have a romantic cover that actually has something to do with the contents of the book. If it is a very steamy book, show that on the cover. Don’t show a cute kid with a puppy. Setting yourself up for failure. Really, you are. If it is a less steamy and more sweet book, then don’t put a muscle bound dope on the cover crawling all over a buxom beauty. And don’t use the word buxom. Ever.
Your cover will let me know if you are the kind of book I want to read or the kind I want to avoid. Humour me.
Please avoid the following words during love scenes unless all other words have been annihilated from the face of the earth:
Tongued, lapping, lusty, glued, engorged, male nectar, love juice, happy honey, alabaster skin, delicate curve, flicked, nibbled and THROBBING.
If you can work on these things we may be able to continue this relationship. If not, then I may have to begin seeing another genre.
Thank you–Ionia Martin