Thursday, May 7, 2009

How Deep is Your Romance Novel?

While writing blogs for the upcoming release of Outcast, I began thinking about why we write what we do—why certain themes appeal to us and then find their way into our writing. The question is, is it intentional? Do we set out to write a story about redemption (men who have shady pasts and whose lives are turned around by love), or salvation (women who have been wounded by love and then find the one person who can heal them) or vengeance (man sets out to kill those responsible for the death of his family and finds love)? I remember wondering if the interpretations we studied in literature classes were really what the author intended, or if it just looked that way after the fact. I can't always tell you what I had in mind when I began, but I can tell you what feelings I take away from a book after I've finished it. Sometimes meanings are obscure, and sometimes there are none that I can identify, but there's a feeling that I associate with each of my books—something that was relevant to me at the time and came out in the telling.

Even though having deeper meanings can be very important to a writer, I think we must be very careful when we consciously insert one, so as not to hit the reader over the head with it. Everyone likes to get up on their soapbox about something, but it must be a natural enough part of the story that it doesn't make the reader say, “Oh, no, she's spouting off about that again!” Our beliefs and values will always find their way into what we write, but it's best to know when to say when and not let them usurp the story.

Another question I've sometimes pondered is, Do romance novels really need to have a deeper meaning? Can't they just be stories about falling in love? I remember seeing an interview with John Lennon where he was talking about a fan who claimed to understand the true meaning of a particular song. John insisted that the lyrics didn't mean anything; that they were just nonsense and that he was drunk when he wrote them. I don't think any romance can be called nonsense, but looking for deeper meanings is pointless if they aren't there.

Or is it? Do a writer's deepest feelings emerge when there's nothing between them and the keyboard? Are they hidden within what we've written whether we know it or not? Do the ideas pouring out of our heads have special significance, or are they just there to entertain? I don't know the answer to that, but either way, it's something we need to do. Writers need to write and readers need to read. Maybe it's just that simple.

End of blog.


  1. Ooh, feeling introspective today, are we Cheryl? :)

    Very good blog. I think there can be no doubt that most writers put at least hints of who they are and how they look at the world into what they write. But whether that is always something deep and meaningful, probably not.

    I am very amused by the tendency among the Austen-elite to approach Jane's writing as if she were some sort of divine prophet. No offense meant at all, because I do believe she was a brilliant writer, but like it or not she was just an average woman writing about romance and relationships among the society she knew. No one at the time thought her novels earth shattering or Pulitzer-worthy! Nor, do I think, would she consider herself on par with Aristotle or the Bible!

    Your story of Lennon reminds me of what I read that Robert Plant said of "Stairway to Heaven" - that they were high on LSD when they wrote it and the song had no deep meaning at all. I am sure many will still argue that! I do not think there is anything wrong with a movie or song or book that is fun and light and designed for pure entertainment.

  2. Morning, Cheryl! Nope, I don't think it has to be deep and meaningful at all. And honestly, if I'm reading for fun, I hate being knocked over the head with something. I think, as writers, there are things we tend to return to time and again, even if they're just small things (maybe not everyone, but I believe I do...I can only speak for myself, though!), but it's not a conscious decision. I just get a story idea in my haed and go...if I overthought it, I think it would just gum up the works! I hate even doing a full synopsis because I like to be surprised along the way, after all...NOT a heavy planner!! Cool post. And now I have the Andy Williams song in my head.

  3. I think the truth lies somewhere in between... some books are stories told to amuse, touch, and entertain. But any writer who thinks and feels deeply and works hard at their craft injects more into the work than they are aware.

    And I do believe that reading, though it can be, is not necessarily a passive activity. The reader brings all of their life experience to the book they are reading, and are entitled to lay their interpretations over the work and take from it something that perhaps the writer didn't even know was there.

    That is the most beautiful moment of all, for a writer... when you have touched someone on a level you weren't even aiming for!

  4. Ooh, what Donna said! I love that response!

  5. Yes, Sharon, even I get introspective at times!
    I guess what makes Jane Austen's work so timeless is that she WAS "an average woman writing about romance and relationships among the society she knew." She gives us a snapshot of the period taken through her own eyes; whether there is deeper meaning there is up for debate.

  6. Okay, Kendra. Now I won't be able to sleep trying to figure out which Andy Williams song you're referring to!
    Yeah, the synopsis thing is just too restrictive for those of us who write by the seat of our pants, isn't it?

