Sunday, December 18, 2005

What this boy wants from a romance novel

For a change, I thought I'd post something for Smart Bitches Day which really concerns romance as a genre. To wit: how can you romance writers get more guys to read your stuff? I'm not a typical guy, so please imagine that my every comment is prefaced with, "For what it's worth . . . " I despise team sports, I dislike gory violence in movies (unless it's so far over the top that it's unmistakably fake), and I have no desire to hang out with other guys. I don't drink beer, get drunk, or smoke cigars. I really do like long walks on the beach, but that's because I love finding bits of washed-up skeletons and gooey dead things. So. For what it's worth: If I'm going to read a romance, I want it to be about romance. If I want a crime novel, I'll read a crime novel. If I want something historically accurate, I'll read Jane Austen. Give me a contemporary woman I can root for and I'm yours. Stephen, you're excepted from this because your book has a monster and that's cool. And Lilith, don't get mad at me. Nothing wrong with paranormals, but I'd rather be reading the written equivalent of Sex and the City. Next: the protagonists had better be likable, smart, and funny as hell. They should be people I would want to hang out with. Their witty dialog should be a joy to behold, and the world should sparkle because they're alive. Think Martin Blank and Debi Newberry in Grosse Point Blank, or Nina and Jamie in Truly Madly Deeply. Note that humor serves two roles: it is entertaining all by itself (and if you're not trying to entertain, what the hell are you trying to do?) and it makes us care for the characters. They've made us laugh, and so they become our friends. We want to see good things happen to them. If you're going to play the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl game, the 'loses' part had better not involve some stupid misunderstanding. Smart people don't have stupid misunderstandings. Never never never. Maybe they do in real life, but I don't want to read about a stupid misunderstanding, okay? Paragraph number eight, and I haven't said a single thing about sex. Why? Because it isn't necessary. Think about it. Grosse Point Blank? Airplane on the bed, sexual tension, no actual sex. Truly Madly Deeply? Rickman's dead, for heaven's sake. Ew. Sex and the City had no graphic sex, yet it titillated our prurient cravings and topped out our outrageous-o-meters. How? With language. If those writers can do it, you can do it, too. It's not that I have anything against graphic sex; it's just that so few people do it well. Also, as any student of Cheers will tell you, sex dissipates all tension between your male and female protags. True, Sex and the City is a good counter-example. Their writers created tension in the issue of relationship survival. (Do any of you remember McCall's magazine's regular column, Can This Marriage Be Saved?) If you're going to remove the sexual tension element, you had better replace it with something else. If you're going to include graphic sex, please, please don't get goofy about it. Sex is not an expression of love. Sex is an expression of lust. Some time ago, I wrote a post about what guys think about during sex. Damn it, I can't find it now, but here's the bottom line: what we think about isn't interesting. Lots of "One Mississippi, Two Mississippi," if you must know. So, hot tip: keep it in the gal's POV. Women may have the same problem as men, but I don't know that, so you can write whatever you like from the gal's POV and I won't know if you're bullshitting me. My wife might, but that's off topic. One last point: the HEA (happily ever after -- just wanted to let you know I'm not completely ignorant)? I'm not that hooked on it, or at least, I'd like to see a few liberties taken. Maybe they end up happily ever after with other people. Maybe they drift apart and realize they're not right for one another. Maybe I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, but it seems to me that some degree of unpredictability in the ending is a good thing. There. I've done it. A genuine Smart Bitches post, and no spiders. D.

11 Comments:

Blogger mm said...

Doug, I agree completely. Sexual tension and implied sex is SO much hotter than described sex.

12/19/2005 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

What mm said. Absolutely. I don't need it spelled out; my imagination works just fine.

12/19/2005 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger Pat Kirby said...

But I like spiders...

Many dittos, herein. Especially on the sex part. Grumbled about this on my blog. One of the worst romances I [attempted to] read was one of S. Kenyon's--Night Embrace I think. Hero and heroine were going at it like crazed weasels by page ten. Totally obliterated any sexual tension. The heroine's repeated use of the word "humungous" and description of hero's legs as "like tree trunks" was also a tad off-putting. Dreadful, unsexy, book.

Humor: Mahvelous (necessary) so long as it's adult humor. Another peeve of mine; humor that is so infantile it would make a ten-year old kid barf.

Brain: Give the heroine one. Make it functioning and not just stuffing between her ears.

Two cents from a woman who likes romance, but who can't find a good romance novel.

12/19/2005 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Gal said...

Persnickety here but Martin and Debi do get it on in the nurse's office.

You might like Patricia Gaffney. We call 'em potato chip books. A waste of calories and not good for ya but ya can't eat just one.

Douglas, my darling, you are hereby elected an honorary woman. Can't do better than that. xoxo

12/19/2005 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Gal said...

Oh, and don't forget Possession by AS Byatt for your high trash. Chapter 15 is the most romantic thing I've ever read.

12/19/2005 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Dammit, blue gal, don't go shooting down my theories.

On the other hand, soon after that scene, Martin kills the Russian hit man, Debi finds him with the dead body, and you have a truly original version of "boy loses girl."

My favorite quote from Debi: "Where are all the good men dead, in the heart, or in the head?"

12/19/2005 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger Kate R said...

But I miss the spiders.

12/19/2005 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger Bare Rump said...

Pat, Kate, you are such dears. I've been a bad girl, not blogging, but Hollywood has been too much fun. For the two of you, and my other fans, I promise a post before the year is over.

12/19/2005 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger Anduin said...

Oh Doug, you've written what I've been thinking about romance novels for the longest time. People just don't know how to write these things well. I like J.D. Robb's (a.k.a.Nora Roberts) crime novels but she tends to put too much sex in it and that just gets in the way. She has the rest of it down pretty well though. The thing I hate is that I usually read on my lunch hour at work and I don't NEED to be reading about erotic sex. Just don't need it. I prefer the same from movies. Hint at it, but I don't need to see it. Good post Doug and thanks for saying what needed to be said. I hope someone takes it to heart.

12/19/2005 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

A. No, you can't mess around with the HEA and give them other people. No. NO NO NO. Sorry, but that's just a big fat NO and if that's what you want, you gotta go find another genre.

Secondly, hot nookie scenes are fabu. Sadly, few do it well. Even more sadly, those who can't write good nookie ALSO can't write good nookie-less sexual tension.

3. I hated Sex and the City. Which apparently makes me even more weird than previously believed.

Furthermore, YAY a real live SBD from Doug, wooooo omigod i am so tired

12/19/2005 08:45:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

I just realized, I did include an HEA in The Brakan Correspondent. Jona & Maureen know what I'm talking about.

You're right, Beth. If Argh had ended up with his whore of a wife, and Bare Rump with some random male spider, it would have been such a let-down.

Thanks for your comments, everyone!

12/19/2005 08:53:00 PM  

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