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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » I hate and/or despise romance

   
Author Topic: I hate and/or despise romance
Teraen
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Ok, I know Hatrack is *mostly* speculative fiction writers, but I need your help here.

I am firmly of the opinion that including romance in your book is A Good Thing because
a) it increases the likelihood that women will read your work, potentially doubling the audience, and
b) romantic attachments are major motivators in our lives, so judicious use of it means characters are more realistic and better motivated and the work is potentially more moving... (hmmm... maybe those women in subpoint A were onto something... but I digress...)

Anyways, I know the value of romance, and I am trying to include much romantical adventuring in my current WIP, but I am stymied by the prospect of it. I don't intend to create a Fabio-on-the-cover-and-sold-in-the-grocery-store level of romance, but I know there are some very effective conventions to use in writing romance. So, my question is where do I find them? I'd love to learn about how to write romance better.

Does anyone have any good resources they could point me to? And, more to the matter at hand, how does one write good romance?


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enigmaticuser
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Romance does affect everything one way or another, so it is a natural story element. As to how to write one. I've tried my hand at the element, but not as a central piece. But then to me the best romances are usually not center place. I like a good, background workhorse romance as opposed to the racehorse version.

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pdblake
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I think stories involving people, especially series, will eventually involve some kind of romance. In the third book of my series the MC gets a girl and she's still there in the fourth.

It's human nature. Even if you write about a pus covered demonic thingumajig, you'll give him a girlfriend after a couple of novels.

As for romance, as in the romance being the main plot, it has it's own genre. It's not my thing, but I'll try anything once (coming to a bookshelf near you - goblins and fairies, uncut)

As to writing good romance (I've not read enough to know what is and isn't), I suspect it's not like most fantasy elements, as in just make it up (like you really know what a troll is like), it's something that needs writing from experience. I've been married nearly sixteen years and I'll be buggered if I know what it is

[This message has been edited by pdblake (edited October 21, 2011).]


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Meredith
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Nothing like reading a little and seeing what works.

Anything YA is bound to have at least some romance. For some that aren't too syrupy, try Scott Westerfeld's steampunk series: LEVIATHAN, BEHEMOTH, and GOLIATH.

Lois McMaster Bujold often handles this extremely well. Try THE CURSE OF CHALION and THE PALADIN OF SOULS (in fantasy). Some others of hers are heavier on the romance, but in these two the romantic element is very background, although it is a motivating factor, especially in CHALION.

In others: Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series has a background romance (or two) that occasionally come to the fore.

Those are the ones that come to mind right now. I'll probably think of others as soon as I hit submit.


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redux
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It sounds like you want to create a romantic subplot. Even though it would be different from a romance novel, where the romance is the central plot, it would still follow a similar story arc. The Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies book is actually a good resource.

If you read any book or watch any movie that has a romance subplot (even bromance) you will notice that the romance story arc always has two things: emotion and conflict. We need to know what the romantic leads are thinking and what is keeping them apart emotionally. The emotional conflict is key to romance. Conflict is not the leads fighting. It's about internal issues they have that don't allow them to be together - it's their emotional baggage. This creates tension, which in turn creates anticipation. The best part to romance is always the lead-up and not the happily-ever-after.

I've noticed that fantasy tends to have more romance story arcs than Sci-Fi. YA tends to have the romance arc because first-love is usually part of adolescence.

As to where does one learn to write romance better my advice is to pick up books or movies that you felt had romantically satisfying subplots and pay close attention to those scenes.


For fun, let's analyze a little bit the romance subplot of Star Wars. In The Empire Strikes Back the screenwriters/director used a quite famous romance trope: forced living situation. Forced living situations are quite common in romance (also see It happened One Night with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert - the Walls of Jericho scene). It's a great way of putting your romantic leads together and forcing them to interact and build that romantic tension. What they also did right in Empire was the dialogue. Dialogue is key to romantic scenes because it has to be full of subtext. They say one thing but really mean another. Watch the scene when Leia calls Han a scoundrel and Han tells her that there aren't enough scoundrels in her life. That is good romance writing.