  7. Very true, Donna! I think we leave our stamp on our work whether we like it or not, and I've already heard interpretations of what I've written that were not truly what I had in mind, but it usually makes sense. You never know when what you've written will strike a chord with a reader, but when it does, it's magic!

  8. You are making us think today, Cheryl. For me as a writer, I never set out with the intention of bringing any deeper themes into my books. However, most of them seem to focus on family dynamics and how they play into the romance. Is that intentional? Nope. Is it a reflection of my own life? Probably. I like to write about ordinary people (Ryan Sanderson excluded) who have extraordinary things happen to them on the road to love. And then I hope readers will enjoy the journey as much as I enjoyed writing it.

  9. And you write it very well, Marie!

  10. Cheryl,
    Cat-Star Chronicles had so much deep meaning!!!!1
    I think then, you must have been sniffing too much horse lindement or Rubbing Alcohol when you wrote the Cat-Star Chronicles.
    And boy I'm not complaining!!!
    I'm so looking forward to "Outcast" to come out.

  11. LOL! Actually, I think we can blame the high testosterone levels in my house for that, Donna. It's the only explanation....

  12. Oh, crap, it was early...I meant Andy Gibb. But I actually think I meant the BeeGees. Don't listen to me. It's early. Ugghhhh.

  13. Great, Kendra! Now I'll be hearing it in my dreams!
    Going to bed now. I'll check back later on....

    How deep is your love
    I really need to learn
    cause were living in a world of fools
    Breaking us down
    When they all should let us be
    We belong to you and me....

  14. I think I believe that sometimes there is a deeper meaning but sometimes it's fun. The one story I wrote for my creative writing class was about love but also about redemption. I love fun stories that make you feel all happy inside but I also like stories that make you think and go, "Wow"

  15. Consciously, no, I don't do this. But subconsciously? Oh, yeah. It's there. And I get blown away when I see it. Sometimes I didn't even know I felt a certain way about something until it shows up.

    good blog, Cheryl!

  16. Love it, Cheryl! I so agree with everyone. For me, I'm a pantser so I don't consciously think of theme or deeper meaning although I'm definitely influenced by events and life happenings. A friend of mine who looked over some of my books is a retired HS English teacher and she would find parallels between characters and neat literary stuff that I had never considered. I think our backgrounds can set us up to write in this manner, subconsciously oftentimes.
    I loved what John Lennon said. I saw an interview of Robert Frost about the same thing for Stopping in Woods on a Snowy Evening. Literary critiques said he was talking about death. He said he was not. The Literary critiquers said he was but it was subconscious. I like to think he wrote beautiful poety, just the way he intended. :) But sometimes some deeper meanings are neat to consider.

  17. I really love what Donna brought up. Reading is passive, sure, but everyone brings their own life experiences into what they read. That is just one of many reasons why I love to read books over and over. Every time I glean something different. Did the author intend that? Hide some deeper, secret meanings into the text? Probably not. But I have a different feeling or opinion due to where I am in my life or the mood I am in as I read.

    It kind of goes along with what Kendra said about Frost. It is funny, but also kind of sad that the literary snobs would insist Frost meant something. Why not just admit that they felt a simile to death rather than forcing that onto Frost? Folks do that with Tolkien. Insist that he was writing about WW1 when he repeatedly denied it was an allegory. Goes back to what I said about Austen. If readers want to make something philosophical out of her work, fine, but don't force it upon her and in turn force that hoity-toity attitude upon every reader. Some just love it because it is timeless and romantic and a slice of life long ago.

    OK, sorry for the rant! LOL!

  18. Great post, Cheryl and fabulous comments everyone.

  19. Well, it looks as though we all seem to agree that deeper meanings get into a story for the reader to discover, whether we, as writers, do it intentionally or not.
    Every now and then, I read something that clicks with me and I'm amazed at how the writer has somehow managed to delve into my soul. I guess it's because, in the end, we're all human.

  20. I often wonder what I missed by never studying literature in school - our principal insisted that we read literature, but thought that learning to analyze it would stop us from learning to enjoy it.

  21. Interesting post.

    The joy of reading and writing novels is that human issues, choices, even moral delimmas, are confronted on a personal, intimate, and local scale--the scale at which life is actually lived.

    Certain themes like redemption, forgiveness, societal attitudes can be discerned, but only by veiwing the work from the outside.

  22. Sheila,
    I think your principal may have had the best idea of all. It's hard to enjoy something when you know you have to find answers to test questions buried somewhere within it.

  23. Trust you to put it all in a nutshell, MM--and eloquently, too!