Monday, July 09, 2007

An Annunciation


A Young Girl Reading,
Jean-Honore Fragonard,
c. 1776,
National Gallery.


I came to the conclusion some time ago I wasn't an Erotica writer.

Now I wonder on occasion if what I write really falls into the Romance category.

Since at times I can be more than a little dim, it has naturally taken me a while to come to this tentative - and rather disappointing - conclusion, a conclusion based on both style and focus.

Simply put, my style is not sensual enough, not sufficiently touchie-feelie, I do not focus on the physical detail and description in a manner that satisfies the romance reader.

Simply put, the average romance reader likes to be told.

In detail.

Of every sensation, of every breath, of every emotion and reaction.

They like to read how his rough hands trace the silken skin of her delicate cheekbones while her emerald eyes widen in innocent confusion, of how the slide of her sensitive instep over his muscled hairy thigh sends shivers of anticipation to her (or his) innermost being.

And if two-thirds of the narrative is not devoted to description of the hero/ine's reactions to and thoughts about each other, you let your readers down, disappoint them big time.

In a basic Romance, the relationship - the ...duh...romance - between the main characters is the primary plot, the absolute focus.

The serial killer, the international criminals, the machinations of her evil friend/boss/family are entirely secondary and subordinant, Not concurrent to the main story, no equal time. Filler, in effect.

Now that I have finally understood facts that have no doubt been obvious to everyone else, the structure of my novels will no doubt improve.

38 comments:

takoda said...

Bernita, You underestimate yourself. I think you see detail that most of us overlook.

I've been busy with final edits to my ms, so I've missed your blog for a few days. It's so nice to be back.
Would you be able to post a Bruegel painting (Pieter the elder) sometime? Maybe it will create good vibes for me, in some realm......

Cheers,

writtenwyrdd said...

Bernita, don't put yourself into a category box. So what if you don't count his nostril hairs for the reader as she kisses him? Romantic elements in a novel are always good; and often the better for not having every damned detail spelled out.

Just write what you write. It'll sell itself.

Bernita said...

It's more a question of finding fit, Takoda.
Congratulations on finishing the final tweaks.
I usually choose pictures based on some connection with the post - however vague and remote.
BTW, some of Bruegel reminds me of conventions and their attendees...

I didn't intend the post to sound like a whine, Written, just a mea culpa - and just sharing a eureka! that applies to many genres to keep in mind the reader's expectations. A mystery reader might be annoyed if most of the story involves a romance rather than murder deduction, for example.
But, thank you for the encouragement.

writtenwyrdd said...

Hey, I didn't take it as a whine at all. But you sounded disappointed at the thought that you wrote Romance. I'm just saying, it doesn't matter. Overall, isn't most of what you write either paranormal/fantasy or literary? I say literary because you have a very literary style of writing.

Amy Lavender Harris said...

Heh. I loathe romances of all kinds, but I've read erotic scenes that were powerful precisely because nearly all the descriptive details were left out. Similarly, I've enjoyed novels in which strong characters loved one another, but because their love was strong and principled, not desperate and visceral.

In general, I think there's much more to a novel, as there is to life, than the protagonists falling in love with one another. It doesn't mean it can't/shouldn't happen, but why would anybody organize their reading/living around such an event?

In terms of characterizations, I (personally) like to see independent, thoughtful, principled protagonists. Such people do not swoon at the drop of a hat/drawers. If such characters fall in love, their solidarity should be consistent with their attributes, and accordingly would not be dominated by visceral swooning or motivated by rescue missions.

I'm having trouble coming up with good examples at the moment. But I like Tanya Huff's Toronto-set vampire/detective series, Blood Price/Pact/Lines/Trail/Debt. It's not a genre I read very much, and Huff isn't a perfect writer, but her characters are strong. And where they develop romances (because there is a romance quality to the novels), those romances are consistent with their qualities as people: strong, principled, even pig-headed. Pretty good stuff.

Bernita said...

Literary? Literary? - Written, you wound me. Deeply.
I like plot too much to be considered "literary" - I hope.
On the other hand, I agree I do seem more comfortable with the fantasy element.

I have nothing against pants dropping romances, Amy, from any aesthetic - I just realized I don't write them.
It's more a question of proportion in structure.
Have read one of Huff's. Think it was the underlying humour of her writing that makes me want to read more.

spyscribbler said...

It wasn't until I let down a romance reader who expected my stuff to be romance, that I realized I didn't quite write romance. I don't like to dwell on things--I like to get on with the plot. I'm trying, though. (Well, not at the moment, but when I go back to the pseudonym's work, LOL.)

As far as erotic scenes are concerned, however, I'll go on forever and ever and ever.

Jaye Wells said...

"...it has naturally taken me a while to come to this tentative - and rather disappointing - conclusion"

With all due respect, one wonders why you would even consider the genre if this is the case.

Also, regarding subplots, in any novel, subplots should never just be filler. If done correctly, they're so tightly woven into the main plot that to remove them will bring down the house of cards. This stands for any genre.

writtenwyrdd said...

Literary in style is not a bad thing; it's the elegance of language use. Meant as a compliment, of course. Ever read Gene Wolfe? To me, he's SFF with literary style. Ursula K. LeGuin and many others, too, IMO... *ducking and running now*

Bernita said...

"--I like to get on with the plot"
That seems to be my tendency too, Natasha. And my failure was not realizing that romance IS the plot.

Obviously sheer ignorance plus a large dose of stupidity on my part, Jaye.
As you point out.

Bernita said...

