Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Your Genre Is So Yesterday's Formula

I was chatting with another author about trends in romance novels on Monday, and the conversation turned to "romance stories are basically fairy tales set in the modern world."

She didn't say it. I did. Because it's true, not because it's bad. Let me explain.

We discussed how main characters still have to fit the same basic roles of prince and princess, with the cool ride as noble steed and the ex as the villain. The basics are there, and that's okay.

Problem is we're all so used to people having a sneer in their voice when they say "romance stories are basically fairy tales for grown ass women" that it gets our hackles up. And then those same people go on to bitch about how romances are too formulaic for them to bother with so they read ________ (really, you can fill in the blank here with any genre of fiction and the argument I'm about to give remains).

Guess what, boys and girls, all fiction is formulaic within a genre. I'm going to go with mystery because it's the easiest example:

  • Intro: crime scene (but maybe not THE) crime scene--serves to either intro the mystery and/or the main character (often but not always an underling detective or a retired one of some sort)
  • Refusal: Hero(ine) either tries to step away from the case or is forced away form someone higher up. 
  • Call to arms: Criminal hits too close to home, hurting someone the hero(ine) cares about, that makes them insist on being on the case (with or without that higher up's approval)
  • Clues: Pretty much act 2 is all about seeding clues and playing cat and mouse with the bad guy.
  • … 

And really, I'm bored now. The point is mysteries follow the same basic formula of
Bad guy does something, good guy chases bad, almost loses him, and catches him in the end.
Let's compare that to romance, shall we (heteronormative for ease of writing only):
Boy meets girl, they chase each other, they almost lose each other, but catch each other in the end. 
Yep. Not so different. Yes, subplots. Yes, backstory. Yes, all those things that make each book unique--but that is true in any genre. Here's the dealio--people like formula, even if they flavor it with bourbon. We all want to sit back with our bottle full of formula and snack on it--because it's comforting. Like having a nipple in your mouth.

So, they naysayers shall say nay, but romance readers need to stand tall and proclaim their love of fairy tales. After all…

And no matter what our genre of choice, don't we all have dragons we'd like to slay?


  1. Love this post! haha it's so true, everything is formulaic. My husband and I watched Elysium recently, and at the start where Matt Damon's character is a little boy, playing with a little girl, I said "Oh, there's the chick who'll grow up to be kidnapped and threatened with rape so he'll have to go against his better judgement and save the day by kicking the space station's ass." I hate being right all the time.

    1. LOL <3 That's a fantastic example!

      Honestly, though, an author (who shall not be named) ruined an entire series for me by making the Big Bad of the series a character that made absolutely no sense. I got the sense reading that final book that she'd paid attention to who readers thought was behind everything and said "Shit, they figured it out" then scrambled for another way to wrap things up. It was…less than satisfying for the simple reason that it went totally against expectations. And not in a way where, as a reader, I could go back and see how it worked.

      It made me much less enamored with her as an author.

      As much as they're sometimes frustrating, formulas are our reading/viewing comfort food. It's one reason people tend to embrace certain (usually similar) genres--it's the same basic formula. (Also one of the reasons switching to romance was so hard for me LOL)


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