I woke up earlier this week to find that all of my spoons were gone. I had to declare spoon bankruptcy. I felt for several days like I would never be able to acquire another spoon for the rest of my life. As a result, I crawled into my shell and bolted the doors closed to wallow in spoonless isolation.
I woke up this morning mildly surprised to find that I was capable of experiencing an emotion as intense as mild surprise. I poked my nose out of my shell to see what’s been going on outside and quickly discovered I’m capable of ⚡MUCH MORE INTENSE EMOTIONS⚡ and should probably spend a little more time by myself.
Because I was away long enough to forget the internet is a cesspool sensitive little turtles should stay out of, the first thing I saw was a dude who’s read a handful of romance novels by one author and thinks he’s figured out the formula to write his own but just has a few questions for the lady writers to clarify this super simplistic genre so he can dive in and make a fortune.
There’s one every month or two. I’m just going to park this here as an evergreen response and wash my hands of it for the sake of my blood pressure.
For the record, I am not saying no man should ever write romance. I’m saying no person should write anything from a position of profound ignorance. It doesn’t matter if it’s romance, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, mystery, thrillers, or anything else. If you say, “I’ve read three [insert genre here] books, I’ve got it all figured out, and I’m ready to be the next big thing,” it’s wildly offensive to writers who have spent years immersed in and honing their craft. If this same person then asks questions like “What’s the point of chapters?”, we have to wonder how familiar this self-proclaimed writing genius is with books in general.
Because I have only one tiny little spoon today, I’m not going to rant at length about how familiarity with books, if not deep and abiding love and respect for them, is a real useful thing for a writer of books to have. Instead, I’m going to vigorously stir the thimble pertaining to interlopers in “my” genre.
One of this dude’s astute observations is that the hero always has to be the best in the world: the richest billionaire, the most famous actor, the football hall of famer. Well, dude, that’s what happens when you read a handful of books by one author who writes to a certain niche. This year in my contemporary romance reading, I’ve encountered two welders, a bar owner, a grocery store corporate stooge, a co-owner of a health club, and a financial advisor — none of them rich, none of them famous, none of them the best in the world. There are whole subcategories in contemporary romance focused on cops, firefighters, and soldiers, who also don’t tend to be rich and famous. It is, in fact, entirely possible to avoid ever picking a book with a billionaire alphahole hero if that’s not what you’re into.
Gee, it’s almost like a minuscule sample creates a completely wrong impression of what the genre is like. Hmm. Imagine that.
The Best™ is a trope a lot of romance readers enjoy because — and this may sting a little — success is attractive. It suggests initiative, drive, commitment, and ability to provide for a family. Because “success” can mean things other than fame and fortune, a blue-collar man with a steady job can have all those qualities, too, but it’s an issue of scaling the setting. There are cottage stories, and there are mansion stories. If you want to write a story that involves jetting off to Paris, a handyman hero is probably not the right hero for that book. If you want to write a story that includes reshingling a roof after a storm, the billionaire CEO of a Silicon Valley startup is probably not the right hero for that book.
The key there is that you have to want to write a book rather than want to capitalize on the popularity of a genre you couldn’t care less about.
Then the dude wants to debate the lack of necessity for condoms because of course he does. If the first hint of that “discussion” doesn’t make your vagina slam shut like a bank vault when the silent alarm has been activated, you and I are not from the same culture. The guy who well-actuallys that condoms are pointless because they’re not 100% effective anyway is the guy the heroine walks away from right before she meets the hero, who will never try to negotiate his way out of providing any semblance of protection for his own selfish reasons.
Let’s up the stakes for a moment. Shielding someone you care about from gunshots is highly unlikely to prevent them from being harmed because bullets pass through bodies fairly easily, but you do it anyway because you care. Heroes do whatever they can to protect others, even if there’s some chance it won’t be effective. Heroes don’t shove others into the highest-risk position to shield themselves because it’s more fun for them to not be shot.
You don’t protect people based on statistical likelihood of success. You protect people as best you can because you’re a caring person. Even if you just met that person and don’t have any particularly strong feelings about them aside from lust, you use a damn condom out of basic human decency. If it’s not automatic, basic human decency is in question, and that’s a problem for a “hero.”
We write about actions that demonstrate caring because “I love you” in dialogue rings false when the character’s actions are selfish and irresponsible — such as being a crybaby about using a rubber. I made that a JOKE in Silent Song because it’s so ridiculously gross. (And then they took a road trip to acquire condoms like responsible, caring adults who can control their pants feelings for an hour.)
All you have to write is “He grabbed a condom.” Four words. The rest can be implied. You don’t have to go into detail and make a huge issue of it (though it could be fun if you wanted it to be). If four little words are “throwing people out of the story,” the surrounding words must be absolute garbage. “I trust you not to have picked up a virus from all the other people you’ve fucked without a condom” is idiotic, not romantic. Believing you’re the only one special enough to be fucked without a condom is TSTL.
I get it. They seldom use condoms in porn, which is probably this dude’s sole reference for a sex scene. (Would it surprise you to learn this guy also complained it’s “unbelievable” that a man would address a woman’s sexual pleasure and then not insist on getting his own? He told on himself a lot.) However, romance isn’t porn. If you don’t understand the distinction, you’re not equipped to write it.
The book may be pure fantasy, but the reader has real-world context. Therefore, the hero better not pull any real-world bullshit that reminds the reader about a real-world loser. If you can’t identify real-world-loser behaviors on sight (perhaps because you do them yourself and think they’re perfectly acceptable?) and you can’t be bothered to deeply research what an audience that is overwhelmingly female finds desirable in a romantic hero (which varies on superficial criteria but not at the core), you’re wasting what little time you’re investing in this genre.
It’s not “easy” to write romance. Romance readers are the most particular, demanding, unforgiving readers in the world, and they are fed all the way up with derision regarding their reading material. You have to do more than merely entertain them. You have to reach into their hearts. If you’re not one of them, if you’ve never even talked to them, if you haven’t experienced yourself what a good romance novel can do, if you have no idea how to write a story with a foundation entirely made of feelings, if you think it’s nothing but billionaires and irksome (to you) practicalities of sex, you’re going to be really bummed when Google Alerts starts showing you what readers think of your attempt at a “romance novel.”
And until you know what chapters are for, for fuck’s sake, I can’t think of any other genre where you’ll be better received.