Monday, December 17, 2012

On Romance

By DeAnna Knippling

Most romance readers start at a young age, I think. At least, when I talk to them, that’s how the story starts: “I picked up my first romance at age...” followed by a number between ten and fifteen. Then they’re hooked, they’re reading 2-3 romances a day, and there are always one or two books that saved their lives when they were teenagers.

I didn’t really start until this year.

I was taking a class on genre and managed to get at least somewhat close on the rest of the genres during a particularly brutal assignment, but did a nosedive on romance. It was obvious I hadn’t read the kind of book that I was outlining for the exercise. And I hate to fail.

So the game was on. I said, “Well, I like Pride & Prejudice, and people have told me that Regencies are the closest to that, so I’ll read a few books, come up with another romance outline, and test it out on a friend who does almost nothing but romance reading and writing and see if I get any closer.”

Like dropping a cat in the cream? Is that how you say it?

The craving for Regencies hit at a good time: I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and I get depressed every winter. Living in Colorado helps a lot, as do small doses of caffeine and, in general, taking things a little bit easier than I usually do. This year, I added “read some Regencies” to my list of depression fighters.

I can definitely see where a romance could save your life. I’m originally more of a fantasy reader: to escape into a different world, where even the most unimportant-seeming character matters, where a sheepherder or destitute beggar-girl can become a force to be reckoned with. Saving the world is a kind of therapy, and it saved my life many times.

Falling in love - another kind of therapy, a drug even. I’m wondering if I’ll be as focused on it when I hit spring, that time when I go completely nuts.  There’s sunshine all day long, and I want to go outside and eat everything. (Too bad I’m a terrible gardener.) Maybe then I won’t need so much sweetness and light, and I’ll switch over to horror.

As strange as it may seem, I find horror as therapeutic as romance. Not bad horror. Bad horror is just eye-rollingly dull. But good horror confirms that the bad times, the down times, the depressing times, really are there, and they aren’t just “normal,” they’re horrific. Then, with a rush of adrenalin, you’re carried down a river of emotion to the catharsis of the ending: the main character gains control over the “normal,” yet horrifying, situation; destroys the monster; and emerges bloodied, but victorious (although, admittedly, sometimes dead, but victorious). Horror novels are meant to make you feel alive, just like romance novels.

More parallels:
  • Both romances and horror novels involve sinking deeply into the character’s senses.
  • Both invoke the most extreme of emotions.
  • The plots of both involve getting closer to and further from the object of one’s emotions: in romance, the lover; in horror, the monster.
  • Both the lover and monster cannot simply be abandoned in favor of returning to one’s “normal” life, which has itself become untenable.
  • Both romances and horror novels involve strong moments of “Don’t do that, you fool!” In a horror novel, you try to caution people against going down into the basement alone; in a romance, you try to tell them just to stop jumping to conclusions and talk to each other!

In love, as in fear, we do many idiotic things with our hearts hammering in our chests. In order for the characters to complete their journeys in both romance and horror, they must start out less than wise - appealing, sympathetic, naive - and grow into their strength and confidence.

But why Regencies?

I’m noticing some patterns: a witty female (a bit nerdy, to tell the truth) who has been unlucky in love finds herself unaccountably attracted to an older man, more experienced (i.e., doesn’t have to fumble around in bed figuring out a) how to please a woman or b) getting past the adolescent idea that one’s pleasure is all that’s important), cynical, lucky in sex, but also unlucky in love (and also witty and competent - almost every Regency I’ve read makes a point of contrasting the property management skills of Our Hero with some other member of society who had the same advantages but drove himself into the ground; it’s not just about the title, but about the idea of responsibility). The two lovers are attracted to each other immediately, and while there’s explicit sex, it doesn’t solve their problems so much as pleasurably exacerbate them until they get the emotional side worked out, too. Strange, sounds like how I fell in love with my husband.

There are Regencies that work less well for me: The ones that don’t focus on the lovers dealing with society - the ones where they never make it into Town. The ones where the man tries to control the woman and make her into something she isn’t: passive (even if the women refuse to be controlled; I’m in a Regency for a meeting of equals, not a fight for dominance, which feels too rapey for me). The ones where the man has already decided that a certain woman will be his wife and has but to convince her - how unfair! The man should get to be convinced, too; even Darcy had to have almost half a book to come around.

At any rate, I outlined a Regency. Being me, there were...creatures... in it. (I am not allowed to call them by the zed-word, and upon further thought, the creature is turning more into Frankenstein’s monster than those other things anyway.) I got the thumb’s up, though there’s more work to do on the outline, additional brainstorming on how the rules work, who the other characters are (in case of series), that kind of thing. But it was judged a romance, and I was very relieved.

I already know how to scare the pants off someone.

But it feels like even more of an achievement to think I might be able to get them to take them off on purpose.  (Eventually.)

About the Writer: DeAnna Knippling started freelancing in May 2011 and wouldn’t be able to do it without her wonderful family and friends, especially her husband. In fact, she owes a lot to Pikes Peak Writers for helping her be a better writer, especially through the Write Brains, both in the lectures and in meeting lots of other writers.

Her reason for writing is to entertain by celebrating her family’s tradition of dry yet merry wit, and to help ease the suffering of lack of self-confidence, having suffered it many years herself. She also likes to poke around and ask difficult questions, because she hates it when people assume something must be so.

For more kicks in the writerly pants, see her blog at or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, available at Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, and OmniLit.

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