What happened in the year 2000?

Any good literary analyst can tell you that books are snapshots of the time period they’re produced in, in spite of whenever or wherever the book takes place.

I knew that the writing style of historical romances circa the 1970s/1980s was different than the 1990s and then the 2000s.  The 70s/80s romance novels (historical or contemporary) were post second-wave feminism.  The tales from the 80s were skewed more toward dark, violent and tragic.  The 90s retained this grittiness but riding on the third wave of feminism were less abrasive in their violence toward women, and more about making women into complex characters.  The 90s met the take-charge heroine, and so came the fall of the damsel in distress heroine.  In the 2000s, there was a shift to fetish virginity and attach it to nobility of character and a dire need to make a martyr of the heroine with her always trying to save orphans, poor people and fallen women in the most conflated ways.

These are the trends I’ve noticed in the pop fiction, which really says a lot about the evolution of the perception of women by other women over the last two decades.  The current trend skews toward martyrdom and I believe that comes with the more pseudo-sentiment of community we’ve been espousing for the last few years.  The virgin excitement may come from a generation that is used to people not being virgins and finding that era’s norm a peculiarity.

I found these little things worth noting, because they really offer an insight into how women perceive themselves and how the values of a culture change over time.

Top 5 Most Overused Title Words

1. Midnight – An overused word in general when it comes to the internet (I claim guilty on this) because there’s just something cool about the clock striking 12 – time’s up.

2. Iron – Of late, this has been coming up a lot in the titles of books I’m encountering.  Between the fairytale/fantasy and growing steampunk genres, it’s lost it’s strength as a title word.

3. Confessions of…  –  In the early 2000s, “confessions” became a huge catchphrase for marketers.  Everyone was confessing to something – Madonna, Usher, Paris Hilton, shopaholics.  It was the formative years of the age of perverse spectacle that we’re in now, where everyone is expected to reveal everything and be surprised when they’re judged.  I wonder if the 2010s will be the In Denial of… craze.

4. Mad Libs Titles – Since Girl with the Dragon Tattoo exploded onto the scene, there’s been a craze toward elongated titles that sound like they were put together by mad libs.  It’s more of a stylistic rather than wording choice, but it’s pretty overused.

5. Title: A Novel/The True Story of… – This by and large falls under the stupidest titling trends.  Well, thank you for clearing that up, I thought this was a technical manual or autobiography!


When It’s Done Right

Here is a rare gem indeed – I’m going to rant about a historical romance done right.

The characters are multi-dimensional, humanistic rather than characteristic, and there’s a level of genuine drama, not melodrama lingering between them.  Connie Brockway has been on my radar since last year, but I hadn’t touched her McClairen family series until now.

The trilogy is formulated around the three Merrick silbings, whose tragic family history haunts them and their truly villainous father Lord Carr is at the heart of it.  This hearkens back to my theory that a hero is only as good as his/her villain, and Lord Carr is the exact scheming, mad and cunning evil genius that keeps the heroes on their toes.  He isn’t the usual caricature Jafar villain of historical romances, he’s actually got his hands all over the pot and proves difficult for his children and their respective spouses to combat.  His greedy motivations and deft ability to play the role of wolf in sheep’s clothing puts him in a league above 98% of the other historical villains I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of those).

The stories unfold like a chess match.  It is a true battle of wits in order to survive, and the Merrick children pull it off in such a smart and heart-felt way.  Though they love, Brockway makes it natural and subtle rather than large pronouncements and obnoxious repeats of how in love they are.  No crying around virginity being the exaltation of being, though there are female virgins.  And Brockway knows how to conduct romantic tension like it’s the New York Philharmonic. She takes time to develop the plot and the romance together, rather than tacking on a plot to the romantic plot.

Elements of foreshadowing and Gothic flair add to this series.  The conclusion is befitting, though rushed it works.  While there are some weak points, I find that this has to be one of the best romances I’ve come across and it deserves way more credit than it has.

Romancing is Hard to Do

I think the hardest genre to write for is romance.  There’s really an art to doing it, whether it’s in a super hero comic book or a Harlequin special for $3.99 at the drugstore.  Everyone has their own ideas about romance and who they think is their ideal mate, so often this can be hard to gauge.  Everyone has their own fantasy about how it unfolds.  Some like it quick, some like it slow, some like it somewhere in the middle.

I tend to prefer a slow build-up into something akin to epic, but it’s a harder way to write it.  When writing the romantic plot for the characters, I have goal post scenes that I aim for that are in my head.  Every touch and every hint has to be played out correctly to lead into that particular scene.  Fan fiction has been great at helping me practice these techniques.  Sometimes I rush too much, sometimes the tension could have been built better, and sometimes I’m too subtle and miss a moment.  It’s not always easy finding the right balance.  I think about authors who’ve achieved what I’ve set out to do and break it down.  I also look at authors that didn’t and see what went wrong and fell flat.

At the same time, each story and each writer has this sort of gusto that will draw people in.  It doesn’t come in equal amounts to either.  Some romances could be greatly written, but the reader might not fall in love with the characters as they should.  Some romances could have been written better, but there’s something about the characters that makes them intrinsically likeable and interesting that the reader can’t help but love with them.

Romance may be the most popular genre around, but at the same time it’s a challenge to achieve balance and win over a large crowd.  It’s a question of how stand out from the largest crowd.  It’s about knowing how to control yourself and your writing.  Most of all, it boils down to sheer luck that you’ll strike all the right chords to make it right.