Monday, December 20, 2010

And in the end...

“You’re a writer?” The pudgy guy I’ve just met peers at me through beige, plastic rimmed glasses. “What do you write?”


“I don’t like romance,” he states flatly.

I squelch the urge to say, Gee I never would have guessed. I settle for a head nod. I wonder how quickly I can get away from him.

Sure of his superiority, he rocks back on his heels, and adds a smug smile. “The trouble with romances is that you already know how the story is going to end.”

I try to keep my expression mild. “Is that so?”

He bounces on his toes in triumph. “Yep. The hero and heroine will always wind up together!”

“That’s true. All end the same way.” I offer an admiring smile. “I’ll bet you’re a murder mystery fan.”

He flushes a little with pleasure at finding himself understood and his discerning taste recognized. “That’s right.”

“But it doesn’t bother you at all that murder mysteries have the same ending.”

His brown eye dart from side to side, as if he's trying to see where this conversation went off track. “But they don’t—“

“Don't you know that the book will end with the murderer being caught?"

"Well yes, but--"

"And you even know who will solve the case.” I look around the room. “I see someone waving to me. Pardon me while I go speak to her.”

Will all romance writers who have had some version of this experience, please raise their hands?

My rude friend has a right to his taste—no question—but the fact is he has mixed up liking a certain kind of story (and story ending) with criticism. He sits down to read his mystery with the same anticipation of pleasure as any romance fan, secure that the book will turn exactly the way he wants it to.

Only in recent years have I come to understand how much liking a certain ending has to do with finding a story satisfying.

Take Law and Order and all its spinoffs. I watched it a few times. The stories were believable, intelligent and well-written; the acting superb. And then I realized I felt terrible any time I watched it. And then I noticed that the episode always, always, always ended with a downer. Just when it seemed there would be some resolution, the full tragedy was revealed. And the resolution was comfortless, since justice was at best partial, and society’s response at best, adequate.

Obviously, a lot of people found the endings of Law and Order satisfying. Dramatically, I could appreciate them. Emotionally they always felt like a let-down to me. They didn’t feel ended.

Cheryl remarked yesterday on the “four women friends get together” subcategory of women’s fiction and she put her finger right on the fact that to her the ending didn’t feel like an ending.

I didn’t ask the murder mystery fan if he’d think a story would work if the detective didn’t solve the crime. No need. The answer is it wouldn’t be a murder mystery if the crime weren’t solved—and by the series’ detective. And it wouldn’t be a romance if it didn’t end with true love triumphant.

Have you run into the murder mystery fans who complain about the way romances end?


  1. I haven't had any ugly run-ins yet, but I agree with you. I like my happy endings. There is too much heartache and chaos in the world already. People, we have power, at least on the page. Give the reader a happy ending, darn it.

  2. I was at a Christmas party when the host mentioned to the table of guests where I was seated that I was an author. *sigh* One was a Baylor engineering professor and when I said I write romances, he said, "With Happily Ever Afters?" It really wasn't a question but a condemnation. His wife bubbled up, "I love romances!" Which might be why he was less than enthusiastic about romances.

    And one of the other men at the table loved the idea I wrote romances. So there to the engineer. LOL

    They're not for everyone, just like true crime or historical works, or murder mysteries (without the romance) or werewolves are for everyone. That's what's so fun about society. We all like to read different things, and we have wonderful writers who feed our passion! :) Thanks for sharing, MM!

  3. Just yesterday, a friend I respect very much told me romance plots are "so simple." Ye gods... not one external conflict but at least two, not one character arc but at least two, sometimes three if the villain is going to be redeemed for showcasing in subsequent books, subplots, multiple character arcs, supporting characters.... by the time I was done shooting around the room backward, she understood much more clearly what a challenge it is to come up with a solid romance plot.

    Which leaves me still trying to meet that challenge.

  4. I haven't had any rude comments along those lines, MM, but you're right about everyone having their favorite genre. The thing about romance novels is that while you may know the ending, you don't know how the H&H will get there. It's more about the journey than the destination.

  5. Oh, yeah. I run into this all the time. Mostly I run into well-meaning people who insult me unintentionally. "Oh, I love those trashy books." Um, thanks?

  6. Terry, before I was published, I read several articles by romance authors about how they handled sexual remarks.

    I've only ever gotten a few of those, and most were so good-natured I could just laugh them off.

    But I never imagined that people would be so rude as to put down my work to my face. After a while, I began to notice that the stated objection (as in your example) was to the ending!

    I wish people joy in whatever they like to read. But I'm also beginning to craft some snappy comebacks.

  7. Simple! Ye gods!

    I'm glad you straightened her out. And I'm sure you respect her even more because she was willing to be straightened out. Good for her.