Nice recovery, Written.
~ I'm still gonna get you...~

Kate Thornton said...

Bernita, maybe you're not writing romance, but the essential romance of writing certainly shines through your work.

Bernita said...

A charming and diplomatic comment, Kate!
Thank you.

December/Stacia said...

Congratulations on discovering where you "fit"! That's awesome.

Demon Hunter said...

Bernita,
Write what you love, and your audience will find you. I don't like run-of-the-mill stories; they're too formulaic.

Bernita said...

Thank you, December.
Not sure I have, really, more where I don't - the proportion-of-plot factor.
It's not that I can't write sizzling sex scenes or romantic interludes, it's that I form the suspense as equal to the "romance" when it must be subordinate.

Thank you, dear Demon.

raine said...

I came to the conclusion some time ago I wasn't an Erotica writer. Now I wonder on occasion if what I write really falls into the Romance category.

You sound disappointed, Bernita, lol.

Although I'm not a big fan of this kind of 'categorizing' in any case, I think even the fine lines between 'romance plus this element' and 'this genre with romantic elements' is very fragile anyway.
And many 'romance' writers are heavy on plot. Some of them become so focused on plot they often have to remind themselves there's a romance going on (cough, cough...).

But I've a feeling that, with your obvious skills, you could fit in anywhere you durn pleased.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Raine.
Re: "the fine line" is very true, yet many readers expect romantic suspense to be simply suspensful romance and may feel mis-led.
We are constantly driven into category boxes, aren't we?

Charles Gramlich said...

I tend to like detail, but it has to be selected detail, just the right details. Too much will make your eyes glaze over.

Jaye Wells said...

Bernita, I wasn't saying you're stupid. You just didn't sound like romance is what you want to be writing. And if you don't want to write it then why do it?

Steve G said...

All of the talk about ROMANCE, is fine for a romance writer. I wouldn't know what it was if it bit me. Don't pounce, It's not my enjoyment, but I know folks who love it. As Charles said, detail is good if not over used. Good discussion today.

JLB said...

I've had a few "aha" moments myself lately with regard to my work (and elsewhere it seems). While you might not have found yourself writing for the Erotica Shelf, walking by and flipping through the pages no doubt has helped your writing to grow - if anything by helping you learn what your writing is not. I like writtenwyrdd's suggestion to [j]ust write what you write.

James Goodman said...

Bernita, I can relate in that, I've never once considered anything I write to fall anywhere near the Romance category.

Don't sell yourself short by trying to angle your writing to fit a given mold. Just because it doesn't fit neatly into the traditional Romance style, doesn't mean that it wouldn't still appeal to a romance reader. When it comes time to send out the queries, I wouldn't bar Romance publishers from the list.

Would it surprise you to know that one of my stories (the most gory horror story I've written to date, in my opinion) was picked up by a romance publisher that delves into the dark side? There are romantic elements in the story, but it is by no means driven by intricately detailed physical romance.

Just some food for thought. Cross genre can find a home in many houses.

Bernita said...

I suppose all detail is selective, Charles, and the quantity varies according to style.

Jaye, I was just commenting on my retarded realization that what I write does not particularly fit the general romance conditions and why it does not.

Thank you, Steve.

Jade, that is so true. Even if one does not "fit" there is much to be learned by observing and understanding the various techniques/styles/emphasises in different genres and sub-genres.

Bernita said...

That is so cool, James! Congratulations!
And I never thought I wrote anything particularly fitting to the horror market, yet I may have just sold a story.
Wise advice.

Bhaswati said...

I had a chuckle reading your example of the romance between the hero and heroine. If that's something you don't include in your writing, we aren't missing much. ;)

Your writing has a richness and originality to it that would draw in any reader--irrespective of what genre/s they like to read.

Jon M said...

I don't think I could write about such things without blushing!

Bernita said...

But if the readers want/expect it, Bhaswati, the readers should get it.
You are always so kind. I shall hug that compliment to my heart.

Jon, if you don't blush when writing such stuff, you're not writing it right!

kmfrontain said...

Yeah, dumping one's writing into a category can be a bit difficult when you don't quite fall into any of them just right. I feel for you there, Bernita. I have mine listed as erotica because of content, not because I set out to be an erotica writer, but there's so much more to the stories. There's romance, adventure, a plot takes precedence over erotic elements, not quite an HEA. No sex in the first third of the novel... Heh heh heh.

There should be an erotica genre called "books with actual plot".

archer said...

Don't not do it just because it's commercial convention. You do that stuff better and more poetically than all those hacks.

Bernita said...

Bhaswati's terms of "richness and originality" more accurately apply to your writing, Karen.
Pity that "erotic fantasy" sounds like a redundancy because your stories also include lots of detail about strange and fascinating societies/worlds.

BTW, people, Karen has a book out to EXCELLENT reviews.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Archer!
But don't conventions develop because readers like certain tropes? And doesn't every genre have them? Desn't make the writers who follow them hacks, I don't think.

LadyBronco said...

Love the painting!

I personally wouldn't file my writing under romance either, but when the characters demand to be allowed their 'moment' - well, I do what they say. They know how they will react better than I.

Sid Leavitt said...

Hey, I want to know what happened with those rough hands and delicate cheekbones.

Bernita said...

Lady B,to my mind, almost every story is improved by a touch of romance. Even if it is only alluded to, I think it makes for more rounded characters.

Ah, Sid - I write suspense...

kmfrontain said...

Thank you, Bernita. :-) As always, a compliment from you is much appreciated.

M.E Ellis said...

I love your style of writing.

:o)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Michelle!