Thursday, August 10, 2006

Do All Romance Readers Love a Hero?

Jennifer said that:
because the romance novel is written primarily by women, the heroes in them have been written to appeal to a woman's parameters for sexiness, desirability and compatibility. If I don't fall a little in love with the hero myself, then the novel is not as good for me. And what straight male reader wants to feel drawn to the man?!
Laura Kinsale said something similar about the (female) romance reader’s relationship with romance heroes:
I have my own hunches about why the chemistry of reading a romance is so heavily weighted toward the male character. It is fairly obvious that the bottom line is sexual admiration: to me, a large part of it feels like a simple, erotic, and free-hearted female joy in the very existence of desirable maleness. Hey, women like men. (1992: 36-37)
Radway, however, describes the relationship between reader and hero somewhat differently, saying that each romance:
provides vicarious emotional nurturance by prompting identification between the reader and a fictional heroine whose identity as a woman is always confirmed by the romantic and sexual attentions of an ideal male. When she successfully imagines herself in the heroine’s position, the typical romance reader can relax momentarily and permit herself to wallow in the rapture of being the center of a powerful and important individual’s attention. This attention not only provides her with the sensations evoked by emotional nurturance and physical satisfaction, but, equally significantly, reinforces her sense of self because in offering his care and attention to the woman with whom she identifies, the hero implicitly regards that woman and, by implication, the reader, as worthy of his concern (1991: 113)
What I find interesting about this is not just that Radway doesn’t mention that the reader may have a physical, sexual, response to the hero (although perhaps that’s what’s hinted at when she mentions ‘physical satisfaction’), it’s also that she seems to be simultaneously saying that the reader is ‘in the heroine’s position’ and identifying with the heroine. There’s a big difference. In the first case, the reader is taking the place of the heroine, possibly imagining how it would feel to oust the heroine from the hero’s affections. In the second, she’s imagining herself as the heroine, wanting to be the heroine.

And what about readers who don’t do either of these things? I don’t want to deny the validity of Jennifer and Laura Kinsale’s reading experiences, but I don’t think the wish to fall in love with the hero is one that’s shared by all readers. Speaking for myself, I know I don’t fall in love with romance heroes. As a young teen I did have a crush on D’Artagnan (from The Three Musketeers) but neither Mr Darcy nor any other romance hero has ever made my heart beat faster. I think this is because in romances the author shows us (or should show us) that the protagonists have a good relationship, and that they love each other and are compatible. This being the case, it seems to me that the two are literally made for each other, and even supposing the hero weren’t fictional, any woman (other than the heroine) who fell in love with a romance hero would be headed for the pain of unrequited longings.

I’m not giving my feeling and experiences as an example because I’m convinced I’m representative (I suspect I’m not), or even because I think my reading experiences will be of great interest (I doubt that), I’m just bringing them up because I think it shows that just as there is a great deal of variety among romance novels, there is also variety among romance readers with regards to their reading experiences, and so one ought to be careful before making generalisations about the romance reader and what she (and the romance reader is generally assumed to be a she) likes, and why she reads.

Obviously a blog isn’t the appropriate place to carry out an academically rigorous study of romance readers, but I’ll ask a few more questions anyway. I wonder, how many readers feel the same way as Jennifer and Laura Kinsale? And do readers who feel that way want to be the heroine, or do they wish they could steal her man? Does everyone want to ‘fall a little in love’ with one of the main characters in a romance? Is it only heterosexual or bisexual women who do this while reading romances about heterosexual couples, or do male heterosexual readers fall in love with the heroine? Do gay male readers of romances about heterosexual couples fall in love with the hero? Do lesbians fall in love with heterosexual romance heroines?

I was also wondering if the reaction of falling in love with the hero is one which only occurs while reading the romance genre. Do readers who fall in love with the heroes of romances (or the heroines of romances) also fall in love with characters in non-romance novels? Is there something different about the way a reader engages with a romance? Does the fact that the story is about love make the reader more inclined to fall in love with one of the characters herself/himself?

---
Kinsale, Laura, 1992. ‘The Androgynous Reader: Point of View in the Romance’, in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, ed. Jayne Ann Krentz (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), pp. 31-44.

