My kids fight for fun. When I’ve had it, I tell ’em to take it outside. When I’ve had it with writing, I gotta take my own advice.
I don’t get to read much for pleasure anymore. I read for analysis, research, deconstruction, and feedback, but not much for pleasure. I first noticed this three months ago, and made a little goal of reading one thing for pleasure each month. Because love of reading drove me into writing and it’s what keeps me going at it. So far, my pleasure-reading choices have been…odd.
- One book on housecleaning
- One thriller with a paranormal bent (which I actually read until I passed out when I gave blood last month) that takes place in West Virginia
- One book about the social dynamics of girls
- and One steampunk romance with an awesomely intriguing cover that I bought just because the cover model was wearing a top hat (hey, I went with it)
Sadly, I can’t really count the steampunk romance as pleasure reading, because even though I enjoyed the book and started reading it for pleasure, I still ended up picking it apart in my mind. Not critically, mind, but technically. I kept looking for cute meets, plot points, turning points, characterization values, worldbuilding teases, and sequel bait (which I found to my contentment).
All the structural things that deliver a satisfying romance and that the romance-reading audience comes to expect. It’s led to accusations that the genre is “formulaic” or that the stories are interchangeable, but that demonstrates a misunderstanding of both the readers of the genre and the purpose of the stories. It’s also a little snobbish, too. Darn those uppity wimmin not reading what we tell them they should be reading, because we know what’s best because we are Very Serious People. And mostly men.
This analysis has kept me from reading a lot of romance in the past few years. I see the book that could have been instead of the book that is, or I see the wires and the bare edges where the fourth wall should be, because I’m constantly looking for them (bathrooms on the Enterprise, remember?).
I notice I don’t do this in other genres as much, but I’m most familiar with romance. I cut my teeth on Harlequin Presents and still, for me, the most compelling aspect of many stories is not “will they save the planet,” but “will he realize she’s The One.”
At the same time, some of my biggest career-oriented breakthroughs have come when I’ve tried to turn away from that romance focus. Probably because it’s a female-dominated segment of an industry. Therefore it’s very organized–there are women everywhere in romance who will help you up, give you a boost, teach you the ropes. There are women vastly organized who have codified what works, found multiple best routes to success, and will show you how to repeat the process. And that is wonderful. Writing is such a solitary endeavor that you start to think you’re going a little crazy with all the chatter in your head.
But it can also put up garden gates of expectation. So many pioneers have blazed such well-trodden trails that you don’t expect to have such difficulty if you wander off the well-beaten paths a little. But the road less traveled in any genre–in any endeavor–is still fraught with pitfalls.
Thinking outside the box–and reading outside the genre–give me a new perspective and a better understanding of the reasons I started writing in the first place.
I write about quirky people finding their own crazy paths to happily ever after. They give me different perspectives and help me better understand people in general. My short contemporary romantic comedy, Forever Material, is about a Dating Diva who keeps breaking her own rules when it comes to Mr. Wrong and Mr. Right.
She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…
He’s absolutely sure she’s right…
But he’s still going to prove her wrong.