Romance Authors Are From Venus

I’ve attended four different workshops given by fellows who’ve taken a calling writing screenplays  and morphed it into guidance on how to write a romance. Invariably, these men do not write romances themselves, though they are long on charm, full of great ideas, and well worth the price of admission.

Also right next door to useless when it comes to helping me plot my books.

The first time I heard one of these fellows, I felt that sinking, I-don’t-get-it feeling familiar to me from junior high math classes. All around me, talented, eager romance writers were nodding happily and scribbling away, or typing on their spiffy little notebooks, while I sat in the corner with Bertha–who is missing three keys, and weighs more than seven pounds because I can’t see those dratted little screens–and tried not to look lost.

When the same thing happened a second and third time, I stopped fretting long enough to think about what was happening, and a salient fact presented itself: These knowledgeable, helpful, articulate and enthusiastic presenters were all… guys. Every one of them referred to their stories as having a hero, usually of either gender, but one per book. The person of the opposite gender (apologies to LGBT readers) was “the love interest,” and their role in the story was to serve as one of several factors propelling the hero along the arc of personal growth that made the drama more compelling.

The last time this happened, I was attending a workshop in Atlanta, which meant about a 600-mile drive home. Somewhere in southern Virginia (of which there is a deuced lot) it occurred to me; Most men don’t get romance. Why should these plotting gurus comprehend that in a romance novel, there isn’t a hero and a love interest, the relationship is the main character.

What happens in a romance is whatever is necessary to develop, try, and forge that relationship into its concluding form. The characters are the personalities necessary for the same exercise, and the settings, and secondary characters likewise.

The rubrics put forth by these helpful gentlemen are useful to me as diagnostics, to assess pacing and structure in a completed manuscript, but their plotting road maps yield me no insights when it comes to how a particular pair of characters must find their happily ever after.The nomenclature doesn’t help, their  graphics provide so many blanks I will never know how to fill in.

But what a relief, to realize, not for the first time, I’m not stupid, I just follow a different process. Has the same insight ever befallen you? To one commenter, I’ll send along a signed copy of Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight.

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15 comments on “Romance Authors Are From Venus

  1. Process differently? HA! Occasionally, I’ll have oddball thought/idea and I’ll backtrack the process. It can be downright scary. I leave people baffled by the directional changes I can make in a conversation.
    When people comment that I’m weird, I just say “what fun would it be if I wasn’t.”

    • Sabrina, I know part of my sense of disconnect is because despite acquired verbal skills, I’m more a visual/spatial and emotional thinker. The part of the brain that grasps rules and their repetitive application works only inefficiently and begrudgingly for me.
      When I come across somebody who’s stock in trade is rules (like a procedural attorney), it’s as if we really are from two different planets.

  2. (Oooh, I again JUST haven’t made it for the first commenter!)
    I am not sure I will hit your point. But let’s try.
    I believe in God. I pray, I thank, sometimes I wish for something. I am very often aware of Him.
    But I don’t really go to church. I doesn’t give me much, I don’t really believe in church: what is said, sung and read often seems to me too (let’s say) ancient and too unrealistic (and a little bit like stuff they told ignorant people in the middle ages). But also, I know that without the institution of church there would be less believe, less being aware of God and it is needed for mankind.
    So my point: I do believe in God, but I don’t really follow the road of church.

    • I don’t know. I wouldn’t like to be a leading character in church anyway but just one being present (so no screenwriter).
      It’s just that I can’t really identify myself with what/all that is said in church.
      What I meant was more that I don’t draw or enhance or live my believe in church as everyone usually does. So, different process for me.

  3. It’s funny that you mentioned math classes, because that is one of the areas where I become aware of how I sometimes process things differently than others. When I was younger, the prospect of “showing your work” in solving equations was frustrating because I skipped writing some steps to save time and still got the correct answer; even so, I was penalized until I learned to follow the preferred methods. On the upside, learning how to manage my thought process both ways makes me more efficient at my job (when I can skip writing the steps) and also provides opportunities for checking my accuracy (I’ve learned that my teachers were correct about the usefulness of giving yourself a trail of thinking to follow, and citations can be crucial). Sometimes it can be tough to find a balance, though! Years after those math classes, I’m still glad that I was able to both adapt to expectations and retain my own process of approaching problems.

