Romance novels are not my first love.
I’ve read some that were written by people I know on Twitter, a few others that I got for free through giveaways, and some that I picked up just for research purposes. There’s always a bit of a romance subplot in my own books, though my primary genre is urban fantasy. I’m always looking to improve every aspect of my writing, including the romances, so I try to look carefully at each romance I read and figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what can be tweaked.
There’s a few things I’ve noticed tend to be trends in almost every romance novel that I’ve read:
- Super-hot, perfect men with flowing blonde hair, who are also rich, famous, successful, and yet still manage to be sensitive and chivalrous.
- A female protagonist who is, in stark contrast to the male lead, pretty bland and normal.
- Love at first sight, or at the very least, intense attraction at first sight. I can always tell from page one who the main character is going to end up with at the end of the book.
- Everything is very cis/heteronormative, with LGBT characters few and far between.
- There’s always a “Oh no, they had a fight and might break up!” moment near the end.
- Then they get together anyway and always, ALWAYS have a happily ever after.
Now, some of these tropes I can understand…as much as a happily ever after gets bland after awhile, it makes sense that readers want a happy and satisfying ending. And I can understand having a near-breakup around the climax, because there has to be conflict in order for a story to remain interesting.
What I don’t like is how every couple seems to be carbon-copies of each other. I’ve never read a romance novel where the male lead is, say, someone like me: overweight, poor, nerdy, and unable to attract women the majority of the time. And I’ve never read a romance novel where the romantic feelings developed slowly over time, the way a lot of real-life relationships do. Instead it’s always a head-first dive into True Love, where you can practically hear the violin music playing in the background.
Recently, I’ve been writing a lot of romance novels for freelance ghostwriting projects (the titles and details of which I cannot share due to NDAs). What I’ve been trying to do, however, is to break out of some of these romance novel tropes. I deliberately decided to make one of the male leads a balding, overweight, middle-aged man. Another was a scruffy, shy man who spent most of his time reading. I made one of the stories have an interracial couple. And another one pairs a lesbian and a bisexual as the main romantic couple.
I’ve found these projects a lot more enjoyable because I can play around with the tropes and try to find ways to keep things fresh. I’m still experimenting and learning, and I’ll still say I’m “still learning” when I’ve written twenty, a hundred, or a thousand of these stories. But the results have been quite good, and my clients have definitely been satisfied.
And I’ll be applying some of what I’m learning here to my own future novels as well. Speaking of which, expect updates soon on revisions of Contamination, since I’m about to dive into some serious work on it this coming week.
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