Edited to add (the hamster wheel keeps turning in my brain):

I was just thinking about the difference between a romance story arc and simply having a romantic interest. There are plenty of books out there where there is simply a character that the protagonist likes, sometimes the feelings are mutual, but the relationship itself has no real arc. SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson comes to mind. There's a love interest theme in there but no real romance.

Also, I think romantic subplots do tend to be genre specific. Like I mentioned earlier, you typically find them in Fantasy, as well as Westerns, urban Fantasy and YA. So, that's definitely something to consider before subjecting readers to a romance subplot - you don't want then asking "Is this a kissing book?" like the grandson in The Princess Bride


[This message has been edited by redux (edited October 21, 2011).]

[This message has been edited by redux (edited October 21, 2011).]


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Robert Nowall
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quote:
Watch the scene when Leia calls Han a scoundrel and Han tells her that there aren't enough scoundrels in her life. That is good romance writing.

They also say it's plagiarized from Gone With the Wind, too...


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Owasm
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I agree with what's been said above. I try to put some kind of romantic arc in any of my longer stories, and they are SF and Fantasy. But then I write in a lighter style and the romance helps support the story.

Edited to say: very little kissing!!! I have grandkids reading my stuff to think about.

[This message has been edited by Owasm (edited October 22, 2011).]


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redux
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quote:
They also say it's plagiarized from Gone With the Wind, too...

That explains the good writing then ... and the "Gone with the Wind" Empire Strikes Back poster.


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mythique890
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quote:
If you read any book or watch any movie that has a romance subplot (even bromance) you will notice that the romance story arc always has two things: emotion and conflict. We need to know what the romantic leads are thinking and what is keeping them apart emotionally. The emotional conflict is key to romance. Conflict is not the leads fighting. It's about internal issues they have that don't allow them to be together - it's their emotional baggage. This creates tension, which in turn creates anticipation. The best part to romance is always the lead-up and not the happily-ever-after.

I agree with redux; this is the most important idea to keep in mind when writing romance, though I would say the best part is the moment when they finally overcome what keeps them apart. The juiciness is in how well you communicate the real problems your characters have getting together while simultaneously conveying the idea that they can't get on without each other (at least not as well as they can together).

I think to write a good romance, you have to believe in romance. That's another way it differs from writing fantasy.

[This message has been edited by mythique890 (edited October 22, 2011).]


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Robert Nowall
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If you're doing science fiction and including a romance within it, you might try for a kind of science-fictiony romance.

The one that comes to my mind is in Heinlein's Time For the Stars, where the protagonist hero gallivants across the galaxy while joined in telepathic communication with a girl on Earth, who tells him they're getting married on his unexepcted early return. (Never mind the psychological angle of her being his great-grandniece.)

I'd think up one myself...but if I could think it up I'd probably write it up myself.


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MattLeo
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Teraen --I suspect you're getting hung up on capital R Romance associations. Banish the R-word from your thinking for a moment. Think about *conflict*.

Let's start with the simplest kind of conflict: protagonist vs. antagonist. I can propose any kind of bone of contention, and as a writer you could easily spin a plot from it.

Let's say it's a lost nuclear bomb. Agent Alice wants to get to the Bomb to secure it, but criminal Carol also wants the bomb and will stop at nothing to get it. There you have a conflict: Alice and Carol can't both have the bomb; their goals are mutually exclusive. How Alice and Carol pursue their goals reveals their character. Noble Alice constantly confronts new dilemmas between getting the bomb and something else, like rescuing a child in peril or losing the vital clue. Dastardly Carol will do anything to block Alice, even putting an innocent child in danger. Simple.

Now take the bone of contention and remove an "m". Alice and Carol both want Bob, but unless they live in a polygamous society their desires are incompatible. *You use exactly the same process of complication*.

Next we have self vs. self conflict, where Alice has two mutually exclusive goals. Alice loves Bob, but wants a Career. I trust I don't have to draw a chart here. You use that conflict to generate dilemmas to throw in Alice's face, rather than having Carol do it.