Radway, Janice A., 1991. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press).

19 comments:

  1. j as in jennifer11 August, 2006 01:31

    As a young teen I did have a crush on D’Artagnan (from The Three Musketeers) but neither Mr Darcy nor any other romance hero has ever made my heart beat faster.

    Laura, you have not revealed why it is you enjoy romance if the heroes don't make your heart beat faster. (I think it is interesting that as a teenager I had a crush on Athos from the book "The Three Musketeers" but on Michael York, who played D'Artagnan in one of the movies.)

    As for me, I don't want to elbow the heroine aside and take her man (although many is the time I want to choke her for not acting as I would), but when completely engaged I take the same point of view as the character in the novel, whether it is the female protagonist or the male protagonist (it's a nice change to think one is inside a man's head).

    Do readers who fall in love with the heroes of romances (or the heroines of romances) also fall in love with characters in non-romance novels?

    For me, yes. I had a crush on Dr. Maturin from the Patrick O'Brian "Master and Commander" novels even though he was not handsome and addicted to laudanum. If one is attracted to a character, it doesn't really matter if s/he is in a "romance" or not.

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  2. Laura, you have not revealed why it is you enjoy romance if the heroes don't make your heart beat faster.

    It's because I like reading happy stories, and I tend to think that for most people having a loving relationship will make them happy (I know there are exceptions, for example people who have a religious vocation, but I suppose they have a loving relationship with God instead. Hmm. Well, there are some people who like being single and want to stay that way). If I sympathise with the characters, then it makes me happy to see them happy. It's like when a friend's in love (with someone you approve of), and it makes you feel glad that they're so happy.

    Oh dear, written down that sounds so sentimental and mushy. But it's true. I think if I were to take the place of any of the characters in a romance I'd be the match-making relative of the hero or heroine.

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  3. As the representative straight male, I will jump in. As a teen, when I read some of my favorite books like The Count of Monte Cristo or Mutiny on the Bounty, I definitely had some sort of feelings for the female romantic interest. For the first, I used to dream about someone like Mercedes being attracted to me, and for the second, I definitely wanted to be swimming in a Tahitian lagoon with the beautiful bare-breasted Tehani. Yep. So this might answer the question of whether or not it occurs for some readers in non-romances, as the term is currently used. In fact it's largely my attraction to characters like Mercedes and Tehani that I have been wandering around looking for modern romances that I will enjoy.

    As for reading classic romances, I have limited experience. I wasn't in love with Elizabeth Bennett in that I never dreamed of her, but I certainly thought fondly of her and wished her the best - I could feel her dreams and agony and happiness at the conclusion. Kind of like a very attractive friend, but still a friend.

    I think the problem I have sometimes had is that while I am generally attracted to the heroine in a romance, it is tempered by the fact that I don't particularly find the man worthy of her attention. It's more like reading of your dear friend choosing the wrong guy, or just not getting what she sees in him. Is that because I am more attracted to her than I realize and I only really want me to be the object of her affection? Could be. Or the heroes might just not be the kind of guy I usually admire.

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  4. I had a couple more thoughts. I read one of Karin Kallmaker's books a couple years back. She is one of the better writers of lesbian romance. Her book was terrific. I was right there with the heroines all the way, wanting them to find love and happiness.

    In one way, that should be unexpected if my earlier comments were accurate, because almost by definition, I can never be the object of affection of either heroine in this case. But that wasn't a barrier at all to me. I think it is because I easily identified with the main character's feelings and desires. I easily understood what was so amazing about her loved one and I liked her as well. The result was a great reading experience.

    Or at least when I dream of being in the pool swimming with Tehani, I can enjoy the experience if the person swimming with her is male or female.

    I think this is one way that readers differ. I have spoken to straight men who cannot so easily read and enjoy a lesbian romance. Without a male character to identify with, they don't seem to enjoy the story. When I read, I don't need such a doppleganger. Simply liking both people very much does the trick.

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  5. I've been thinking about this a bit more, and I was wondering if the readers of inspirational romances have some other views to offer on this topic.

