Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Why I Write Romantic Fiction

It's Valentine's Day, so romance is in the air and I am, of course, a romantic novelist.  Except I'm not - at least, not in my head.  As far as I'm concerned I'm just a writer whose work happens to fit into the marketing category called romantic fiction, which is a much easier sell than the nebulous contemporary women's fiction, which in turn is a much easier sell than A Novel.  

I never set out to be a romantic novelist.  When I started I was writing short stories that appeared in obscure literary magazines and occasionally on Radio 4.  When I completed the first first draft of my novel and handed it as part of my MA, my tutor said, "And now you've got that out of your system, you can get down to writing a real novel."

I still haven't written a 'real novel'.  I'm just writing about what interests me. Generally it's about women, because I think they have less clear cut, and therefore more interesting, decisions to make about how they live their lives and balance work, children and relationships.  
I don't think people have a choice to make about what they write - and anyone who thinks they do have a choice has never tried writing a novel.  They write what they write, and usually that's what interests them.  If it interests them, the chances are it'll interest other people.  And if that means I go through life never writing a 'real novel' then so be it.  I'll just carry on muddling through and writing about what interests me.  


Diane Fordham said...

That was interesting Sarah. Your post made me do some thinking about myself as a writer - what I write and why I write. Sometimes I plan stories but other times the stories I write come from a place that is a mystery to even me. There are times when I want to write and my mind is a black hole and then there are other other times when I just want to chill out but my muse is constantly chattering and I have to write it down because if I don't I know I will regret it. I can't help but wonder now whether I am in control of my writing, or my writing is in control of me???? Scary!

Sally Zigmond said...

I know exactly what you mean, Sarah. I write historical fiction. My protagonists are always female and love/ relationships/empowerment feature a lot and I have a female readership in mind. I have found this means I am a writer of historical romance. I don't think it is for one minute but it makes it easier to pitch and sell.(Easier being a relative term, of course. It's still flipping difficult.)

Philip C James said...

Very thoughtful post, Sarah, and if the tone seems a little apologetic, you have no need of it. Your books look like novels, feel like novels, smell like novels and, most important of all, read like novels. If it quacks like a duck...

Though I think I know how you feel; I feel my WIP is so much more than the trashier side of science fiction that I read in my youth yet I suspect it would be sold as Sci-Fi. Though I'd settle for SF. It could be far worse - 'Ecoporn' springs to mind.

Jim Murdoch said...

When I first started writing I didn’t think anyone wrote anything bar ‘real’ novels in fact until I started to market my first book the idea that it might come under a genre of any kind never occurred to me. What did take me aback was the number of genre writers out there: no one seems to be even writing general fiction these days. As a literary novelist I feel quite out of it. There are so few online who aren’t major players who don’t really have the time—nor the need—to do proper blogs. When I first started writing—and for the next three novels—I never gave a second thought about who would read me; it was simply not an issue. Since I’ve started putting my work out there I’ve suddenly become conscious of the reader lurking in the shadows and what he or she might want and that’s definitely affected me detrimentally as a writer. I now think of a book not as a journey of discovery but as a product that requires marketing and that’s quite put me off especially since I’m struggling merely to get reviewers for my new book. (I made the mistake of saying in my e-mails—truthfully—that it was inspired by Beckett’s lesser-known novella Mercier and Camier and that’s got them all running for the hills when really what I should have said that it was a funny book about two Irish brothers who run away from home by mistake.) There are times I would love to sit down and write something commercial but that’s not what comes out. Even my last novel which is a sort of mystery doesn’t play by the established rules for mysteries and would drive lovers of Agatha Christie round the twist because the only ‘solution’ I provide is an imaginary conversation showing what might have happened; we never know for sure. So in that respect I’m a little jealous of you that you have found a market for what comes to you so naturally. Christ knows the mess I would make of a romantic novel were I ever foolhardy enough to embark on such an endeavour.

Seeing Eye Frog said...

Not my place to say of course, being a chap'n'all that, but I was slightly taken aback by your remark about womens' life (for which read 'vital'?) decisions being less clear cut. I'm assuming you mean in comparison to those made by men (rather than, say, chickens?). Do you really believe that? I appreciate you don't mean less important by the way (I don't necessarily equate fuzziness with levity).

As a matter of interest, your MA tutor - male or female? Only arskin', like.

Sarah Duncan said...

Diane - Perhaps it's not if the writing is in control, but whether the writer is in control of their subconscious

Sally - there's writing and there's selling, and marketing is everything when it comes to the selling bit, and nothing when it comes to the writing bit.

Phil - not apologetic at all, more we can't always control what we actually write, which may not be what we think we are going to write.

Jim - yes, I can see how your original pitch line might lack a certain marketing appeal! You're right, I'm lucky that my writing happens fits a particular genre so I can make a living from it. But we write what we have to, from the heart, and money has to come second.

Seeing Eye Frog - it's basic biology with a dollop of culture thrown in. Most - all? - women take hypothetical reproduction into consideration when they're thinking about their future re work and relationships eg many female medical students choose to become GPs rather than surgeons because they know that GP hours fit in with being a mother more easily than hospital surgery does. I don't think many young men think about this at all, and certainly not in a hypothetical way. Plus, women have a time limit on their fertility which men don't.
That's why IMO the choices and decisions are less clear cut for women because they're trying to weigh up future possibilities and hypothetical situations they might find themselves in, esp as they get into their late 20s - 40s, which is the age group I usually write about.
My MA tutor was a man BTW.