I haven’t managed to read a new self-published or debut novel for review over the last few weeks. It’s not that the intention isn’t there, I have just somehow been unable to make myself find anything. Instead I have been reading romance novels. And slightly trashy ones at that.
I’m not talking about ‘mommy porn’ where there will never be a need for a pornographic parody, and they would need to strip away a minimum of 75% of the novel in order to avoid an X rating. No, when I say romance I am not trying to hide a binge on erotica.
I mean the silly boy meets girl and they try to resist but they fall in love anyway because they just can’t help it. I’m talking stories of someone being willing to completely change their life to make themselves better for the other person, even when no one asked them to. Sure, there might be a few scenes with graphic descriptions of who put what where. Let’s be honest, part of the modern romance novel is not just the fairy tale love, but usually also involves uncontrollable lust.
I’m a writer. In theory I should be spending my time on classics, both old and new. I should be reading the great novels, using these timeless examples of exemplary writing to hone my craft. I should be studying these stories, looking for what makes them different, observing the nuances of what makes their writing amazing.
I’m a writer; I should know better than to waste my time on trashy romance novels.
Let’s just go ahead and call all of that crap and move on.
Yes, I am a writer. I should be taking my craft seriously. Reading is something I do for my own enjoyment, but it is also a part of my professional growth. I do study the works I read, paying attention to structure, plot points, and syntax. I look for contradictions and think about how it could have been fixed. I notice the misspelled words and reread the awkward sentences. I wonder how parts of the novel survived the editing process, and make mental notes for my own editing. I do this for all books I read, whether I mean to or not. I am a writer; it is a part of who I am and an unconscious effort made every time I pick up something to read.
Working to improve my writing ability is important to any success I may ever experience. However, good writing is unfortunately not required for a successful novel. We all know the truth; there are novels that have become best sellers and have broken almost all the accepted rules.
What these authors lack in writing ability they make up for in knowledge of the reading market. They know what their readers want, and they know how to give it to them. Sometimes they want deep, meaningful prose and sometimes they want to laugh. Being able to give the reader what they want sells books.
So how does this justify my current romance novel binge? Am I really advocating selling out?
No, I am advocating being smart about your writing. You can tell your story, any story, but if you don’t know how to make someone want to read it, you are wasting your talent.
I read all kinds of novels, because they all teach me something about my writing.
Mysteries teach you that anyone can be a hero and find justice. Your main character might be a baker, a PI, or a fashion designer, but with a little luck, tenacity, and quick thinking they can find the killer.
Thrillers teach you how to write action. I might be able to close my eyes and see every blow in a fight, but if I can’t portray that to my readers they might as well be in a thumb war.
Science fiction teaches how to incorporate technology in a way that sounds realistic, even if I am making things up as I go along.
Fantasy teaches the benefits to dreaming big, while following the rules. Anything can happen in a world of magic, but that doesn’t mean you can make things end too easily.
Romance will teach you balance. You don’t want things to come too easily or no one will believe it. Of course, if you make things too difficult no one will believe it either. You need to walk the line between falling in love, and marrying the guy who finds your shoe on the stairs.
Romance teaches the importance of a happy ending. You want the characters to be happy or at least think they might be when the book ends, even if there was pain and loss before hand.
Romance teaches how to keep writing light. No one can live their lives too seriously all the time. Eventually, you need to let go and relax.
Romance teaches the art of varied language. Repetitious writing might be great for preschoolers, but there is only so many times you can read words like horny, thrust, penis, vagina, and mind-blowing orgasm. Say what you want about the content, romance writers know how to work a thesaurus.
So yes, I read trashy romance novels. They remind me why I write. I write to make myself and the reader happy. I write to make myself feel good. I write to feel like I am a part of something more, something bigger. I write because all stories are worth telling.