    Lynn S. Neal, who wrote her dissertation (now published as a book - more details on the Romance Wiki Bibliography) on readers of inspirational romances says that:

    "What I ultimately concluded is that they are re-envisioning God through these romance novels," Neal said. "The romance novels are a pale reflection of how God unconditionally loves them and humanity, which builds to the ideal of God as the great romancer -- the lover who never gives up." The Mountain Times

    Rebecca Kaye Barrett, who's also analysed reader responses to inspirational romances says something similar:

    Since Christian novels are resolved in the always-loving nature of God, the reader, too, finally experiences God's love when she puts her book down, as woman after woman testified during our discussions of reading.

    So I'm wondering if, given that the readers are feeling God's love, are they're less inclined to fall in love with the hero than readers of non-inspirational romances?

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  6. So I'm wondering if, given that the readers are feeling God's love, are [they] less inclined to fall in love with the hero than readers of non-inspirational romances?

    No, not at all. And I think some of these comments demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of Christian romance novels, which is not to evangelize or even to instruct believers, but to entertain. Christian women read inspirational romance novels for the same reasons they and other women read secular romances--to feel good about life and love and themselves. Christian romances are popular because they deliver that experience in a way that acknowledges and affirms rather than undermining or ridiculing the faith of Christians readers. Those readers choose "inspies" because they know they won't be offended by graphic language and sex scenes--and if the story's good, their faith will be renewed and they'll draw a bit closer to God.

    Just like secular romances, Christian romance novels must present heroes that a woman can fall in love with--whether that involves "being" the heroine or simply believing that the hero is...well, heroic and worthy of the heroine's love.

    To understand the "love triangle" (man, woman, God) in a Christian romance, we must understand it in real life. The woman does not love two "men." God is not on the same plane as the loved one, He is above it. He is the top of the triangle. In Christian marriage, each partner puts God not merely above his or her spouse, but above his or her own self. Christian romance novels reflect that truth. And just as the hero is not competing with God for the heroine's love, neither is he competing with God for the readers' "love". Which means that Christian readers "love" their heroes in the same ways that readers of secular romance novels love theirs--yes, even to the point of viewing them as "sexy" guys.

    Case in point: Readers of my second inspirational romance novel, in particular, have described my hero as "hunky" and "dreamy" and have gushed about "falling in love" with him. Check out these reviews at Amazon.com for some examples of that kind of language. If you'll mentally filter out all the "God" references, you'll see that these are the same kinds of comments made by readers about the heroes of secular romance novels.

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  7. Thanks very much, Brenda. I went across to Amazon, and found the comments you mentioned, including 'I'd marry him, and that's the biggest compliment you can give a romance hero, right?'. I think that makes it very clear what that reader thinks of the hero.

    I think some of these comments demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of Christian romance novels, which is not to evangelize or even to instruct believers, but to entertain.

    I don't think the articles I linked to mention entertainment much at all (though the first one does say that the author found that 'many women read for fun or for escape'). I wonder if this oversight/lack of attention paid to the way inspirationals entertain the reader is due to the authors' trying to differentiate between inspirational and the non-inspirational romances. It could just be that they were interested in other aspects of the relationship between these readers and their romances. But if the cumulative effect is to imply that Christians mainly read in order to edify themselves and strengthen their faith, then that's clearly misleading, because (and as an author of inspirationals, I think you count as an expert on them :-) ) you say that entertainment is very important to readers of inspirationals. And if your readers are commenting on the hero being 'hunky' then they're clearly interested in his physical appearance (as well as his personality etc).

    Is there an existing stereotype about inspirational romance readers? I'm just wondering now if in some people's minds there are different sorts of romance readers, because I've seen quite a few articles where the journalist contrasts inspirationals and erotic romances and I wonder if there's a cliched idea that at one end of the romance-reading spectrum there's the modest, pious reader of inspirationals who reads for devotional purposes, then there's the bon-bon eating housewife who reads mainstream romances, and finally there's the wild, slutty reader of erotic romances. I haven't got any evidence at all for whether or not these stereotypes exist, but I did get a sense that they might do, from reading various news articles on romance.

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  8. Is it only heterosexual or bisexual women who do this while reading romances about heterosexual couples, or do male heterosexual readers fall in love with the heroine?

