Friday, May 26, 2006

Ask Mr. Writing Person: Serial Romance

It's Ask Mr. Writing Person time, in which we discover the meaning of schadenfreude [Ed: which I feel all the time] and how to steam up the windows of any novel, no matter how tame. Hooper Harlitt joins us from Los Angeles, California. He has a question about writing romance novels:

Q. I want to get published by Harlequin, but all of my attempts at writing a romance novel fall flat. I keep getting rejection letters that say, "Not steamy enough." How do I steam them up?

A. You came to the right person, Hooker. I've got plenty of sage advice about this. Now, this is a very delicate subject for a family-friendly column, and we'll treat it delicately, okay?

Q. Yeah.

A. Good. The first thing you need to know is that romance novels are woman porn.

Q. Porn?

A. Exactly. They're the Playboy of print publishing. This basic premise will underlie all of our discussion.

Q. They don't look much like porn...

A. Well, duh. Woman porn is words. Man porn is pictures. You won't catch many women browsing a male picture mag, and you won't catch many men reading a novel with a scantily-clad woman on the front. Well, you might, but chances are it's a science fiction or fantasy novel.

Q. Okay, I can swallow that.

A. Good. Because we know the audience is made up of women, the first thing you need to do is create a female main character.

Q. Oh! I was writing male main characters!

A. Uh-huh. Okay, so take your favorite work-in-progress, and change the name and some pronouns, and that'll do.

Q. Are you sure that's all I have to do? Won't my female main character have a male voice?

A. If you're the type of man who tries to write romance, your male main character probably already talks like a woman anyway. Oh, and you should name your new male main character "Fabio."

Q. Fabio.

A. Right. You're going to be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to turn your novel into a properly steamy romance novel. In fact, you can do this to any novel, whether it's romance or not. All you have to do is force your characters into random romantic encounters at maddeningly regular intervals.

Q. No way. Is that it?

A. L. Ron Hubbard is the greatest romance novelist that ever lived, and that's exactly how he did it.

Q. Didn't Hubbard write science fiction?

A. Have you ever read his Mission Earth series? It should be required reading for a budding romance novelist. That, and the later works of Asimov. He was getting there. And probably every other aging science fiction author. They tend to turn into dirty old men.

Anyway, there are a couple of main ways to enforce regularity. I'm going to demonstrate both on a passage from one of my books. It's a science fiction novel--not a romance by any means--which should help you see how to shoehorn an encounter into a story line. In this scene, Yvonne and Fabio--

Q. You named a character in a science fiction novel "Fabio?"

A. Why not?

Q. I just thought--

A. He even scored a picture on the cover art. He's a hunky one, alright. Anyway, Yvonne and Fabio are at work at the police station, arguing about a mind-control device that Fabio left in Yvonne's care:

"What do you mean, you might have left it here overnight?" said Fabio through clenched teeth.

Yvonne glanced around to make sure nobody was watching. Everyone else had their heads down, concentrating on whatever dumb thing their terminals were showing them. "Just what I said," she hissed back. "I don't know what I did with it. Are you sure it's the only MindNumber(tm) in the area?"

"Oh, so it's someone else's responsib--hang on. My alarm's going off." He wrenched his left sleeve back, revealing a silver watch wrapped around his massive, manly arm.

Not again.

He gazed up at her, lust burning in his beautiful blue eyes. "It's time," he said.

Yvonne pressed her hands harder against the table to hide the trembling. "Are you sure?" she asked.

"It's 4:13."

"I have a headache," she said weakly.

"Nice try."

He moved toward her. Yvonne wasn't sure what happened next... she caught glimpses of Fabio and his long, golden hair, furniture being thrown, people shouting...


Q. I don't know what to say. I feel weird inside.

A. That's called schadenfreude, which is a German word that describes the feeling of beholding genius at work. You'll get used to it.

Q. I'll take your word for it.

A. Right. I said I'd demonstrate two methods. Here's the second:

"What do you mean, you might have left it here overnight?" said Fabio through clenched teeth.

Yvonne glanced around to make sure nobody was watching. Everyone else had their heads down, concentrating on whatever dumb thing their terminals were showing them. "Just what I said," she hissed back. "I don't know what I did with it. Are you sure it's the only MindNumber(tm) in the area?"

"Oh, so it's someone else's responsib--" He stopped and stared down. "Oh, would you look at that."

"What?" she asked, squinting at the spot he was looking.

"Down at the bottom of the page. See it? 153--that's divisible by 17." He gazed up at her, lust burning in his beautiful blue eyes.


Q. Every 17 pages then?

A. More or less. There are studies on this, and they all come to the same conclusion.

Q. Um, okay. So, uh, what if on some page that's divisible by 17, I have two guys?

A. You won't, because your main character is female. Pay attention, grasshopper. If you have two women, just have some hunky man run in from somewhere.

Q. Okay. I still don't--

A. That's because you're an illiterate Philistine.

Q. Yeah, I knew that. Um, won't this kind of ruin the story's pace or its believability?

A. It's woman porn, Hooker. Nobody cares.

Q. Got it.

A. One more thing. If you want to be a real L. Ron Hubbard or Isaac Asimov would-have-been, you can't put any meaningful encounters into your novel. That would be like Playboy making a centerfold out of an anatomical diagram.

Q. Woman porn.

A. Exactly.

6 Comments:

At 10:32 PM, Blogger Demosthenes said...

This explains why my romance novels haven't sold.

I mean, here I was trying to pen emotionally involving, character-developing scenes. Learning this has been like a breath of fresh air in my prose. Woman porn. It just makes so much sense now.

Thanks Mr. Writing Person!

~D

 
At 9:59 AM, Blogger Mr. Writing Person said...

You're welcome! I hope in the near future you may enjoy all the women and fame and glory and millions in advertising revenue that you can handle!

 
At 11:29 PM, Blogger ImTheDarkcyde said...

i could have swore schadenfreude was "pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others."

 
At 10:52 AM, Blogger Mr. Writing Person said...

I'm afraid you're wrong, young Philistine. It's a German coagulation of two words: Schaden, which means "genius" and Freude, which is loosely translated as "a strange tingly feeling of awe mingled with joy."

We don't actually have a word like Freude in English, because we're not weird like Germans are. But every once in a while, someone feels it--usually when reading my work--and that's when I point it out.

 
At 11:25 AM, Blogger ImTheDarkcyde said...

Ooo! I feel tingly already! How wonderfully literate you are to be a master of more than one language!

 
At 6:58 PM, Blogger Th. said...

.

It's shame you don't know Piers Anthony. He proves your dirty-old-man theory better than anyone living.

 

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