Friday, January 8, 2010

Rules and Conventions

I recently gave my sister a copy of my WIP, Rocky Mountain Howl (are ya’ll sick of me referring to this damn thing? Me too. Moving on…) and asked her to give me her thoughts. She doesn’t read a lot of paranormal romance, and I wanted a fresh eye.

Once she started reading it, she had two…well, not exactly complaints, but two things that surprised her, and not in a good way. She thought there were a lot of characters to keep up with, and she got frustrated because some things in the plot are only revealed and explained as the book unfolds.

I was taken aback. The number of characters in a book never bothered me if the book was well written and characters were clearly identified. And I like books that keep you guessing about what’s going on.

Then I thought about it. Paranormal romance is my favorite subgenre. You find large casts of characters in these books, maybe because a lot of titles belong to series. And paranormal romance often features mysteries or strange goings-on that aren’t fully explained right up front. My sister is used to reading romances that follow a certain set of conventions, and the books I read follow another.

I thought about this when PG Forte mentioned a reader who was convinced that the hero in one of PG’s books was the villain, and the villain the hero, based solely on the order in which the two were introduced in the book. I think maybe that’s taking convention a little too far.

Both these incidents got me to thinking about rules. Romance novels aren’t nearly as formulaic as they were just ten years ago. But authors know there are still certain – let’s call them conventions, instead of rules – that a lot of readers expect their romances to follow. Or at least editors think readers expect these conventions to be followed, and so unconventional books have a harder time getting published.

Now, my first instinct is to say “Boo! Conventions bad! Boundary-pushing romances good!” And I do feel that way. But…I’ll admit there are a few conventions I like, and I expect books to follow, and I tend to shy away from books that don’t.

I like alpha heroes. I like em big and powerful, and I don’t even care if the hero is an asshole for two thirds of the book as long as he’s redeemed at the end. I don’t like books where the heroine is stronger or tougher or richer or more powerful than the hero. I used to be ashamed to admit this, but I’ve decided – screw it, that’s my taste. I’m reading a romance novel, not setting government policy.

Another one: I can’t relate to promiscuous heroines. A colorful history, a life fully lived – that’s one thing. But a heroine who does casual hookups routinely – I’m probably not going to finish the book. I really want to read Loretta Chase’s Her Scandalous Ways and Eden Bradley’s A 21st Century Courtesan, but – hooker heroines. I mean, I just don’t know. Again, I’m kind of embarrassed about it, and I definitely think I should get out of my comfort zone, but….it’s so comfortable here!

Okay, your turn. What romance novel conventions do you find it hard to disregard, and which ones bug you? And if you’re a writer, which conventions do you yearn to smash?


PG Forte said...

I generally want to finesse all the rules-just to change things up a little! I think the HEA is the only one I consider mostly sacrosanct. Although I've been known to flirt with that one too. Oops.

I think you've hit on something, though, with readers of different genres having different expectations. When my brother--who doesn't read romance--read one of my books (a romantic suspense) he couldn't understand why I didn't just get the h/h together at the start ("since it was obvious you were going to at some point"). He thought the romance took away from the mystery!

Kelly Jamieson said...

I too like breaking the rules, sigh. It seems I like to blend genres. I have a book coming out later this year where the heroine starts off married to one man and ends up with another. What happens in between might be considered rule-breaking, too. And although my HEA is always there, sometimes it's more a HOPEFUL ever after ending.

Meg Benjamin said...

My broken "rule" is the alpha hero. As I've said elsewhere, in real life most of the alphas I've known were jerks. I'd rather have a hero with smarts and a sense of humor who wins through guile rather than brawn. Actually, the hero in "Your Scandalous Ways" is like that, and the courtesan heroine is very similar (and has very good reasons for doing what she does). Try it, Kinsey--I bet you'll like it!

Kinsey Holley said...

I will eventually read Scandalous Ways b/c come on -- it's Loretta!

but you know - I can see how a hero who uses guile and humor to triumph over the big jerks can be a kind of alpha hero.