Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What Do Readers Desire? Are Genre Rules Breakable?

Romance novels are written under specific guidelines. They are designed with several expectations for a specific audience. Readers expect a romance to adhere to the genre, but I wonder when breaking the mold is okay.

I write for myself because I want to be happy with what I write (maybe that's my first mistake). But I know I must please an audience, namely, people like my mom. She'll read a romance novel a week. She wants a story that's easy to get in to, isn't too complicated plotwise, is full of steamy scenes and promises a good story. She doesn't care much for details or writerly-ness or getting caught up in the heads of the characters. She likes the bad guys to be bad, the good guys to be sexy and the women to end up with them.

To reach Mom and other readers like her, romance writers are expected to adhere to certain expectations:

The boy and girl must meet ASAP.
They can't be married/attached to someone else. Read: no infidelity.
They must spend most of the book together.
Heavy themes, like suicide, are better left out.
The women must be overwhelmingly strong.
And, a Happily Ever After ending is imperative.

I didn't necessarily write such a book my first time out. I wrote something more akin to Historical Fan Fiction with a Strong Romantic Element, if there is such a genre. I wrote a book with fewer fairy-tale qualities than "ever after." Swashbuckling, yes. Pumpkin carriages, not so much. I want men to read my book. Definitely. The sex is not gratuitous but a crucial part of the storyline. I'm told my rule-breaking will make selling my story more difficult. Will it?

I'm wondering from you readers: when is it okay to veer from the norm? Writers, do you break the rules and cross your fingers that your direction will appeal to an audience? 


kittyb78 said...

I do it when it's right for the story's plot line. In my current novel {WIP} the female MC doesn't meet the love interest until she moves to live with her uncle. first four chapters are setting up that meeting while introducing the readers to the two main characters.

I'm part of three online crit groups and do a quick recap every new post. No complaints about it yet.

Sierra said...

Not a romance writer, but the genre rules apply to all, so I don't think so much I'm excluded from participating in this discussion.

As for myself, I've been writing for a very long time, since before I even knew what a genre was; so it's natural for me to overlook "genre rules." Since opening my eyes to their existence, I still kinda hold them at arm's-length. I have never heard anyone question my genre (but some have questioned my audience).

I guess it depends on who you write for. Yourself? Or others? Your heart? Or your publisher?

d~ said...

I suspect that if everyone followed rules all our historical fiction would read like A Tale Of Two Cities, our romances would all model Jane Austen's work along with many other examples.

As a reader, I quite enjoy deviations from arbitrary rules. Many successes have come from this. I expect this might be why some authors have pen names for different types of story telling - one name used to write within a specific formula/set of rules and another to distinguish another model or a deviation from the rules.

This would serve to prevent alienating those readers who prefer the genre rules while writing for themselves, or a different audience. This isn't all that different from actors 'doing one for the studio and one for art'.

I like a challenge when I read. I find formulas boring...having said that, it doesn't stop me from slipping a 'genre rules' romance in between the rule breakers :)

Brenda said...

I'm romance reader and writer. I get tired of the same old plot lines. I break the rules when it fits the story I'm writing.

heather said...

I'm all for an author changing things up and some readers aren't going to be happy with but it's just the way things are. I have some favorite authors that all write differently. There's one author that her books are 'fall on the floor, dying from laughing to hard' funny and thats what I rely on when I read her books. Other than that, I pretty much want a romance, strong willed characters that meet and don't care for each other and always fighting but still have a fire between them. Of course that isn't a must but it is my favorite :) Great post and question!

Jennifer Fulford, Novelist said...

Thanks for all the great feedback. Nice to know there's room for wiggling. =)