Recently, I’ve been working on writing a romance novel. Why? Because it’s a massive market, not complex, and easy to write. Seriously, in the last two weeks, I’ve written over 30,000 words. That’s a pretty fast rate, considering how little time I actually focus on work.
Now, I’ve also been reading a few currently popular romance stories – all in the name of research, of course. But in reading and writing romance, I’ve noticed something rather interesting. There is a clash in the romantic writing style with my normal approach.
In most areas of writing, the goal is to be concise. People don’t want pages and pages of exposition and description. They want action – soldiers charging, the clash of swords as the hero stands atop that mountain peak and battles against the evil personified in his nemesis. And reigning over this goal is the idea of “show, not tell” – that is, instead of telling a reader that “this person is an evil dude,” you show how he is evil through his actions, for example pointing out how he gleefully kicks a poor and helpless puppy.
In order to emphasize the principle of “show, not tell,” one class of words gets ostracized. Adverbs, despite the way that they try to be helpful, adding description onto those actions dashing about, are considered to be the first and last refuge of a lazy writer. Stephen King has gone on diatribes about adverbs being the gateway drug to bad writing. For example, instead of writing how the man slowly, deliberately draws his long, sharp, and pointy sword, a good writer would say something like:
“…his muscles flexed as he pulled the blade from its scabbard. As each inch of the weapon was revealed, light reflected from its razor edges. The unsheathing was calm, measured; the man was the calm before the storm…”
Nice and poetic and full of action, right?
But on the other hand, with romance, an author has to run in exactly the opposite direction. The more descriptors, the better! Adverbs? Sure, throw them in! Stir them into the giant word-stew! In romance, the setting is vital to put the reader in the right mood. The ‘action’ as such consists mainly of characters batting their eyes at each other and admiring each other’s taut muscles and full bodices, so there isn’t a lot to work with there. Here’s a romance scene:
“…her long lashes nearly lidded her eyes, providing a screen through which she could surreptitiously gaze at his figure. Her eyes traced over his thick arms, sliding down that sculpted chest to drink in his tight abs. A faint trail of hair led south, hinting at further treasures to be discovered…”
A lot less action – a girl’s just looking at a dude! But all of the adjectives and adverbs provide setting, description. In short, it feels like romance when you read it.
Getting used to writing like this is… unsettling, to say the least. But not without entertainment, although I fear I’m starting to reuse my adverbs.
Stephen King would shake his head at me.