Last night I was in a group and had been discussing my book that is currently in edits and being beta-read. One of my female friends and I began a private talk about reading preferences and she said, “Most romance novels are stupid.” I write romance, but took no offense because people like what they like. I get it.
As we discussed this topic further, my friend said the thing she didn’t like about romances was exactly what I like best about romances. And what I think most people like best about whatever genre writing they read – that they know the formula, they like the formula and they want more of the formula. Not saying that genre writing is boring or predictable. I don’t think it is. I think it’s more resonance and comfortableness. It’s like your favorite food. No matter how you change the method of cooking or the ingredients involved – a burger is a burger. You know it, you like it, you want more of it. It’s familiar and we like that.
That’s what genre writing is. Any particular genre has it’s own conventions, things that must happen in order for it to qualify as being in that genre. In romance, the hero and heroine have to have conflict they overcome in order to be together at the end. They will be together at the end. That’s non-negotiable. No matter the bumpy road (and it needs to be a bumpy road) they must traverse, they also must end up at their destination of happy-ever-after together. That makes me happy. I can still get caught up in the bumpy road and feel their frustration and joy with them, but in the end I know it will all be OK and that works for me. I like the journey.
I have another friend, she doesn’t like romance writing either, who wants to know what happens after they get together. She doesn’t want to know how they get together, she wants to know how they stay together for the long haul, the day in and day out. I don’t care so much how they stay together, I don’t want to see them struggling with how to make time for each other, find romance despite having two point five kids and a mortgage. This does make for many a great romantic-comedy movie though. But me, I just want to see them get together after some trials and be left with the fantasy that all will be well – no matter what.
David Farland (aka Dave Wolverton), a SciFi / Fantasy writer (among so many other things he does brilliantly) says that we like genres for what they make us feel. Fantasy brings us a sense of wonder, Mystery’Suspense gives us a thrill while we try to solve the problem. Again – this is what makes it genre writing.
I like and read different genres and I know exactly what I’m getting when I start reading. I know the conventions (or formula) that I can count on, but what I don’t know is the means by which I will travel this familiar road or the sights I will see as I go down it. But I do know the destination and that’s where I want to end up. Just watch what happens when a writer tries to not follow the rules of that genre. It won’t be liked. Many a reader will be angry in fact.
So back to my first friend and her ‘romance is stupid’ comment. When she told me what she did like to read, I was amused because she just likes a different genre with different rules. She didn’t even seem to realize that what she enjoys reading has the same results over and over too. Different and yet the same. I didn’t bother pointing that out.