WARNING, in case some pre-teens are reading this blog, which they aren’t. The following text contains references to the mating process in humans, commonly referred to as sex. I can’t believe I just wrote this.
That’s right, I’m doing a second romantic binge, this time on books. I found a lovely collection of 17 romantic novels and novellas online and I’m about halfway through it. Which means I’ve had the time and the accumulation of information to make some conclusions.
Porn with (no) plot
I’ve lot of good things to say about romance novels so I want to get the bad out of the way first. A small minority of the stories I read in the past two weeks were little more than porn with an attempt at a plot. It’s particularly disappointing when such a story comes after a brilliant one.
Now, I know from painful experience that writing romance, especially romance involving sex scenes, is not as easy or pleasant as it may sound. Writing sex scenes is hard work that I imagine is similar to writing fight scenes. We’ve all seen them, some have maybe experienced them first-hand but describing the process is a challenge. Speaking of which, I’ve had this idea of describing a scene where someone eats and enjoys their food, as an exercise.
Anyway, it seems the challenge of juggling sex scenes with other events happening to the characters sometimes proves too great and both suffer from it. In one of the stories I read, the two main characters spent about half an hour naked in a hot spring… talking about their pasts. Then they went up to their room and had sex. After discussing it at length, baiting each other with “What I’d like to do to you” hints. It was clear that the author had wanted to take things slow with the reader and build anticipation but in the process plausibility suffered an instead of anticipation, annoyance was built in this reader.
Another story was plainly porn with the sketch of a plot. There was a location where events were unfolding, there were secondary characters, but I couldn’t finish the story because it came down to the two main characters talking to each other or to some of the secondary ones and then having sex. There was no plot to follow, really, just bits and pieces of one.
Porn with a lot of plot
I’ve just formulated the definition of a good romance novel: if it’s still interesting when you take out the sex scenes, then it’s good. I invented the wheel, didn’t I? Anyway, it’s true. Maybe it’s even true for more than one genre but I’m here to talk about romance today so romance is what I will talk about.
Most of the novels I’ve read so far during my romantic binge were interesting in themselves, even without the sex scenes, so they made great reads even if I happened to skip a heated session or two because I’d had one too many thumb-on-clit action poured on me. But more on that later.
I forgot to say at the beginning that the anthology I’ve been reading is strictly small-town romance because I enjoy small-town stories. Interestingly — or not, I’m not sure — most of the stories are set in the U.S. South, which is a bonus because I love the U.S. South. And it feels like many of the stories were written by authors with intimate knowledge of their setting, which made for great reads.
Witty characters, hilarious situations, a sprinkling of real drama rather than an overblown misunderstanding, and, of course, steamy scenes were what most of the stories were made of. Okay, so some of it may have been overdone but I’m fine with that, I’m not too critical when it comes to romance because I know it’s hard work. In most of these books (I just wrote in moist of these books, haha), the recipe worked. Including the cliches.
On fingers and other body parts
Romance, much like crime drama, uses some formulae and I don’t mean the basic intro-conflict-culmination-resolution that is present in every piece of genre writing. Based on all the books in the genre I’ve read, for romance the formula is most evident in the sex scenes. Now, based on experience I’d say they are completely plausible but also based on experience I’d say many of them tend to describe the same two- to three-course meal, as it were. And this meal invariably includes a thumb doing things to a “clit”.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. But one of the great things about higher mammal sex is variety. It is also a fact that humans tend to have five fingers on each hand and while I am aware of what two of these five usually do in these scenes, it doesn’t have to be this way every single time. Because the problem with a good formula is that if you overuse it, the writing gets repetitive and, sadly, boring.
Finally, the clit conundrum. I know some American English words are deliberately or organically transformed words from British English to suit the realities of American life (and sensibilities) better. Tidbit comes to mind. I also don’t mind shortened words as such. I just don’t understand why this particular organ needs to be shortened. It’s small enough as it is, after all. Is it because its full name clitoris sounds too scientific? Maybe. It has a weird Latin ending. Is it because it somehow sounds dirty in its full form? Again, maybe, although there is no such thing as a dirty word when language is your craft.
It takes all sorts
The absolutely greatest thing about the stories I’ve been reading is that while 90 percent of the characters are perfect physically, at least from the perspective of the authors and most of their readers, who happen to like full male lips, which I don’t, not all are perfect. There was even a story about a couple — gasp — over the age of 40. And the woman was — double gasp — over 50 AND older than the man. I love the stories that break the cliches.
I could understand why romance characters tend to be perfect. It’s because we like to fantasize about perfect partners and imagine ourselves perfect. I don’t think that’s the best option, however. I’d rather read a story about this six-foot and generously curvy young woman than yet another blonde and blue-eyed model of a girl who falls in love with the guy her father considers wrong for her.
Actually, both of these stories were good but I still liked the first one better because of the character’s non-typical physical appearance. Non-typical for romance novels, you understand. In reality, we are all “non-typical”. I like the real people who — as empirically proven time and again — can have great sex without looking like models with a painful family secret. Nothing wrong with the models, again. I just like real people better.
The happily ever after
We all want it. No matter what we tell our friends, no matter how deeply philosophical we want to come across as, no matter how unrealistic most happily ever afters can be, we want them. The end.