Now let's turn to romance qua romance. There's a particularly poignant conflict of goals in any developing romance that you need to understand in order to write a scene of romantic triumph. It's the conflict between obtaining the object of your desire and protecting yourself from rejection or hurt. Alice loves Bob, but she knows he's a Cad.

I'd recommend reading C.S. Lewis's "The Four Loves", because he's particularly interesting to an author when he discusses erotic love. Erotic love is not at all the same thing as sexual attraction, although it's... er... intimately related to that. You can be sexually attracted to someone without feeling the desire to be with that person all the time, to know everything about that person, or to possess that person exclusively. All of these are unique aspects of erotic love and rich sources of conflict. Aristophanes in Plato's *Symposium* is also worth studying. Erotic love is like a painful injury for which the beloved is the only relief.

So in a story, the erotic consummation of a romantic plot-line is not primarily physical. It's about the dropping of barriers between the lovers. Take the classic novel *The Prisoner of Zenda*. Mr. Rassendyl and Princess Flavia pledge their love to each other, even though Rassendyl must go back to England and Flavia marry her cousin. The consummation of their erotic love is their developing a truthful mutual understanding of each other.


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Teraen
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Matt, that is some useful advice.

Here is a problem I have been having with it that may be pertinent to what you said:

In most romances I have read, there are alternating chapters/scenes/whatever between the two potential romancees where we see from each of their points of view. This is done to create conflict as we can see where characters misinterpret motives, etc. Having read something in one character's head, we know that the other character's interpretation of it is incorrect. Eventually the two come into harmony and we can cheer them on.

But how do you create that sort of conflict when you only have 1 viewpoint character?


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I really don't think that was plagiarism. Plagiarism is when you copy whole sections of text and claim it as your own.

What may have happened in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was allusion to GONE WITH THE WIND, and that's something that is done all the time. The cool part about allusions is that if the readers (or viewers) "get it," they experience a little extra pleasure from the allusion (at the very least, it makes them feel clever for "getting it" and it makes they appreciate the cleverness of the writer or director). And if the readers or viewers don't "get" the allusion, they can still enjoy the scene.

Maybe it would help to consider allusions as a kind of "easter egg"?


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
But how do you create that sort of conflict when you only have 1 viewpoint character?

One way could be, as Ursula said in Disney's LITTLE MERMAID, "Body language."


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Meredith
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quote:
But how do you create that sort of conflict when you only have 1 viewpoint character?

It's done all the time. Of those books I mentioned in my earlier post, only Scott Westerfeld's has alternating POV characters. The others are all done from a single POV. In two out of the three (THE CURSE OF CHALION and the Mercy Thompson series) that one character creates all the necessary conflict by the barriers they throw up themselves.

Caz (in CHALION) first thinks he's unsuitable, then believes he's dying. He actually tries to set Bertiz up with his best friend, thinking that's a better match for her. In the end, to Caz's surprise, it's Bertiz who takes the lead.

Mercy is attracted to Adam, but keeps throwing up obstacles. She thinks he's too controlling. He has to go to some lengths to prove otherwise and Mercy has to need his support pretty badly before they can even start coming together.

In both (especially in the earlier Mercy Thompson books--MOON CALLED, BLOOD BOUND, and IRON KISSED) the romance is very much a subplot.

In PALLADIN OF SOULS, it's more a question of opportunity. Events keep the two apart until the end. He's out of commission early in the story and then they simply don't have time to explore anything until the crisis is over.

ETA: One I didn't mention above is Lois McMaster Bujold's SHARDS OF HONOR, because the romance is much more a central part of the plot in that one. In that case, it's their different worlds that initially keeps them apart. Literally, since it's science fiction. Cordelia doesn't think she can stand to live on relatively primitive Barrayar and, because of a recent war, Aral wouldn't be able to live on Beta Colony.

There are all kinds of conflicts and barriers. Some of them can very effectively be shown from one side.

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited October 22, 2011).]


