Friday, March 25, 2011

The finance of romance… a characters’ POV

I am a writer. I write poetry and short stories, I dabble in kids’ fiction, I write culturally based short stories and of course there is the writing I do for my day job. But I published two romance novels. Consequently, I am a romance novelist. It doesn’t matter how many other genres of stories reside in my head or on my hard drive… nobody sees it. What matters is the material that I have published. So I am a romance writer.

What makes a romance interesting? I know many people have different views, but one common thread to an interesting romance is strong lovable characters. But have you noticed that most characters in romance novels are financially secure? If they are not there already, they get there by the end of the story, or they marry someone who is.

I have noticed a little more diversity in the financial backgrounds of lead characters in romance novels recently. Some novelists make their characters rich and famous. They travel to exotic cities with nary a care for cost. Other characters represent the upper middle class. They are successful, educated, and financially independent and just need a partner to complete the fairy tale. This is supposed to inspire us into believing their lifestyle and their love is attainable to us. Then there are the characters who struggle financially. These characters almost invariably find love with someone more financially stable or out and out rich. It is rare for the hero and heroine to end up poor and broke at the end of the romance, even if they have each other.

I’ve always wondered why the characters in a romance are never a pair of losers who find love. Why don’t we see romance between two homeless people? Or two people who are just broke and struggling, living in subsidized housing and barely making ends meet? And I’m not talking about a back story where the person was struggling but has overcome the obstacles and now have their own business; or where the homeless wins a lottery when he finds a ticket on the park bench.

The answer: expectations. In a romance we expect a happy ending. Not just in finding love, but in all aspects of their lives. We are rooting for that poor girl to snag the tycoon. The readers really want that feel good Cinderella story. And the publishers know this. They outline set guidelines as to what constitute a romance novel. One publisher states in the guidelines, “The hero and heroine should be role models—upwardly mobile and educated individuals that our readers can admire.”

Don’t the uneducated fall in love? Shouldn’t we have characters that people from all walks of life can identify with? And when I write my romance stories, am I somehow perpetuating the myth that only the upward mobile, the successful and the rich find or even deserve true love? What are your thoughts on this?


Charles Gramlich said...

Very good point. I've noticed some similar things about a of different genres. LIttle conventions I guess.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I think a contributing factor is that whole idea of escapism. Books take us away from the day to day problems of real life, so though folks want to identify with the characters, they also want them to successfully overcome all real life obstacles, inluciding financial ones.

Liane Spicer said...

Blogger just ate my fairly comprehensive response.

To summarize, the template for category romance is rigid - beauty, education and financial security are givens. Publishers know that romance readers have particular expectations when they pick up these novels so they provide them. Readers can always find more realistic love stories elsewhere.

G said...

I'm curious: what about an anti-love love story?

I know in the one I'd finished and are getting ready to query, the main character winds up having a love affair that turns sour, which stems from the fact that she was able to find a career to make money at, and that her boyfriend took her money to make her dependent on him.

Jewel Amethyst said...

G, the story you describe doesn't sound as if it would fit into the rigid guidelines of the romance genre. But it sounds like it would make good woman's fiction.

A few years back I wrote a story where a couple fell in love, but unfortunately discovered later they were brother and sister. I still haven't gotten it published. Maybe if I re-categorize it as women's fiction it would stand a chance.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Liane, there are some publishers who allow and even encourage slightly different characters than the usual sterotypes. I think there is an imprint called Dangerous Curves (DC) that specializes in heroines with "more to love" (aka overweight).

In "A Marriage of Convenience", (Leisure books, Dorchester) the heroine is not your typical tall, slim beauty. She is short and yo-yoes between 200 and 220lbs and she is unemployed (though educated). She enters a marriage of convenience and her husband (and he's hotttt!)sees her inner beauty and falls head over heels for her.

Yet that book not only got published as contemporary romance, but got a 4 star rating by romantic times and lots of great reviews. Why? Because the readers were rooting for the short fat heroine to land her successful really hot hero. Readers were able to see past her external features to her internal beauty. Of course there was the fairy tale ending, there had to be, that's what the genre calls for.

KeVin K. said...

What I like about romances is the finding happiness no matter what escapism. What I don't like is the criteria for happy including things like unrealistic economic security or acceptance by everyone in the extended family that are forced into the story. The biggest challenge in marriage -- and the number one cause of divorce in the USofA -- is money problems. So while it's no mystery why there are no money issues in escapist fiction that are not overcome, it's still annoying that publishers don't trust readers to be satisfied by a story about love flourishing in spite of financial (or other) difficulties that aren't easily solved.

I work romance themes into my stories; love is a fascinating as it is entertaining. But I'm attracted more to the commitment than the accouterments of romance. A major subplot of Wolf Hunters is actually a romance in a combat zone novella involving two soldiers (yes, of opposite genders) that I wrote before the rest of the novel. This story would never sell in a romance market because one of the characters receives a disfiguring wound that is not magically cured by an itinerant plastic surgeon and never becomes an issue in terms of either self esteem or how attracted to each other they are.

I think the rigid structure of the romance novel, second only to the villanelle, is my greatest obstacle when it comes to writing one.

G said...

Jewel: Thanks. I've been having a problem as of late trying to categorize what I wrote, so this will help me expand my horizons as I go off into that wild blue yonder called querying.

Jewel Amethyst said...

KeVin, I wish it was different. Like I said, no publisher touched my first book with a ten foot pole. I guess the topic (brother and sister accidentally in love)just didn't fit into romance, even though they both found real love with other people later. I read a few days ago that many people are no longer categorizing Danielle Steele as romance. Is it because her characters have more in their stories than just loving each other? I don't know.

G, good luck with your queries. It takes guts to write and even more guts to attempt to publish.

Shauna Roberts said...

Jewel, I hope you find a publisher for your first book. I've seen reports of real-life love between two people who later find out they're brother and sister, and I've found the topic very sad and compelling.

One thing no one has mentioned is that there are a lot of blue-collar heroes in romance novels, such as race car drivers, Marines, and cowboys (and cowboys and cowboys). I know some race car drivers do well for themselves, but cowboys are generally not well off. If they were, they'd buy their own ranch and leave the cowboying to someone else.