    Like you, I don't "fall in love" with the hero. I just like happy endings. But I can tell you that many of my male buddies regualrly "fall in love" with the heroies of films (and even cartoons).

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  9. I wonder if this oversight/lack of attention paid to the way inspirationals entertain the reader is due to the authors' trying to differentiate between inspirational and the non-inspirational romances.

    I imagine that's a large part of it. But what you probably don't realize, Laura, is that within the Christian community are many who believe Christian women have no business reading even inspirational romance because it encourages "unrealistic expectations" about romantic love and causes married women to become "dissatisfied" with their belching, scratching, pot-bellied husbands. Obviously, I disagree with that viewpoint. But it is widely held, even by some very loving and well-meaning individuals, so sometimes Christian romance readers will "justify" (whether consciously or not) their enjoyment of romance novels by emphasizing that the books are enhancing their spiritual growth.

    Please don't get me wrong. If novels like A Tale of Two Cities can teach us lessons about self-sacrifice and honor, then certainly inspirational romance novels can strengthen a believer's faith. What I'm saying is simply that I don't believe a Christian woman picks up an inspirational romance novel primarily to learn more about God and His ways. If that's what she's looking for, there are plenty of nonfiction books available. Here in the U.S., the Christian Living sections of even the secular bookstores are huge.

    If researchers have "discovered" that inspirational readers are looking for faith lessons more than entertainment, then either they have asked the wrong questions or they've misunderstood the answers. Inspirational romances are like sugary breakfast cereals that contain lots of vitamins. Sure, they're good for us. But that's not our primary reason for buying them.
    ;-)

    ...I've seen quite a few articles where the journalist contrasts inspirationals and erotic romances and I wonder if there's a cliched idea that at one end of the romance-reading spectrum there's the modest, pious reader of inspirationals who reads for devotional purposes, then there's the bon-bon eating housewife who reads mainstream romances, and finally there's the wild, slutty reader of erotic romances.

    I would venture to say that most readers of inspirational romance have also read at least a few secular romances. And not just the "sweet" ones, either. Some Christians (although not this one) enjoy very spicy books, and some even write them. (The example that springs immediately to mind is Shelley Bates, who writes inspies under her own name and Harlequin Blaze novels under the pseudonym of Shannon Hollis.) I don't read erotic romance, but there are Christians who don't object to graphic sex in novels, possibly because it's "just pretend." It's a common misconception that all Christians think and behave in the same way. We don't.

    Laura, I have enjoyed this discussion. Thanks for luring me over here. ;-)

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  10. But what you probably don't realize, Laura, is that within the Christian community are many who believe Christian women have no business reading even inspirational romance

    You're absolutely right. I'm completely lacking in knowledge about this area. I don't think there are many inspirational romances sold in the UK. I've certainly never seen any in the shops near me, or in the libraries.

    sometimes Christian romance readers will "justify" (whether consciously or not) their enjoyment of romance novels by emphasizing that the books are enhancing their spiritual growth.

    That reminds me of what the readers interviewed by Janice Radway said. They consistently emphasised how much they learned about history and geography from reading romances. And, from what I can recall of reading Radway's book, this was an argument that they used to justify their reading whenever it was criticised. Sounds as though some readers of inspirational romances might be using a similar defensive strategy - emphasising one aspect of their reading which they feel is 'respectable'.

    It's a common misconception that all Christians think and behave in the same way. We don't.

    I think sometimes stereotypes get stuck in the popular imagination (like romance readers being bon-bon eaters, and romance writers wearing feather boas). They maybe start off based on a particularly vocal or visible group/person, but then they obscure all the diversity within the much larger group that that visible/vocal person/group is assumed to represent. I tend to be a bit wary of generalisations. I'm prepared to admit that in some cases they may be true of a majority, or a significant proportion, of a group, but they're unlikely to be true of everyone in that group. I like to read about the diversity of opinions and experiences among romance readers because the more we talk about our differences (in a constructive way), the less likely it is that the stereotypes will persist, and the stereotypes have so often been used to denigrate the genre and its readers. Of course, we do all have something in common, which is that we read romances, and I don't want to deny that there are plenty of things that large groups of romance readers have in common (such as falling a little bit in love with romance heroes), but exploring whether there are minority views and minority groups of readers seems interesting too.

