Thursday, February 21, 2019

From the Writing Cave: Observations About Genre Limitations


Personal observation for the week...

What is the most liberating part of switching from the romance genre to other types of fiction?

(At the moment, I'm working on horror, paranormal fiction, and YA fiction).

Creating truly flawed characters, not heroes.

If you ask a reader or author of romance what is the most important rule--unbreakable, sacred--they will most likely answer...

HAPPY ENDINGS!

As a writer of romance, I never found the happy ending to be a limitation. I generally gravitate to what I like to call "optimistic fiction" whether it's romance or not.

The insistence of a happy ending puts limits on plot.

But to be honest, my struggles with the romance genre had to do with CHARACTER not PLOT.

When the characters are defined as "HERO" and "HEROINE" there are expectations that squeeze them into a box.

When you try to break out of that box--Tom in APPLES SHOULD BE RED is 62, a chain-smoker, borderline alcoholic, coarse with language and manners, rude, judgmental--there might be push-back.

I discovered something important with that book.

There is a difference between...

1. CHARACTER WITH HEROIC QUALITIES

2. HERO

That's not to say that all heroes in romance are the same. Sure, plenty of them have gorgeous physiques, but there are others with flaws who are less than perfect. Likewise, not all romance heroes are good guys, but all of them have a character arc that shows growth and courage over the course of the book.

I have seen readers complain that heroes/heroines in romance were not "likable." If you are not rooting for the H/h to get together and have a happy ending, a romance fails.

What happens when you get to write a "character" instead of a "hero?" 

You gain the freedom to create a real person who may be extremely unlikable. Likability is not a prerequisite for all fiction, as we know.

I'm working on a horror novel right now.

Not gonna lie. The freedom to create a truly flawed character--with darkness, jealousy, cruelty--is absolutely delicious. 

Of course, "real" characters may also exhibit heroic elements and some sort of growth arc over the course of the novel.

But knocking the character off that romance pedestal is a freakin' breath of fresh air.

This isn't meant as a criticism of the romance hero. In fact, I have issues with "dark" romance where the "hero" is someone who kidnaps, tortures, and rapes the "heroine." IMO, not heroic behavior.

I also have issues with cheating in romance. I don't want my romance hero to cheat on his partner. But I'm totally fine with that in a mystery, thriller, lit fiction. 

My point is that creatively speaking, the ability to create a character vs. a hero opens up a whole new world for a writer.

It's fun.

And creepy (horror novel!)...

And not knowing if the character has good/heroic qualities until the bitter end adds a nice element of suspense that we don't get to play with in the romance genre.

So...yeah. I'm enjoying this.

For a sneak peek of LITTLE SHADOW MAN, here's a snippet I posted.

Writer Friends: What is your opinion about this? Do you enjoy creating heroes and that corresponding character arc? Do you like creating unlikable characters with or without redemption?

What's the most fun, challenging, interesting approach for you as a writer?

Let's chat!

All my best,

Nina/Penny 

2 comments:

Sara Preston said...

That's probably why my romance novels don't sell that well. They all have happy endings, but real characters. I have characters with heavy mental health issues. Characters with flaws and characters that don't always make the best choices. But I love my characters, even though they're not always completely likeable.

Penny Watson said...

Hi Sara! I applaud your willingness to push the envelope with your characters. I personally love romance with "real" people.