26 June 2007

REPOST 10/8/2006 What do books DO?

Do? Did that make sense to anyone? The premise in the context several people have asked it made no sense at all to me, so I decided to start with the base question.

I was asked the question twice this week. Once, someone asked me about what romance was SUPPOSED to do as a book...this from a literary type. The second was someone who asked what erotic literature was SUPPOSED to do.

It sounds like a simple question, but it's not so simple when you pull it apart.

What is erotic supposed to do? What is ANY book supposed to do? Is it supposed to amuse, entertain, etc.? Is it supposed to give a peek into a world or time not our own? Maybe into a lifestyle not our own? Does it tackle emotional and/or social issues? Does it portray a journey or battle for survival? Erotic fiction does the SAME things any other fiction book does...but it also arouses. That's part and parcel of erotic work. It arouses...and sensual engages the senses. What is it supposed to do? The same thing any other fiction book does plus that added bonus. No more. No less.

What does romance do? Romance is less cut and dried. And, erotic romance means making sure you get romantic WHILE you get the main purpose of the book AND the arousal couched (no pun intended) in there.

Literary types (not that all literary types are bad...my own work has often been compared to literary style in some ways)... Back to the subject!

Literary types often throw out these comments about how genre fiction isn't as good as literary...sometimes that it's "easy to write," because it has a formula. Rolls eyes. Formula.

You know, it's often said that there are only a handful of truly unique storylines in the world. From that point of view, every fiction book written (literary or genre) is going to fall into one of those gross storyline indicators...or a couple of them.

In additon, it's my opinion that people who say things like that don't really understand the genres. The genres don't have a formula; by that, I mean that the genres do NOT dictate step-by-step how the book will progress.

Someone out there is screaming, "Yes, they do! Yes, they do!" NO, THEY DO NOT!

What do they have? Borders. Instead of picturing a bowling lane that leads you down the line to the pins, picture a baseball diamond with a million ways to get to home plate.

It has rules of engagement. In a mystery, there is some crime committed (usually but not always a murder) and the criminal is eventually caught. How you get from A to Z is the art of the thing, and there is NOTHING formula in that. In fact, if you do the same thing ten others have, you are unlikely to sell it.

From that POV, the genres are little more than a filing system. Oh, you have a murder and the book ends shortly after the murderer is caught, you have a mystery...or at least a mystery cross-genre. What else happens in the book, so we can decide if it's crossed with something else?

To complicate things, romance is not the cut and dried it used to be.

Dark romance is on the rise, which tosses out many of the old standards of genre romance. You don't have to have a HEA (happily ever after) anymore...not in dark romance. You don't have to have virginal heroines who need a strong, white knight to save the day. The heroines can kick ass and the heroes can be villains in their own right. In fact, so can the heroines. Grin... You can tackle the hard subjects, the gritty side of life. In short, you can be romantic without being romance and still have a name for it.

Romance isn't one man and one woman exclusively anymore. Even RWA has accepted the rise of GLBT romances. In addition, one of the fastest-growing markets today is erotic romance. All sorts of things fly there that didn't fly in a 1970's HQ romance book, which is what I cut my teeth on.

Romances are ENCOURAGED to be strong cross-genres now. Even straight genre publishers, like Tor for fantasy and HQ for romance, are starting heavily cross-genre lines that blend the two. Hard science fiction (or even soft science fiction) cross-genres are on the rise.

So, what is romance supposed to do? Be romantic and fit into one of the MANY subdivisions of romance recognized today...or start a new one, WHILE performing one of the major functions of a book in general. I can't even say that it SHOULD be entertainment, since there are many books that don't stop there. In fact, dark romance often takes on heavy emotional and/or social problems in the course of the book.

What is a book supposed to do? Whatever the author writes it to do...and the reader buys and reads it to get into his/her life. There is no better answer I can give to this.

And as for the people who say genres are easy to write? I've posted this before, but I'll expand on it now. If you think something is easy, try writing it. Done? Bet you think you've done a good job. Now, have authors established in the genre read it. Bet they tore it apart!

Want to know why? Several reasons. You have no passion for the genre. You have a limited understanding of the genre and what makes a good book IN that genre, because you are so focused on the fictitious formula that you don't know how to play baseball in the genre instead of bowling. Back to that analogy. (BTW, I have NOTHING against bowlers...I love bowling, but it's a different game with 9 players per team and all that room to play...and the guidelines.)

You can't write something that you don't understand, respect and have at least a passing like for. In short, you can't write ANYTHING you loathe and do it the same justice someone who knows the rules and loves the genre can.

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