    Thanks very much for coming over, Brenda.

    [And in case anyone wonders how I 'lured' Brenda across here, what happened was that I'd been thinking about inspirational romances and their readers, so I went over to Brenda's blog (as she's an inspirational romance author and I know she's been here before) and as she'd touched on the topic of falling in love with the hero in one of her recent blog posts, I asked her if she would come across here and share her thoughts. ]

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  11. I always think this is an interesting topic, and I'm almost always frustrated with how that long-ago essay of mine gets interpreted. ;)

    I actually think that any individual reader goes through a subtle and constantly changing perception of "identity" during the imaginative experience of reading any given novel. I think most readers "identify" at various times with different characters in the same book, including secondary and minor characters, right down to the animals in some cases. The extent of this identification, the "depth" of it, also varies even from sentence to sentence.

    Personally I think the very term "reader identification" can be so misleading and misused that it should be dropped (fat chance) in favor of far a more thorough examination of the imaginative exercise of reading fiction as a whole. In order to experience a story, a reader has to engage in an imaginative act that can incorporate the simultaneous emotional experience of more than one character, while at the same time making judgements about the characters. Imagination is not limited by terms like "falling in love with the hero," or "wanting to be the heroine." Most sane readers fully understand that characters in books are not real people, even while they experience them as very very real while reading, and might be moved to say they "love" or "want" a character all the while knowing perfectly well this character is just an imaginative construct which they can no more love than than they can catch a falling star. But they can still experience the emotional impact.

    Well, I could go on for a long time, lol, but one thing that has become apparent to me in my career is that readers can read the same words and create entirely opposing imaginary constructions from them.

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  12. I'm almost always frustrated with how that long-ago essay of mine gets interpreted. ;)

    Just because it's a 'long-ago' essay doesn't necessarily mean that it's not still relevant, because even though the genre has changed a bit since then, I'm not sure that would necessarily affect the ways readers engage with the texts. But you could just be meaning that you've been correcting misinterpretations of the essay for a long time, in which case I hope I haven't misinterpreted you too badly. Obviously it isn't possible to quote the whole essay, and a short quotation taken from it isn't going to convey its complexity. Thank you very much for coming here to give us an overview of your thinking on this topic.

    I actually think that any individual reader goes through a subtle and constantly changing perception of "identity" during the imaginative experience of reading any given novel. [...] The extent of this identification, the "depth" of it, also varies even from sentence to sentence.

    With a process this complex, I wonder how well most readers are able to describe it? Maybe that accounts for some of the problems with descriptions like Radway's? I know that I find it hard to describe what happens when I read - it's a bit like I jump into the book at one end, come out at the other, and while I'd be able to tell you which characters I liked etc I wouldn't be able to describe the mechanics of how I swam through the book. And trying to think about it while I read would, I'm sure, interfere with my reading. The best description I can come up with is that for me, reading's like watching a play, but with real characters, not actors, and I'm able not just to see them and hear what they say, but, thanks to the author, I also have the telepathic ability to know what's going on in their heads. I'm not sure how that affects identity, though.

    I recently found out, during a discussion with some other people, that they 'hear' (in their mind's ear) the words as they read. And some people see what's being described in their mind's eye. I don't do either, but it made me think that different people engage with their reading at different sensory levels, and presumably that would affect how they respond to the characters.

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  13. Just a quick reply cause I'm headed out of town, but yes I think your description of "jumping in" and "coming out" is a good one. That's often how I feel when I've been writing intensely--as if I've been at the bottom of a lake holding my breath for hours, and then I look up and breathe and here's the "real world" again.

    I agree that it's extremely difficult to articulate the reading experience and that has to lead to a lot of confusion and easy ability to inject personal experience and opinion onto someone else's description.

    I'm always startled to hear a reader say that they don't visualize the scene or characters while they read. To me, this is pretty much what the whole process is about, both as a reader and as a writer. So that's a leap right there that I actually am unable to take...I can't really "get" what you must experience while reading because I would be unable to experience it myself. To use an exercise I've used sometimes in writing lectures...If I say the sentence, "The barn stood alone on a hill," what do you see?

