The Secret Wedding is a story about two writers. The hero, Tom,
wrote bestselling thrillers for men. His readers didn’t want emotional guff polluting the action. Women were included for the sole purpose of providing sex and sympathy while they fixed up his hero’s wounds. And to bump up the body count.The heroine is 'bestselling romance novelist Mollie Blake', who's giving a writing workshop. The types of novels written by the protagonists, and the way they're described, reminds me of this description of the collaboration between Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer, though I think Fielding's story was written some time prior to this:
One evening in Maui [at the Maui Writers Conference, where both were teaching], Jenny Crusie was watching the sun set over the Pacific when Bob Mayer sat down beside her and said, “What do you write?” Jenny said, “Well, basically, in my books, people have sex and get married.” Bob said, “In my books, people have sex and die.”Tom's publisher is not entirely happy with his writing and tells him that he has to go on a writing course because
" [...] you seem to have lost that wonderful humanity the women readers loved. Get back in touch with your feminine side, Tom." The man hadn’t been making a suggestion. He’d meant it. "Women buy a lot of books."Women do, indeed, seem to read more fiction than men. In 2005, for example, Statistics Canada published a report including the finding that 'Women are clearly the biggest readers. Women comprise 6 out of 10 regular readers and 7 out of 10 heavy readers'. In the UK, according to a 2002 report prepared by Book Marketing Limited:
- Men spend slightly more time reading (about 5%) than women, but this is because they spent far more time reading printed newspapers and electronic information. Women are more avaricious book readers, particularly of fiction. Over a quarter of women’s reading is devoted to fiction, compared to one sixth for men. [...]
- Two thirds of all books started are read by women, though this rises to over 70% for fiction, and falls to under half for non-fiction.
- Of the new books started, three-quarters are fiction. Over 80% of new books started by women are fiction, whereas for men this figure is nearer 60%.
The story told in The Secret Wedding isn't particularly full of novelties: it doesn't 'push the envelope' of genre conventions. But it isn't meant to. Instead, it illustrates the various aspects of the romance novel that Mollie intends teaching her students. Each chapter begins with a quotation from 'Mollie Blake’s Writing Workshop Notes', and then serves as an example of how to put the writing advice into practice.
The advice given in Chapter One is: 'Begin your story at a moment of crisis, a point in time when your character’s life is about to change forever'. While this advice isn't adhered to by those who commence with a prologue, or many famous authors such as Thomas Hardy (his Return of the Native, for example, begins with a pages-long description of the landscape of Egdon Heath), it does seem to be popular with many contemporary writers of genre fiction. At the site of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, for example, there's an item which asks:
Does the story start at the right place (the beginning?) Most stories by beginning writers start far too early - way before the key action takes place. Some, however, may start too far forward. These writers have taken the advice of "start with the action at full steam" too literally.At Liz Fielding's own website she gives the same advice as Mollie does: 'The opening is important. Start with the crisis'.
The descriptions of the characters are similarly, and quite explicitly, written to fit genre conventions: 'she was the kind of woman that any one of his heroes would be glad to have hanging off his left arm', and:
the man was a relic from some cliché-ridden romance. Ignoring the pick-chat up line, she straightened, unimpressed with Mr. Cute.
But she couldn't escape the clichés. Even in the darkness of the car park she could see that he was tall, with mile-wide shoulders.
I had a lot of fun with this, reading the story and noticing how it fitted Mollie's guidelines, and how self-aware Fielding was about genre conventions/clichés. There's even a fairy-tale beginning, '"Once upon a time..."' at the very end of the story, which reminds us that romances have a lot in common with fairytales, and usually end with everyone living happily ever after.