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Book ends

The other day, I was talking to a friend about why I prefer romance (though I read in many genres). As always, the HEA came up. I won't get into that too much here because I've covered it in previous posts. The important thing to know about me as a reader is that if I'm going to invest my emotional energy in the characters, I want a payoff.

My friend said something like, “But I don't want to know how it'll end. I want to be surprised.”

I had no response, because the thing is that I do too. I never read the last chapter or the last page before I start a book. My favorite books are the ones that smack me upside the head with a surprise at the end. I don't even read the back cover blurb because I don't want any part of the story to be spoiled for me. (My apologies to the marketing department.)

Yet, I still want my happy ending. The thrill for me is in the struggle to get there. In how the characters overcome the obstacles in their way.

I said as much to my friend, but it didn't feel like enough. We moved on to other topics and ate our sandwiches.

But it nagged at me. And then I realized something. Romance is not the only genre that demands a certain type of ending. In other genres, their may be no romantic happy ending, but there's generally some kind of triumph.

I mean, really, how pissed would you be if you read a mystery and the PI or detective didn't solve the case? Even if he doesn't catch the killer in that book, he figures out who it is, or he finds the victim. And if he didn't, you'd probably never read that author's books again.

What about a thriller, like something by Vince Flynn or David Baldacci? The larger terrorist threat may remain when you close the book, but the day has been saved…at least until next time. Otherwise, what's the point in telling the story?

Think of movies. Would you want to watch Independence Day if the aliens won? What if Wesley didn't get the girl in Princess Bride? What if Matt Damon didn't outwit and evade the CIA in The Bourne Identity? Seriously, would you want your money back?

Even memoirs usually have an uplifting purpose. How the author overcame an addiction, recovered from a painful divorce, or learned to let go of childhood trauma, for example. Often, with some kind of win, positive outcome, or hope for the future.

I'm not saying my friend is wrong. How could she be? These are all just opinions. Hers and mine.

And yes, some people love the unexpected so much that they want the unhappy, dystopian, or ambiguous ending. I'm cool with that as long as I don't have to read it.

But popular fiction is popular precisely because it delivers what we expect. Authors who can do it in a unique or surprising way may find more than moderate success. But at the end of the day, they're adhering to the basic expectations of the genre in which they're writing.

As a reader, I demand it. What about you?

Fifteen years

Today is my fifteen year wedding anniversary. I always wonder if I believe in the HEA (happily ever after) so much because I'm living it.

When I ponder whether it's realistic for a H/H to fall in love after a few days, I only have to think back to the first week with my husband. It took less than five days for me to decide he was the one. I still waited almost two years to marry him–just in case–but I felt it almost right away once we started dating.

I had just told my mom I needed to go out with a guy that I already knew–who wasn't on my dating radar–and voila! Life delivered.

How cool is that?

Dear John

*SPOILER ALERT* If you haven't read Dear John, or seen the movie, and you don't want to know the ending, stop now and go enjoy a few Cake Wrecks instead (scroll down for the Valentine's Day posts).

I've already mentioned that one of the reasons I write romance is because I love a happy ending. After becoming emotionally invested in the characters of a novel, I want things to work out for them. In real life, things go awry daily. Lovers split, people get hurt, bad stuff happens to good people.

I like my books to be an escape from the harshness of daily life.

In romance novels, we suffer through the conflict with the characters, we wonder how they're ever going to overcome the obstacles and be together. But, we know that in the end, the big payoff is there. We count on it.

Okay, enough about HEAs. Here's the thing about Dear John by Nicholas Sparks. I enjoyed the book. I really did. But I hated the ending. Yes, it was the right ending for the story. It was the right thing for the characters to do, but it wasn't necessarily a happy ending.

After all the build up, the hero and heroine don't get to be together, and it really, really, really ticked me off!

In mystery novels, we expect the sleuth to solve the mystery/catch the villain. In spy thrillers, we expect the secret agent to catch the terrorists and thwart the major attack. In romances, the hero and heroine get their happy ending.

Like peanut butter and jelly. Romance and happy ending.

Yes, I know. Nicholas Sparks doesn't write romances. He writes novels with romantic elements that haunt you for days or weeks and require a trip to the grocery store for more tissues.