    In general in my classes, this sentence conjures a visual mental image for people. The point of the exercise for writers is to realize that while the sentence actually contains little specific description, most people will "see" the barn from below, as if looking up at it, and there is a lot of sky in their mental image. Quite a few will imagine an old weathered barn (because of the "alone" which evokes something standing there unattended). Others imagine a red barn, but nobody imagines a low purple barn with a flat roof and pink polka dots.

    What I'm getting at is that for me (and I've always presumed that for most readers, though I might be wrong) each sentence carries a lot of baggage with it that is not actually stated. This baggage can be visual or emotional. But if a reader doesn't "see" that barn, literally does not imagine a barn at all...well...yikes, I dunno, I can't even figure out what that must be like. Is it like looking at an mathmatical equation or what? Can you know what a barn is without imagining what a barn looks like?

    I guess those are my questions for the readers who don't visualize or imagine hearing what they read. If it's like watching a play, as you mentioned, Laura V., then what are you "watching?"

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  14. I'm always startled to hear a reader say that they don't visualize the scene or characters while they read. To me, this is pretty much what the whole process is about, both as a reader and as a writer. [...] Is it like looking at an mathmatical equation or what? Can you know what a barn is without imagining what a barn looks like?

    Maths is something I find a bit incomprehensible. It's how I imagine magic: I go through the process and, hey presto! I have the right answer. I think of equations as being like spells. That's maybe not such a good metaphor, as I've never cast any spells, and I'm not even sure I believe in the possibility of spells, but I imagine them being like maths, with an internal logic, and forming part of a system I don't understand.

    Words, though, all have meanings, lots of meanings, and associations, and they create emotions, or remind me of the emotions that I've accumulated when thinking about that thing, or reading that word in the past. So, although I'm not seeing a barn, I can remember how I feel about barns. If I try really hard, I could maybe recreate the sensation of standing in a barn with my eyes shut. I'd be able to feel the space around me. But I don't tend to do that while I read, I focus on the dialogue and how the characters are feeling.

    If it's like watching a play, as you mentioned, Laura V., then what are you "watching?"

    I'm really, really short sighted, and if I try to visualise something, it's as though I've got my glasses off and am seeing things from far away, in black and white. When I've been to plays the actors have been a long way off, so I couldn't see their faces, and I could only tell them apart by the colours of their clothes, their height and their location onstage. When I 'visualise', the result is rather like how things look when you get up in the night, before you turn the lights on. It's really not very helpful when reading, and it takes a lot of concentration for me even to get that much of an image, so I don't usually bother. I can't even visualise the faces of my own family, so unless they're in front of me, I can't 'see' them, though I might have a vague idea of their general size/shape.

    Unless I'm physically hearing, tasting or smelling things, I don't get sound effects, tastes or smells either, though I think some people do when they read.

    I'm beginning to feel quite deprived ;-) But the upside is that I really focus on the emotions and the psychology of the characters, and I'm also aware of imagery (which for me is a bit like heraldry - e.g. what's important is not the appearance of the lion, but the fact that it is a lion and lions can represent kingship, for example) and the themes/ideas underlying the story.

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  15. j as in jennifer13 August, 2006 06:35

    If I say the sentence, "The barn stood alone on a hill," what do you see?

    That's funny. I suddenly imagined a rather small square barn standing on two spindly legs with its hands behind its back, sort of far away, alone, with the sun setting. It was getting dark so I couldn't tell what color it was, but it was probably barn red.

    Yes, I am the sort of reader Laura Kinsale describes. The words make images for me, and I can hear the characters voices in my head. It's why I have such trouble concentrating on non-fiction and textbooks. They aren't making pictures for me. It was pretty detrimental to my academic career, but it has also given me much pleasure. If I could only figure out how writers make words do that and do it myself, I'd love to be a writer too.

