Lessons Learned from Romance Novels

I’m 30 pages into a romance novel. I get that’s not a lot. By the time I was that far into Game of Thrones, I was terrified of the things Viserys was doing to his sister and had to put the book down for many months. That’s a romance novel, right? Brothers and sisters pounding each other relentlessly. George just has a strange idea of romance.

But that’s not the point. Only 30 pages into this novel, I get it. I understand. I see the allure of romance novels. The heavy adjectives hanging upon words shamelessly, naked, heaving in front of the reader’s face, unabashed. In so many other forms this is frowned upon, yet how do you describe a nipple without such descriptors? I’ve actually never read such a detailed description of a nipple in my life. The rest of her? I’ve caught she has shoulder length brown hair, brown eyes, and curves. That’s all the description she got. Aside from her large nipples. Who describes like that? I’m getting away from point.

So much media is based on a male’s perspective. Women are spoken about in detail, every part of her flesh, soft or taught, every ringlet of golden hair, every furtive glance, several fertile glances. In most novels, you know exactly how the woman looks. That doesn’t happen in romance. It’s a thing, standing there, in sexy lingerie, and little description. If a man wrote this, we’d know if she had an innie or outtie.

The man, on the other hand, is very well described. I know about his pecs you could bounce a nickel off, that stomach you could wash clothes on, the v that goes down to…. I’m not even telling you what she said about that area past it. Because she hasn’t yet. But this man I have a very clear visual of him. It’s like Maxim, but for literate people and women.

Finally, there is a very different type of tension than what most other genres introduce. In most writing, sexual tension is trite. “She was in his bed naked and he mounted her like a bucking bronco, but she liked it.” I mean, that would be it. We’d be done. That would be the sentence after he opened the door. In a romance novel? No. It’s like a horror flick, but instead of your heart racing because your scared, it’s racing because inappropriate things are stirring. It’s no longer, “Is she going to get impaled by a spear?!” It becomes, “Is she going to get impaled on his spear!?” It seems the same, but wow is it different. And you’re gripped by this, sometimes in a similar fashion the two characters are gripped, and thinking, “What will happen next?” It’s basically crotch suspense. It’s the weirdest thing. I suppose it’s not with how it’s the largest selling genre, but compared to anything else I’ve read, it’s very strange. It’s like Edgar Allen Poe, but fun and in the bedroom. Much less blood, too.

Ultimately I learned a few things from the novel already:

1) Romance novels are most certainly woman porn. But it’s so well written and they can view it in public without getting arrested.

2) Romance novels are similar to men magazines in the sense it creates unrealistic expectations of the opposite sex. We can’t all be that sensitive. Oh, and the rock hard, hairless body.

3) Descriptors can be good. In romance novels. To be honest, I found the heavy use of adverbs and adjectives silly, but for the genre it works. I get why we’re told to stay away.

4) Suspense doesn’t have to end with someone dead. It really does read like a horror-suspense novel, but with a different end game. If they can do that with sex, what genres are missing out on this? How do I use that in my fantasy? I have to be honest, I read a lot of fantasy that is not half as gripping as finding out of Mitch and Kate were going to sleep together.

5) You can learn from anywhere. I truly am learning a lot, not just for my romance novel, but for my writing overall. I previously mocked the romance genre, felt myself above it, but wrongfully so. From an artistic view point (I heard there are only two naughty scenes, so truly I’m doing this from an artist’s perspective), there is a lot of good material to learn from here. From what I’ve heard, two is a very low number. I’m not sure what average is. I mean, is there a page count that goes with it? Do romance authors get told, “Every approximately forty pages you should be getting the reader wet”? That thought creeps me out a touch.

What have you learned from that you didn’t expect? What techniques did you reach outside of your genre for, maybe even outside the medium. And not, “I’m a fantasy writer that learned from the Lord of the Rings movies.” Of course we did. Peter Jackson is a visionary. But truly let us know where you learned that you never expected to learn. It’s a beautiful world out there. We have a lot we can learn from. It’s amazing when we do learn.

The novel I’m reading is Texas Blaze. It was suggested to me by my friend, and previous editor-in-chief at the school newspaper, and my Tough Mudder partner tomorrow, Gina. Check out her blog. Pretty rock star. Her shot gun start novel is fairly amazing.

5 Comments on “Lessons Learned from Romance Novels

  1. I liked your comment on how romance novels turn the gaze from men’s-gaze-on-woman to woman’s-gaze-on-man. I’ve never really thought of it that way before.

    • It was really surreal. I was trying to get a clear image of Kate, and realized that the author’s ultimately leaving that up to me. As my friend pointed out, and I guessed at, it’s so the reader, usually woman, can insert herself in the novel.

  2. I giggled a few times at this post, I must say. Beware of romance novels though… most of them range from fairly decent to horribly ugh, in purely literary terms. A well written romance novel will follow the guidelines for ‘kill the adverbs’ and still be romantic. If you want real, well written romance, read Anne Rice.

    • I couldn’t get into Anne Rice. Had a friend who was a huge fan and I was able to read a good chunk of her writing, but it just didn’t do anything for me. Glad you giggled.

      • I guess you have to like the rest of her genre to get to the romance. 😛 If you read her purely for style and not content though, she is a great example of one who is excellent at the craft of writing.

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