    My personal challenge is around the "dark" character. I'm not happy letting any character just be a bad apple. I want his or her actions to be comprehensible even if the character is unlikeable. Talk about making a plot complex! And then, as you say, if you need to set that character up for redemption later...

  8. Anita,
    At least she likes how they end.

  9. I think most people who slam romance have never read one. Personally, I read and enjoy a lot of different genres. There are certain expectations in all genres. One of my favorite genres is scientific/medical thrillers. The endings don't have to be happy, but they must be satisfying and the germ/toxin/creature must be dealt with by the scientist/doctor/lab-rat by the end, otherwise I'm a cranky reader.

    I remember setting up a booksigning and telling the manager (a youngish male) that the book was erotic romance. He kept blushing, was not able to meet my eyes and responded to everything I said with "niiiiiiice". I just found it funny.

  10. I usually get, "Romance, huh? Well, let me tell you the story of my life. You really must write it because it will outdo anything you've ever written before."
    At which point I tell them, "I'm up to my eyeballs in snapping alligators called deadlines. Why don't you write it and let me know when you get it published. We'll do lunch and celebrate!"
    I haven't had to do lunch yet!

  11. This actually happens to me, when I explain what I do for a living, and one of my favorite things to explain is that 1 in 4 books sold in the US is a romance novel--over half of all fiction sales are romance! At Sourcebooks, one of our philosophies is that data drives creativity, and romance is a genre that has the numbers to back it, and then some. And the looks on their faces are generally worth it :)

  12. Cheryl, you're right of course. Fans of any genre like their favorites because they enjoy the process of getting to the end.

    But I had never thought about the fact that a certain kind of ending defines my enjoyment of the genre until Battlestar Galactica came along. It promised to be just my cup of tea.

    I gave it good try, I did. But ultimately, I had to admit my disappointment and turn away. Why? Because although the stated goal of the odyssey was to reach Earth, and they won every battle, every episode ended with them no closer to their goal.

    Battlestar Galactica gave me a clear example of enjoying the process but knowing that the ending would be "the same," and unsatisfying, ultimately turned me off.

  13. Carolyn,

    I've never heard that one, but it sounds like you've got it handled. :-)

    The time that I fight to keep a straight face is when the person says, "I've always wanted to write a book. Do you have any tips on getting published?"

  14. Danielle--wow! I'll bet you do encounter every "objection" to romance there is--and then some.

    While many people might object to the taste level, there's no question, the numbers are on our side.

  15. As I've said many times, I've been at this a long time and I've had just about every question and insult you can imagine about writing romance. I've just learned to say, "That's okay, I don't like horror and I wouldn't read horror if my best friend wrote it, so I know what you mean about romance." When I say that I take nothing away from the author who puts in her/his blood, sweat and tears to plot it, write it, edit it and edit it again. I just don't want to read it so I'm okay with people who don't want to read romance. And yes, some can be rude but more often than not they just want you to think they are too cultured to read romance! :-) Unbelievable I know, but true.

  16. Personally, I'm a fan of the OTHER reaction that often results when I tell people I write romance. You know what I'm talking about. The look that says, "oh, so you're a pervert then?"

    Well, now that you mention it...


  17. Amelia, you are entirely correct in your reading of the subtext of my little story. I was perfectly willing to allow the man to like (or dislike) any genre--even mine.

    What made my fur stand up was his assumption that his taste was a mark of his superiority. What was amusing was that by demonstrating his superiority he proved his ignorance.

    But, shoot. There's one like him born everyday. And those of his ilk are more to be pitied than reviled. (And wouldn't THEY be insulted if I said so! LOL!)

    Ultimately, what was interesting to me, was that he focused on the inferior "sameness" of the ending, which me suddenly aware that every genre has a dependably "same" ending. And of the degree to which the ending defines the genre.

  18. Oh Tawna, too funny!

    The reaction that makes me shake my head is the look that says they think I'm either lying about being a romance writer or kidding.


  19. I've had my share. Some funny, some not and all you can do is smile and make them think.

    It's even worse when a man volunteers to 'help' you write a romance. Ugh!

  20. Linda, a man volunteers to...? Oh, that's creepy--and somehow, very, very funny.

  21. I love the way you handled that rude fella. Well played.

  22. I waited tables at night and wrote during the day for 17 years. I'd ask my restaurant guests what they liked to read. One night a man said, "I don't read," and before I could think I said, "Then let me help you with the menu."

    However, in all those years, until I was self-supporting with my writing, nobody dismissed my books as trashy (of course, they might have thought it, LOL).

    And may I say that not all crime fiction ends the same way, with the crime solved and the murderer caught? The crime may be solved, but the killer may escape. Best example is Silence of the Lambs.

    And Dexter breaks ALL the rules :)