And that's why I usually don't read books like that. So, lesson learned.

Until next time. *Sigh*

What is a romance anyway?

My neighbor's husband kind of irritated me recently when he called romances “trashy novels”. Ahem. Has he ever read one? Especially a good one by a best-selling author? Even if it's not his thing, I think he'd be forced to admit that the writing is as good as–or even better than–other popular genres.

When you think of romance novels–if you ever do–you probably picture Harlequin's category books. You know, the thin books that come out every month with names like The Captain of Industry's Cavorting Concubine. And hey, don't knock 'em. In spite of some goofy titles these are well-written stories packed with conflict and emotion.

But there are so many more types of romances out there. Maybe you just call them bestsellers. Ever hear of Nora Roberts, Allison Brennan, Sherilynn Kenyon, Suzanne Brockmann, Sandra Brown? Romance writers all.

The only requirements for a romance are the HEA (happily ever after), and that the purpose of the story is to bring the couple together. That's it. I'm writing romantic suspense. My MCs (main characters) get shot at, thrown overboard, kidnapped, and more. But, those are all elements of the plot that conspire to keep my unsuspecting couple together long enough to fall in love.

I love the action and intrigue, but my ultimate goal is the happy ending. How is a romance different from other novels where the couple commits at the end? It's all about the focus.

For example, in the movie Avatar, Jake and Neytiri (I had to look that up) get an HEA. But the movie's not a romance, because the point of the story wasn't their relationship. Their romance was an integral part of the plot, but not the purpose of the movie. So, Avatar would be a story with romantic elements, rather than a romance.

The desire for love is universal. That's what romances are all about. There's a subgenre for every taste (paranormal, suspense, historical, comedy, inspirational).

If you've never read a romance, try it. You might be surprised.

POV or POS?

Be honest. Is your WIP GH-ready, or is it a POS? Not sure? Ask your CP for her POV about the GMC and SL in your MS.

If you're thinking, “WTF?” then read on.

In the military a POV is your Personally Owned Vehicle, that is, your car. There's an acronym for freakin' everything in the military. Think Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam.

But, every industry has its jargon and acronyms, and writing is no different. So for my non-writing friends, here are some of the acronyms that I've learned this year that may start popping up in my blog from now on. Hey, I'm all about the shortcut.

CP – Critique Partner: The person who tells you if your work is a POS (yeah, I believe that one's universal)

WIP – Work in Progress: Just like in the world of manufacturing, except the unfinished inventory is the manuscript

MS – Manuscript: Your book before it gets published, whether WIP or completed.

SL or s/l – Story Line: The plot. What happens to your characters between Chapter 1 and The End.

GMC – Goal, Motivation, & Conflict: This was the topic of my first blog. It's what each major character in a story must have in order to have a great SL.

POV – Point of View: This has two parts. 1) Is it in 1st or 3rd person? Yes, you really should have paid attention in English class. 2) Whose head is the writer in during the scene? Which character's experience is it?

GH – The Golden Heart: A contest for unpublished romance writers, sponsored by the Romance Writers of America. Being a finalist in the GH gets you noticed by agents and editors all over the country. Unpublished romance authors everywhere are tweaking and polishing their MS at this very moment, trying to get it perfect before the December 2nd submission deadline, yours truly included.

Did I miss any? Too bad, I have to go get caught up on SYTYCD.

UPDATE: Okay, I forgot a few…

HEA – Happily Ever After: To be a true romance novel, and not just a book with romantic elements, the reader must get a happy ending. The hero and heroine don't have to get married in the book, but a monogamous future must be implied.

RWA – Romance Writers of America: The national organization for romance writers. There are almost 10,000 members, and hundreds of local chapters all over the country.

SM – Southern Magic: My local chapter of RWA which meets in a suburb of Birmingham.

MC – Main character

H/H – Hero and heroine: As in “For a book to be a romance, the H/H must get their HEA.”

ARC – Advanced Reading Copy: early copy of the book that's given to reviewers, bookstores, and magazines several months before the book is published and formatted for mass distribution. Final copy edits may still be made before publication.

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