Monday, 25 August 2014

How to Break into Romance

By Sasky Stewart

Do you know your HEA from your GMC? Your protagonist from your antagonist? Or exactly when it's appropriate for your characters to get down and dirty (the answer is not too soon)? If you don't, "How to Break into Romance" will help you fill in the blanks. 

Rachael Herron starts the seminar by asking who the knitter on twitter was. Whilst it hadn't been me, the knitting I retrieve from my handbag grabs her attention and within a moment she's fondling the half done toque and inquiring what wool the wool is (a merino blend from Italy).

It sets the tone for the next hour and a half and reflects Rachael herself, an effusive, warm Californian with a unmistakable passion for both her writing and the romance genre. Her seminar "How to Break into Romance" is a crash course in the bones of popular romantic fiction and Rachael deftly guides our small group (20-odd, all women) through the process of shaping a novel, the peaks and troughs inherent in any romantic plot and the crafting of our characters. My seminar-mates share a quiet chuckle as Herron touches on a problem we all understand - how do you get a damn book finished - and highlights the inner voice we all share that belittles our words. She admonishes us to just keep writing, as fast as we can, regardless of our mistakes. That's what reviewing is for!

Romance is a feminist battlefield:
Sasky Stewart (L) and Rachael Herron
Pic. Sasky Stewart
It is however, her opening discussion of the romance novel in the context of feminism, that catches my imagination the most during the seminar. Reflecting on the social perception of the romance novel and novellist, she discusses how the female domination of the romance industry has often led to its denigration. Its "for women, by women" nature, the cliche of the clinch cover and the requirement for the happily ever after makes it easy to mock and often, she suggests, women are  complicit in the perpetuation of this attitude.

Herron challenges this idea though and quotes Sarah Wendell from the ever popular 'Smart Bitches, Trashy Books' blog and podcast on the truly feminist nature of romance writing: 

"It’s [romance writing] a 50-plus-year-old industry comprised mostly of women writers operating their own businesses and producing a genre about women’s self-actualization, pursuit of autonomy, and acquisition of sexual agency for an audience made mostly of women, who buy over $1.4 billion dollars worth of books a year. No, no, nothing feminist or even subversive about that."

The quote brings a smile to my face and as the discussion rolls on into question time and Rachael covers topics as far reaching as how much sex is too much sex (in the novel, of course), can you make someone fall in love only at the end of the novel (not really) and do athletes make good male leads (yes) I'm left itching to get out of the room.

Not because I'm over the session, far from that in fact, but because Rachael has left me and, I suspect, many of my other seminar mates as well, eager to get back to my own work. Her excitement has infected me and I'm already mulling over plot twists and character changes in my mind, even as I take a moment to pause for a quick picture (with knitting - see above!).

I think that's the sign of a good class - when you're left so eager to write you're scampering for the door to get started.

That's an experience I was lucky to enjoy today.


  1. Sounds like a great session. I absolutely agree that the best workshops have you scampering back to your desk to get back to your own work.

  2. Love this feminist interpretation of romance novels! Sounds like this was a fun and informative event.


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