    • I teach Algebra 1 and Geometry, Marie. Show your work. If you don’t show your work and you miss the problem, I can’t give you partial credit AND I can’t tell where you made your mistake. I like to know where you made the mistake so I can help you not do it again. 🙂

      • Sabrina, you’re absolutely correct, and back during school the teachers in my family helped remind me of the reasons for showing my work, too. That trail of breadcrumbs is so important, I agree. Thanks for your hard work as a teacher! 🙂

    • Marie, math was where I learned how big a difference the teacher makes. In John Long’s Algebra II class, I got honor roll grades all year long for the first time in my little life. The next year… well, trig and I did not see eye to eye, but I betcha Mr. Long could have done an excellent job with it.

  4. I’m not sure if it is a guy thing or a masculine quality that you are describing. I have a sister who would have loved the workshops you described, emphasizing classic, straight forward plot lines. She can feel romance within herself but she can’t understand it until she reads scientific books about how emotions and brains are interconnected… laws of the physical body.

    On the other hand, my husband intuits a clear understanding of me and my emotions, as well as the humanity behind my rather unorthodox artwork, with no problem. One of the main reasons I married the guy was because he could read my art so well.

    My point here is that my sister sees like a man and my husband sees like a woman. The best authors create characters that allow this kind of diversity, one book to the next. Some books will have heros with raging plots and hot emotions because the main actors will be of classic personality types, while other books will concentrate on the beauty of two characters meeting at a more common place, both sharing feminine and masculine qualities, blending into each other in a beautiful place of soul and spirit. I’m sure the best books will intermix these two philosophies.

    I see portraits of true human relationship in your books, written by a clearly very perceptive person. Keep listening to your amazing feminine mind, but at the same time, take note of what those male structuralists are postulating. Blend the two.

    • Leight, you have said a mouthful. At many times in my life I’ve faced a choice and chosen both. This is why I have a smattering of four foreign languages, I can place both classical and fake piano, I have degrees in music history and political science, and so forth. If a romance novel stands for anything, it stands for integrating all the parts of ourselves into one healthy, coherent, whole.

  5. Grace,
    Many times they begin these events with the phrases “In theory…” and “Think outside the box…” as if they are the experts and these lessons will guide the non-linear unorthodox thinking back into the lemming flock. It matters not the event you attend, only that you conform… LOL I do show my math steps even today documenting all my computer code when those around me do not explaining the reason is to repeat the work later or improve as necessary avoiding costly mistakes. My friends from grad school helped me through math but I teturned the favor in our writing classes… We did not have a box but a sphere, the three of us marched to the beat of an orchestra not a drum…

  6. This year has been a succession of these moments, Grace, with one coming just a week or so ago. I give myself complete permission to be a pantser and to write what my first critique partner called “in a harlequin voice”. For years I felt guilty about that, thinking, “I don’t want to write category romance” and yet I devoured Nora Roberts and other contemporary romance writers. I spoke to that CP recently about my epiphany – that this is what I write…relationship based romances. It’s what’s in my reservoir of finished and in-progress stores are. She said, “I didn’t mean it the way you were thinking.” I knew that. I put those strictures on myself thinking contemporary romance wasn’t lofty enough, or dramatic enough, or i don’t know, literary enough. But I’m over it and now that I’ve accepted “where” I write, the characters and their world are bursting open.

    I agree about male workshop presenters. Michael Hauge was one of my favorites but what always stimulates me listening to his workshops is the part about the identity and essence, the relationship aspect and it’s relationship to the major turning points in a book.

    An thank God you are an emotional thinker. It makes the relationships between your characters and your books so special.