A chat on Twitter the other day gave me the idea for this post. A lady who writes romantic comedy was bemoaning the fact that she was sneered at for her genre. As a writer of children’s, YA and speculative fiction, I could relate to that. We, too, get sneered at, and people who have no idea what it involves ask you when you are going to write a real book, or think that they could do it too if only they had the time.
I sympathised with the lady and we agreed that sometimes you just need to know that all will be well at the end of the book. I added that Pride And Prejudice was a rom com.
While romance of the Mills and Boon variety is not my cup of tea, I do respect the authors and their skills that I know I will never possess - a pity, because a friend of mine who did write it years ago told me that, whatever her arguments with her publishers, she stuck it out, because it paid! You could live very comfortably on two books a year!
You do have to love what you write and take it seriously, or your readers won’t. Of course, that applies to all writing. Even when I write an education book, I just write a story, fiction or non, that I would enjoy reading, and learn something new each time. I’ve just done a phonics reader aimed at kids in their first year of school, but it had a story, and the editor described the storyline as “adorable”. I got all that into 250 words. In a 150 word reader I got the story of a family taking their pet goat to compete in the Goat Cup. It was short but over the top in humour.
The thing is, though, while people without any real interest in children’s books will tell you their idea and that their own children loved it, they expect you to write it for them, because “I don’t have time right now.” People who don’t enjoy romance fiction assume it must be easy, all they have to do is use some formula and bang! Bestseller!
Well, I don’t think so. Readers of romance expect to be entertained from the very beginning, just like young readers. Not everyone can do that, and certainly not if the author doesn’t read the sort of thing they are writing. By the way, I believe vampire romance started in the regular adult romance area, along with the erotic and the adventure romance, and now it’s a regular part of YA fiction.
While I’m not a fan of mainstream romance, I do enjoy romantic comedy. For those who think it’s all light, fluffy stuff that doesn’t deserve respect, I’d like to talk about some rom coms that people do respect, even those who think it’s nothing important.
I’ll start briefly with the YA rom coms of Aussie author Lili Wilkinson, who, alas, has given up the genre in favour of Serious Stuff. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with what she is writing now, but I can tell you the girls I worked with as a teacher librarian loved the gentle, humorous romances she used to write and were disappointed when she stopped writing them.
Lili’s romance books were so much borrowed in my library that they were rarely on the shelves. They were sweet and, above all, funny - over the top funny.
A Pocketful Of Eyes, for example, features a girl who is doing a part time job at a museum of natural history, helping with the taxidermy(hence the eyes of the title). When her supervisor is found murdered on the premises, she and the cute boy she is working with investigate. She also has a wacky mother who is into online gaming and D and D. It’s hilarious!
The last one I read, which may have been her last rom com, was Green Valentine, reviewed on this site, involving a couple of teens, a nerdy girl with a passion for the environment and the school “bad boy” doing guerrilla gardening late at night, challenging the developers. Thing is, they first met when she was in a lobster costume, handing out leaflets, and he doesn’t know there is a connection.
Guess what? Shakespeare wrote rom com. A Comedy Of Errors featured twins separated as young children, when their ship was wrecked. One went home to Syracuse with his father, the other was brought up in Ephesus. The Syracuse twin turns up in Ephesus, where he is mistaken for his (married) brother and falls in love with the wife's sister... That was turned into a musical, The Boys From Syracuse.
Twelfth Night? Very much a rom com! Like A Comedy Of Errors, it has twins in it, a girl and a boy, also shipwrecked. The girl, Viola, disguises as a boy and gets a job with the local Duke, Orsino, with whom she falls in love. The Duke, however, is courting a lady called Olivia, who says she is not interested because she is in mourning. That doesn’t last long, of course, when Olivia falls for the Duke’s handsome young messenger - Viola. When Viola’s brother, Sebastian, turns up, Olivia grabs him and marries him on the spot... you can probably guess what happens with Viola and Orsino. Oh, and this one was updated as a YA movie, She’s The Man, set in a boarding school, where Viola has disguised as a boy to play soccer, after her own team is scrapped. I used that film as part of my Year 8 introduction to Shakespeare.
My favourite, though, is Much Ado About Nothing. Two strong, intelligent people, Beatrice and Benedick, are always making wisecracks at each other, acting as if they hate each other, when anyone else can see they are crazy about each other, including their friends, who decide to get them together.
So, if even the Immortal Bard could write romantic comedy, why should we disrespect the genre?