All good stories involve strong emotion; such as love. For that reason, every author can learn how to put emotion and caring between characters into their novels by reading and learning from romance novels. Sarah Wendell, the well-known co-founder of SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com, has put down her reasons for why people should stop criticizing the romance genre and start to learn from it in Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels. And her points are very compelling.
Romance Lessons from The Wizard of Oz
Wendell brings together popular romance authors and readers of romance to comment on the genre and what it means to them. She is a smart woman! The first reason every writer should pick up a copy of this book is to read Loretta Chase's letter explaining how her rules for romance character traits are illustrated in the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz. Most of us do not think of Oz as a romance story. However Chase shows us that each of the Oz characters has traits that are also found in a classic romance hero. Romance novels do not just jump into love and marriage. The heroine and hero must go through a journey of discovery about themselves, their relationship, and what love means. That is what makes a good romance read. And Oz is in fact a story about a journey of discovery. About leaving what you know to discover something more about yourself and those around you.
Reading Wendell (and Chase), you understand that characters who do not grow during the story are not interesting to read. One dimensional characters do not provide depth in a story. Whether you write mystery, historical fiction, suspense, or humor your characters must be different at the end of the story than when readers first meet them.
Every writer has had moments of frustration with their work. Maybe characters are not doing what you want. The blank page is staring unabashedly back at you daring you to type something; as if it could be good enough. Not surprisingly you ask yourself, "Why do this to myself?" The answer is provided in the second to last chapter of Wendell's book and it should be required reading for anyone who wants to pursue a career as a writer. An essay titled, "Healing Through Books" written by an anonymous reader explains more powerfully why books are important than anything a fiction writer could design. While some readers just want a few minutes of quiet fantasy, for others, the words on the pages are a lifeline to avoid real life's harsh realities. This essay is a must-read for aspiring authors. Save it. Go back to it when you are struggling with a story. The heartfelt emotion of her saga will make you touch your heart; if you write to please her as a reader you'll never lose sight of your goals.
Self-Worth, Sex, and Heroes
In addition to insight that Wendell's book can provide to writers, this book is really about what is happening in romance novels. As Wendell sets out to prove in this quick and flowing read, romance novels provide women with examples of why they should value their self-worth. Romances provide examples of strong women who will not settle for men unable to accept them for who they are.
The romance genre provides a wide range of approaches to sex. Some romances will lead you to the bedroom door and leave it to the reader to fill in the gap of what happened between night and dawn. Some romances head straight to the wedding alter but do not provide details of the wedding night. There are a growing number of romance novels that will provide in varying levels of detail the intimate details of the mechanics of making love. Find what level of romance-to-sex ratio you are comfortable with and enjoy the ride. In addition, Wendell makes a compelling case for using these explicit romance sex scenes - not as porn on paper - but rather a safe environment for couples to discuss what excites them. Citing reader comments, Wendell provides a compelling case for how romance novels actually encourage young women to hang on to their virginity as realistic romance novels provide both the positive and negative sides of having intercourse. Reading a romance novel and discussing the story with your daughter might just be the least awkward and comprehensive way for parents to educate their kids about sex. At least take the time to read Wendell's analysis and her readers' comments to see if you can take on a new use for sex in novels.
The longest running objection to romance novels is that reading them will give females unrealistic expectations about real men. Only an insecure man could have developed this theory. If we applied this theory to science fiction, Martians should be invading Earth. Fat chance! It is not the women reading romance novels who have unrealistic expectations. Rather, it is men who do not understand the emotion of love who fear what romance novels teach. Real men (i.e. men who understand a women's self-worth and are confident in their relationships) have no fear of fiction stories any more than they fear Martians will invade.
My only criticism of Wendell's study on romance would be her back alley vernacular. For all of Wendell's pontification of about the modern women, she degrades her message by using swear words. Educated women know more creative and descriptive words to discuss their feelings, wants, and desires than sinking to gutter talk. While I understand that Wendell is striving to achieve a conversation with her readers as if they are swapping stories over coffee, the fact is she has compiled a reference book on the subject of romance novels. In fact, Wendell's book references over 60 books and authors for anyone who wants to read romance novels. Sadly, Wendell only put 10 books on the shopping list in the back of her book but with a quick flip through the pages reader's can compile a wonderful study of romance novels.