Hijinks or Tears – Which Romances Do You Prefer?

funny pictures - *CHILLAX, GURLFREN!*

I’m always obsessed with learning more about anything I tackle, and so for writing, I read and reread craft books, trying to soak in every tidbit. Right now I’m in the planning stages of a new novel and so I’ve been rereading some books on structure and some on writing romance. Coupled with a comment made by an instructor in a class I’m currently in, it’s made me step back and look at what kind of romances I like to read.

Hijinks or Tear-jerkers

What started this introspection were some comments made by this instructor that in romance the main conflict needs to be based on emotion, which echoes what I’ve been reading in the writing romance books. That I can’t have external issues keeping the two apart, etc. And typically the books will list different emotional, drama-inducing scenarios that frankly, while yes, they are heavy on emotion and conflict, just don’t interest me in the least. My usual response when reading a romance where the main thing that’s keeping them apart is some huge emotional baggage is “get over it.” I’ve never been into watching movies or reading romances where the sole purpose is to indulge in some huge emotion-fest.

But, please know this is not me judging those types of stories, it’s simply me stating it’s not my thang. I know that there are other types of stories that I find awesome, that don’t interest others. That’s what’s so amazing about humanity– the variety of opinions. Thank GOD we don’t all have the same tastes!

So, back to exploring my tastes :) Perhaps this is why I don’t normally read contemporary romances, since that seems to be how they’re mainly structured. Everyday domestic drama holds no interest for me. Especially if the main plot is 80% working through some emotional trauma that’s keeping the two apart. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read some contemporaries that aren’t like this, but I usually come by them from referrals or because I know the author’s work.  The historicals I typically read have some kind of interesting external plot the two get ensnared in, and hijinks and fun and love happens along the way. If some happen to elicit a tear or two, that’s awesome sauce. I’m not averse to emotion, I just don’t relish wallowing in it, if that makes sense.

Anyway, this led me to question whether MUST LOVE BREECHES is even a romance (according to the instructor, based on my GMCs I turned in, it’s not) and set me into a panic last week. But then I’d just finished reading a wonderful romance and I thought I’d analyze it to see if it would hold up to the instructor’s strictures, and I really don’t see that it does. But I could be wrong. Please feel free to set me straight in the comments. I want to learn!!

The book? A Week to Be Wicked, by Tessa Dare. It’s also getting great reviews, so I’m not alone in thinking this was a great story and romance. In fact, it could be one of her best. Since I’d closed the book with a sigh during all this introspection, I thought I’d see if I could write up the GMCs for this book (GMC=Goal/Motivation/Conflict, usually stated as x wants ___ because ____ but___):

Minerva

External GMC: She wants to present her findings on her geological discovery because she wants to leave a mark on the world, but the symposium is in Edinburgh and she can’t get there alone.
Internal GMC: She needs to feel attractive and loved for herself but her bluestocking habits are usually all that guys see.

Colin

External GMC: ? In Act Two, he modifies his goals in order to get Minerva to Scotland because he realizes she’s determined to go anyway but he has to have a woman in his bed every night. But what’s his original story goal? Is it: He wants to live life on the surface and have a woman in his bed every night because he cannot sleep without someone physically next to him, but Minerva is a virgin and wants her to escort her to Scotland?
Internal GMC: He needs to keep everyone at an emotional distance because that’s how he’s learned to cope in life but Minverva challenges him

What am I missing here? I feel like I’m missing “it” on several levels. One– I can’t seem to come up with solid GMCs for Colin. If you’ve read it, can you help me out here? In fact, I just looked up the book description, and his goal is stated as “Colin Sandhurst, Lord Payne, a rake of the first order, needs to be . . . anywhere but Spindle Cove” which would actually dovetail with hers, not be in conflict with it. And Second– if this had been my homework assignment my instructor would have told me that my story was flawed because my hero’s GMCs were muddled and not tied directly to the heroine’s strongly enough. She would probably say that he needs to have some competing external GMC that would be opposed to her going and ditto with the internal, so that the whole middle was taken up with their conflict over this. But yet, she’d be so wrong. This story WORKS, and it’s a wonderful LOVE story with tons of ROMANCE. And I loved Colin to pieces and wanted to wrap him up and take him home with me. His character arc was wonderful to witness and a natural progression. As one reviewer said, it’s so much fun seeing a guy like that fall like a tree. Sigh.