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LDWriter2
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Without reading every comment so I might be repeating something but there are romanical spec stories, in fact there is one writer who seems to write just that. Especially if you look at the covers. The SF parts of the story are great. So a fusion of SF and romance works and these days it seems like there are a ton of paranormal romances and a few romance Urban Fantasy fusions. I've written a romanical epic type fantasy come to think of it.


In other words go for it. Maybe even try Romance-steampunk.

Oops, it's been done. In fact there's an anthology of those types of stories, come to think of it.

Oh I forgot Writer Digest magazine has a shop that sells tons of writing books, you might be able to find one on spec-romance. They do have one on regular romance. Try the Writer's Digest University too. Sorry, I don't have links to those. So far I have just read about them never bought anything or attended an online class or webinar.


As to romanical... hey, I'm a writer I can make up words.


[This message has been edited by LDWriter2 (edited October 22, 2011).]


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redux
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Love supposedly has 3 phases: lust (blame it on the hormones), attraction (getting to know you phase), attachment (can't live without you). So your POV should probably experience all three.

Like Kathleen mentioned, use body language. They are great cues to illustrate interest (or lack thereof).

Depending on whether you are using male or female POV Google either "signs he's interested" or "signs she's interested." It will definitely give you ideas to create situations to build the romance.

Finally, I think it all comes down to your main character's personality.

If they are exceedingly introverted they might not pick up on romantic cues. If he/she is an awkward person, their romantic overtures might be clumsy and embarrassing. If they are arrogant, they might come on too strong at first and later regret scaring their love interest away. If they are conceited perhaps they mistakenly interpret signs of friendliness for romantic interest.

So long as your character's motivations and reasons for being interested in the romantic lead are believable, the romance in turn will be believable. Even if a couple is not a good match, there are still reasons why they got together in the first place. Don't let your readers hanging wondering why.

[This message has been edited by redux (edited October 23, 2011).]


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MAP
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Everyone has given great advice. I'd just like to add go watch Tangled. Then watch it again, then again. Maybe even map out it's story arc.

IMO, that movie has the perfect romantic story arc. Plus the horse is hillarious.


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johnbrown
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The best book I've read on writing romance is ON WRITING ROMANCE: HOW TO CRAFT A NOVEL THAT SELLS by Leigh Michaels who is the author of more than eighty romance novels. With more than 30 million of her romance novels sold.

Get that book and she'll guide you through a study of the type of romance you want to write. After going through that while reading 10 of the types of love stories you want to write, you'll have a great idea of how to operate.


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johnbrown
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quote:
This is done to create conflict as we can see where characters misinterpret motives, etc. Having read something in one character's head, we know that the other character's interpretation of it is incorrect. Eventually the two come into harmony and we can cheer them on.

But how do you create that sort of conflict when you only have 1 viewpoint character?



If that's the main type of conflict you have I think it will wear thin very fast. Story problems that could be solved if two people just took two minutes to talk often end up annoying the reader. HUNGER GAMES is all from Katniss' point of view and there is a huge love element to that story.

Read Michael's book. Answer the questions she assigns for the 10 books you select in your romance genre.

[This message has been edited by johnbrown (edited October 23, 2011).]


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Unwritten
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In most romantic subplots told from only one point of view, the reader picks up on the feelings of the love interest before the pov character does. This is a tricky tightrope to walk--the book I just finished last night had me rolling my eyes at the heroine's stupidity. I probably wouldn't have even finished it if I hadn't been on a bus with nothing else to read. Too many misunderstandings that the audience gets and the characters don't makes me think they are too foolish to deserve a happy ending.

I suppose the answer to this is in the conflict--force them to mistrust each other, to stay apart for long periods of time (especially if one of them is with a character the other one is jealous of), have one of them in a position of authority that they don't want to misuse, have their goals be so different that they can't see a future with each other, have one of them have a secret from the other. I'm sure there are lots of other romantic conflict builders, but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

[This message has been edited by Unwritten (edited October 23, 2011).]


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MattLeo
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The alternating POV thing is just a device, and it's hardly necessary. If it were, it would be impossible to write a romantic plotline in first person narration.

