Michille: 11 Things Every Romance Writer (Doesn’t) Need

Young woman writing at a portable writing desk

Ideas disappear if you don’t capture them. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

As readers may have noticed, there is a particular blog that I really like (which I’m not naming here because I am going to bash a recent post). So I was extremely disappointed when said blog recently had a post about 10 Things Every Romance Writer Needs. At least one of the blog owners is a romance writer. Apparently the writer of this post is not. At least I would find it hard to believe if he is because the content of the post bordered on insulting to the writers of the genre that essentially pays the bills for the whole fiction market. It is a well-known phenomenon, this casual dismissal of the romance genre, and one that prompted the creation of the International Society for the Study of Popular Romance, the partnership of the Romance Sociologists, and was recently explored by Laura Kahn in her documentary Love Between The Covers.

Not all of the 10 things were insulting. Some of the ‘things’ apply to all fiction writing like surrounding yourself with good books to help keep your head in the good-fiction game, to spend some time reading like a writer, and to take encouragement from the success of a well-written book. Some of them apply to all fiction writing, but used cutesy sexy titles like “Quickies,” which is essentially advice to keep your eyes open and a notebook handy so you can jot down the ideas that come to you at unexpected times. The “Shoulder to cry on” thing emphasizes the importance of community – find a fellow writer or a good friend you can bounce ideas off or lament to when your writing stalls, someone to believe in us, encourage us – a good thing for all writers, not specific to romance, but would you suggest that CJ Box find a shoulder to cry on?

Then there are the ridiculous, like:

“Cheese and Wine” – Don’t try to write without some . . . cheesy, mushy music.
“Secret crush” – Nothing keeps us in the romantic mood like a little celebrity crush.
“Something sensuous” – Spray your favorite perfume on your wrists.

Going by this, all I need is Air Supply on the radio, a Tiger Beat worthy pic of Benedict Cumberbatch on my bulletin board, and a sprig of lavender in order to write in my “iridescent, happy bubble of handsome heroes and happily-ever-after.” Phew! I am so glad I know have the secrets to writing a best seller.

Here is one of my favorite insults:

“Stock phrases. Keep a list of stock phrases pinned up at your writing desk. ‘There was a maddening arrogance about the man’, ‘His tongue sent shivers of desire racing through her.’ Not great writing, but they’ll help you when you’re stuck.”

I have several things to say about stock phrases. I write romance and I don’t like them. I try not to use them. He even says it’s not great writing, so why assume that romance writers are the only writers who might pull one of these out. I get annoyed when a romance writer uses the phrase that goes something like this: “she titled her head to give him greater access.” I sigh in relief when an author appears to be leading up to that stock phrase and concludes with something other than “greater access.” Brad Meltzer reuses a line about addiction – I’m not obsessed/addicted. I can stop any not, just not today – or something like that. Dan Brown’s characters always address crowds with “My friends,” Rudyard Kipling often used “O best beloved,” and Terry Pratchett usually has someone mispronounce a name or lie and excuse it with “but that was a metaphor.”

That said, I love it when characters have stock phrases. Tony in ‘Bet Me’ said “piece of cake” as his stock phrase and it played into the plot nicely. Phillip Quinn in Nora Roberts Quinn Brothers series always offered to run away to Bellini/Costa Rica/Aruba and drink mai tais/bake cream puffs/eat pate with the closest female, whether she was 21 or 81, when the going got tough. Stock phrases can work well without one sword or sheath in the entire manuscript.

How about this one:

“Sense of humor. Writing romance novels requires as much work as any other novel, but never forget that you’re dealing with fantasy and fairy tales and Ferraris into the sunset.”

Really? He obviously has never read Linda Howard’s Death Angel (male protag is a hit man) or Anne Stuart’s Ice Series (or almost anything by AS, but this series is filled with agents and mafias from several countries). But let’s make sure all romance writers keep their tongues in the respective cheeks because we can’t possibly be serious about the happy ending. Oh and “keep the levity” because the multiple scalpings and cutting the beating heart out of the heroine’s father in the screen play for the re-worked Last of the Mohicans is a laugh riot.

Lastly, he said a romance writer needs thick skin. Given this kind of critique of the genre, a thick skin is essential.

He had 10 things. I am adding an eleventh thing that a romance writer doesn’t need – insulting critics who don’t get the genre and have probably never read a romance, except maybe that god-awful recent blockbuster that had no plot and an extremely annoying inner goddess. Because, you know, all romances are like 50 Shades, all paranormals are like Twilight, and all literary fiction is worth reading.

I’m off to paste a bunch of stock phrases onto my pinup of Benedict Cumberbatch. See you on the Best Sellers list.

9 thoughts on “Michille: 11 Things Every Romance Writer (Doesn’t) Need

  1. That kind of trash talk is so aggravating. You see a post like that and you know the person hasn’t read a romance novel in 20 years, if ever. And yet they feel free to denigrate the genre and its writers in ways they wouldn’t dream of describing, say, mysteries or thrillers. Or any other genre. Furthermore, romance writers are the hardest working authors in the biz, their contracts often requiring three or four books a year, when mystery authors need to write only one. So those critics of romance writers and their work should just shut up and listen.

    • Exactly, Kay. I gave my sister and two of my cousins romance novels for Christmas last year because I was tired of them bashing the genre. For example, Jeanne’s The Demon Always Wins went to my sister. She’s a media specialist and a literary snob so I thought she would appreciate all the classic literature sprinkled throughout Jeanne’s book. I gave my cousins equally appropriate-to-their-interests books and they all loved them. There is crap written in every genre. Choose wisely and don’t judge if you have never read it.

  2. Oooh, somebody should have stopped the writer of that article.

    Although, I fondly remember the time I was crushing on celebrity neurolinguist Steven Pinker, and had half a romance all written up between a Steven-based character and a PR agent. I wonder what happened to that thing? It was written on note paper . . . no, not pink perfumed note paper. A crappy spiral notebook without a cover note paper.

    I wonder what kind of perfume goes with that sort of writing?

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