The pretend instructor feedback on Dare’s book (hero’s GMCs were muddled and not tied directly to the heroine’s strongly enough) is similar to what she’d told me about mine and said “let me guess, your middle is mostly external conflict.” Well, yes, it does have a lot of external conflict, but it also has emotional conflict. After a while, I realized that the kind of romance she’s advocating is actually the kind I don’t like to read. As noted above, I like to have a good balance of external and emotional conflict. I also realized that this is how many who don’t read romance perceive it and is why they don’t read it as it wouldn’t be their thing.

So that you have an idea of the styles of romance I like to read, here’s my list of auto-buy, big-name romance authors:

  • Loretta Chase
  • Julia Quinn
  • Amanda Quick
  • Tessa Dare
  • Katie MacAlister
  • Courtney Milan (a recent addition)

I’ve never read a single Nora Roberts, as I have this perception that her work is the kind of romance I don’t like to read.

So, am I completely whacked and I’m analyzing Dare’s book incorrectly? Am I missing some key ingredient that would make all this crystal clear for me? Do you like purely emotional-driven conflict or a mixture of both?

Sorry for the rambling post as this is something I’m trying to grapple and understand. I’m hoping that by writing this post, it will help clarify some things in my mind.

I’m also aware I probably just exposed myself as a complete ignoramus and just shot any chances of landing an agent if they happen to check out my blog while evaluating my partials/fulls. *waves* Thing is, I want to learn. To get better. I figure by posting this and getting your feedback, it will help to this end. What am I missing in understanding the romance genre?

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12 Comments

  1. gayleramage

     /  April 18, 2012

    Hmm, I must admit I’m not a fan of the gushy, emotional, weepy romance. Never have been. Give me hi-jinks and fun. That’s why I like watching Bridget Jones’ Diary (both films). Yes, there’s romance but it’s funny and mad (even though there’s tears and romantic bits).

    Reply
  2. My advice, don’t let what a teacher tries to tell you dictate what you love to write. There is a reason why they are a teacher. Don’t get too bogged down in rules because weren’t all the greats greats because they defied the rules? use what info you can and toss what you don’t need. The only thing rules really do is stifle your creativity and productivity. Be wild and free, girl! No one can stop you!

    Reply
  3. See? This is why we’re friends. :) I’m with you.

    I wonder if the instructor is thinking more about category romances than single title romances? Category romances are *very* different from single title romances–mostly because they’re shorter (50-60K). So they don’t have room for a big external plot conflict.

    However, single title romances (which are the only La Nora stories I’ve read) are more in the 80-100K range, so they need just as much external plot conflict as any other story. I haven’t read Tessa’s latest (I know! It’s in my TBR pile), so I can’t help you analyze that story specifically.

    Then again, there’s an agent who specializes in romance (Scott Eagan of Greyhaus – http://scotteagan.blogspot.com/), and he often encourages writers in his blog to make their stories bigger, deeper, mean something–even for category romances. And a big no-no in romances are conflicts that could be solved with a simple heart-to-heart conversation (that’s called “the big mis,” as in, misunderstanding).

    So now, of course, I want to know who this instructor is and whether or not they know what they’re saying, or whether they’re thinking something else but explaining it in a confusing way. :)

    You’ll have to tell me whether you think the plot of my PNR WIP was strictly internal/emotional conflict driven or whether the external plot tied in and or drove the internal/emotional issues. ;) I’d suspect it’s the latter. And I guess that’s my point, to find a way to have the external tie into or drive the internal, and that way you get both the plot events and the emotional.

    Reply
  4. Nancy

     /  April 18, 2012

    I like a touch of humor and external conflict, or at least an emotional or psychological problem that really is a problem. I really dislike stories in which the problem is that the man once lovd a woman who cheated on him so that he now distrusts all women; or in which the whole story is that while heroine will go to bed with the hero she refuses to marry him because he hasn’t said he loves her.
    I don’t think I could do a GMC to save my life even of books I have read and reread such as Austen’s novels.
    In the book by Dare –I am really skeptical about a man who has to ahve a woman in his bed every night changing enough to be a faithful husband. The story can be just that convincing me and the heroine that he could change so that he would remain faithful even if she were ill, or otherwise unable to have sex every night. Sex every night usually brings on babies. Women usually need a time of recovery after each event and sometimes have to abstain before delivery.
    How to turn a rake into a faithful husband.