Now I think the alternating viewpoint device might be common in category romances. A PNR author friend of mine tells me that some authors head hop within a love scene, although she herself hates that and sticks to a single POV throughout an entire book. But the rules for such genres are specialized. Category romance readers are looking for a particular experience, and come to a story primed to have it. You don't want to head hop, and you certainly don't need to alternating viewpoints. Anytime you start thinking you have to, just remind yourself that it's a convention certain genres that doesn't apply to you.

All you need for a romantic subplot is frustrated desire. Period. Again I refer you to *Prisoner of Zenda*, one of the most romantic adventure books ever written, which is told entirely in the first person. Mr. Rassendyl desires Princess Flavia, but can't have her because he's posing as the kidnapped King Rudolph, whom he looks exactly like. No second viewpoint is needed here, just the frustrated desire. Flavia has fallen in love with Rassendyl, believing him to be the king. Rassendyl loves her too, creating the temptation of taking the king's place permanently. He'd be betraying his friends and condemning the not-very-admirable king to death, but Rassendyl would get to marry Flavia in the king's place.

The Flavia subplot interlocks with the main kidnapping plot, generating dilemmas for Rassendyl, that show his nobility. Romantic subplots often perform this function: complicate the main plot and shed light on the protagonist's character.

I suppose you can also display a growing romance without necessarily having it be an important subplot. In that case you won't be expending much word count on it. It'd be almost like backstory, except it happens in the timeframe of the story. You aren't immersing the reader in the romantic experience; it's just a detail in the other experiences you guide him through.

Again, if you get stuck on what you "have to" do in order to generate romance, don't think of it as "romance"; think of it as just another conflict. If you try to generate romance according to some perceived literary template, it's not going to be very fresh or believable.

Here's a thought experiment. Take the romantic conflict you're imagining, but substitute something non-romantic for it. Instead of Alice and Carol fighting to be selected by Bob as mate, let's say they're fighting to be selected for a job or a promotion. How would you work that conflict out? Chances are most of the complications you come up with probably could be used in a romance plot too.

You can do the same experiment with self vs. self romantic conflict. Let's say Alice has been invited to lead the crew of a generation ship that will take her away from the ruined, polluted Earth. This will take her away from Bob, who has something she wants very badly. It could be his love, or it could be the directorship of the Institute for Ecological Repair. If she wants that directorship badly enough, it's not so different from wanting him badly.

The main differences between romantic desires and other desires are the unique stakes in a romantic conflict. To lose in love is to suffer (what appears to be) an irreparable wound.

For further discussion, see my earlier post in this forum about romance supblots: http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum1/HTML/006976.html

[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited October 23, 2011).]


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KayTi
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Inner dialogue is how to accomplish romance subplots with single points of view. Inner dialogue is how to accomplish LOADS of things from single points of view. If you don't know this already, girls/women are rarely sure of their feelings about someone else at first, and can agonize over the smallest details of the way someone said hello, their body language, the glint in their eye, etc. A male POV might not go into such detail, but might still say one thing and in his head say the rest of the unsaid statement, or say the unspoken meaning, or say something else entirely that contradicts what he said out loud. Ditto for actions.

I don't think it's been mentioned before but there's a great professional association called Romance Writers of America. In some writing circles they're considered the best of the best because they turn out SO MANY books and the romance genre is the biggest (I think...) Their fans are rabid, they write fast, and there are loads of them.

Good luck in your quest! As a female reader, I'll admit that the romantic subplots are a bit part of most of my favorite stories...


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shimiqua
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I think a good romance is more than he's so hot, kissy kissy. When a romance really works for me, I've noticed it's because the two characters are forming a belonging together. Kind of like they are forming a family, or like a home. Then it doesn't feel right for them to not be together.

One of the strongest human needs is a sense of belonging. Don't hesitate to use that in writing good fiction.

~Sheena


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johnbrown
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quote:
If you don't know this already, girls/women are rarely sure of their feelings about someone else at first, and can agonize over the smallest details of the way someone said hello, their body language, the glint in their eye, etc.
Interesting.
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