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  16. I read romances not to identify with the hero or the heroine, or to want to become the heroine. I read romances so that I can watch the hero fall in love. So I can watch and see and experience his emotions. This is precisely NOT to identify with him, in some respects, precisely because he is the other, but also to identify my feelings when I fall/fell in love in him. Considering how the romance focuses so heavily on the hero nowadays, I don't think that I'm alone in these feelings.

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  17. I believe that there are romantic stories wherein the villain is the more liked character than the hero. Sometimes the notion that heroes always end up with the girl becomes so tasteless that the iea of the girl falling in love with the villain is entertaining.

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  18. Don't know how I found myself here, but the discussion is fascinating.

    My theory: Reading fiction, is as close to omniscience as humans are likely to get. We get a god-like view of a situation: slip in and out of the physical, mental, and emotional being of any and all characters. We experience, participate in and savor their thoughts, reactions, and sensations. In this intimate tour we are guided by the author's larger view of the situation and nudged to take note of certain thoughts, reactions, and perceptions.

    Imagine if you will that the reader is Scrooge being shown scenes by a ghost. . . only, he is able to directly experience any and all aspects of the scene, including the thoughts, hopes, and inner reactions of the participants. The ghost nudges Scrooge's attention toward certain details and poses relevant questions. . . not unlike what the author does for the reader.
    Reader omniscience. Implies a certain power.

    Second thought, per the Joy and water associations. . . probably just one of thousands of such linkages. Wish somebody would do more research.

    I've long defined poetry for myself as the place where thought becomes sensation. The shape and sound, even visual appeal of a word affects the poet's choices. The same is true for fiction writing: words have the power to conjure and convey sensation through the reader's own archives of emotion and sensation and the linkages made between them. Erma Bombeck once said she could never write romance because her dictionary was missing the letter "S." Romance writers and readers got the joke immediately. There are some words (like those infamous S's) that evoke sensation as well as image. Romance writing, probably more than most genres, makes use of that intuitive bit of wisdom. Romance writers instinctively choose words and images to evoke feeling in the reader. Which may be why romance is writen primarily by women for women. A common emotional/linguistic sense that has origins on the second x chromosome.

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  19. Romance writers instinctively choose words and images to evoke feeling in the reader. Which may be why romance is writen primarily by women for women. A common emotional/linguistic sense that has origins on the second x chromosome.

    I'll take your word for it about the first sentence (a) because you're a romance writer and so have first-hand experience and (b) because it sounds very plausible. From reading what some people have said about their writing processes, I get the impression that there's usually a first, 'discovery' draft, and that comes from the writer's instinct, honed by practice, but that subsequently that first draft is polished in a much more conscious way. Is that your experience too?

    I'm not convinced yet that women, by virtue of their hormones or DNA, write a particular way. I know it's been argued that women sometimes have a particular way of speaking/writing, but I think there's so much variation from one culture to another, and from one period of history to another, and there's so much variation between women that it's not clear how much of the difference is due to biology.

    One paper I found online reported the results of testing a corpus of texts taken from the Guttenberg Project:

    Women write about topics that use words such as marriage, children, cooking, and kitchen. Men write about topics that use words such as war, science, sport, and money. Women use words that reflect on time passing while men are in the ‘here’ and ‘now’. The presence of “he” and “his” in the men's list and “she” and “her” in the women’s list suggests authors write more about characters of their own gender.

    There are some trends that reflect less overt differences. The presence of “m”, “d”, single quote, and “re” in the women’s list suggest they use contractions more often. The solitary “s” is likely the frequent use of the possessive. The presence of “.” may also indicates that women use shorter sentences, since a larger percentage of tokens are periods in the female sets. This conclusion is reinforced in the men's list by the presence of many punctuation symbols which tend to elongate sentences, such as “;” and “,” (it might not be a bad idea to add average sentence length and average word length as features in future work). There are more proper names in the women’s list, perhaps reflecting that women initially tended to use the novel format, or that women focus more on the main character of their novels by directly referring to them in the third person. Women use the present participle often, whereas there is not a single present participle in the first 1000 features on the men’s list.

    (Gender Classification of Literary Works)

    A lot of that seems to reflect the subject matter that women and men were expected to write about, as would the level of formality in the writing.

    There was the gender genie but it's down at the moment. It used an algorithm to determine gender in writing.

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