    Reply
    • Thanks don stopping by. I agree with what you’re saying. On Dare’s book I should ave clarified that I was being literal with the ‘sleep’ part as it’s not sex he needs every nite but a warm body next to him in order to actually sleep. Most of the time that’s all he does is literally sleep…. Believe me, she makes it work :)

      Reply
  5. Just for funzies, here’s how I like to think of myself in the romance category…I’m like Julia Quinn but not as corny and minus the random scenes of stupidity and/or clumsiness…with a mix of Johanna Lindsey, but not so rapey.

    Do you ever get the feeling that you’re reading the same thing over and over again? That’s how I’m starting to feel with Julia Quinn. I loved the Bridgertons, but after them everybody had different character names, but they all seemed the same to me…but I have to admit, I am currently still reading her. How to Marry a Marquis. I couldn’t get through Mr. Cavendish I Presume. Didn’t care for the repeated scenes(I know it was written like that on purpose. I just don’t like reading the dames scenes twice. I did get through The Lost Duke.)

    Reply
  6. You should give Nora Roberts a try (IMO). I don’t think your idea of her is quite right — the relationships tend to be strong and solid with the conflict provided more or less externally. The series often have some theme — like saving the world from demons or saving an island from evil magic or fulfilling a mystical prophecy — that all the heroes/heroines are working towards with the relationships happening alongside. The big stand alones usually have a mystery external conflict of some sort, ie the heroine is on the run from the Russian mob or there’s an arsonist setting forests on fire and maybe killing people. The conflict is definitely never provided by something the hero or heroine just needs to get over — they’re usually very likeable main characters.

    As for what you’re missing — well, the character arc for the hero of the last Nora Roberts I read (which I’m quite sure will be a major best-seller) is that he likes the heroine and wants to get to know her better and then he’s in love with her and wants to marry her. That’s about it. So I kind of think your writing instructor might be an economist-type — one of those people who likes making up rules that don’t actually apply in the real world.Or she or he is teaching you to write Harlequins, which might not be the direction in which you’d like your career to go?

    Reply
  7. Ooooooh! THAT’S why I don’t generally like Contemporary Romance! That makes perfect sense. I feel like I need there to be some sort of external plot, otherwise stories tend to lean too much towards hand-wringing and stupidity.

    I also agree with Jami’s comment wondering if your teacher is used to catagory romance (which I also don’t care for). Along those lines, I have taken various writing classes and workshops and across the board they leave me more depressed than inspired. I don’t read craft books for exactly the same reason. All of this plotting and structuring and formulatic explanation of GMC, especially if thought up before I or any other writer starts writing, creates really flat characters, imho. In the real world people’s GMC ARE cloudy, confused, and contradictory. Real people do nonsensical things because they don’t know what they want. Personally, I find that if the GMC equation is too perfect it makes for a one-dimensional character. But complexity, GMC that takes more than one sentence to describe, creates more realistic characters who are more interesting to read about.

    Although I have read some Nora Roberts books that I liked. There was one series about three sisters who were witches, or something like that?

    Reply
  8. One instructor’s opinion is just…wait for it…one instructor’s opinion. I have read Must Love Breeches, and I say “must love Must Love Breeches.” By the way, I like Tessa Dare and Julia Quinn and also Nora Roberts. You might want to give her a shot. She’s rather versatile really. I like her historicals best.

    Reply
  9. Oh yeah, and I’m pretty sure I prefer hijinks to tears. I like a good mix of external/internal conflict.

    Reply
  10. I haven’t read that book and can’t really help, but as others have said, that is just one person’s opinion. If you think there’s anything to it (with respect to your manuscript), go get a few more opinions. I know you just finaled in our RTTA contest, so your ms can’t be too flawed. : )

    Julia Quinn is my favorite. Her books are all similar, but I like that. I know what I’m getting when I pick up her books – a fun escape from real life for a few hours where there’s always a witty hero to fall for and an HEA.

    Reply
  11. I like fast paced, sexy, funny even sad romances with expernal conflicts. There are some authors I can’t read because their characters go on and on flaying themselves.

    Reply

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