There have been a lot of very interesting discussions about romance this week.
Diana Peterfreund's Archetypes Anonymous meeting (she was drawing on Tami Cowden's list of the eight hero archetypes) underlined the importance of archetypes in the genre:
CHIEF: (almost holding back a sigh) As I said, there has been some concern raised recently that some of us—I won’t name names—haven’t been getting their fair share of work. Have, perhaps, been a little less popular with the audience.Peterfreund suggests that The Warrior, Lost Soul and Bad Boy archetypes have been reinvented as vampires which, for a time at least, gave them an innovative new look. Some readers are complaining, though, that the vampires and werewolves are getting dull, and Kara Lennox says she's
BAD BOY:(rolling his eyes) So it’s my fault some of you are losers? [...]
PROFESSOR:(speaking for the first time) “Loser” is not the appropriate term. Our popularity has always been cyclical
heard at least one agent say she is suddenly finding it difficult to sell them. Several editors have said they are “becoming more selective” (that’s code for “not buying as many”). I’ve even heard one editor say the erotic-romance trend is starting to plateau.Will the 'next big thing' be a new twist on the archetypes? Or is the use of archetypes in fact a factor which contributes to the trend Robin identifies, whereby
Of course, everybody wants to know what’s the next big thing.
with page counts shrinking, part of the burden of the novel-writing craft is being shifted more and more to readers—we have to fill in blanks and flesh out characters or worldbuilding and make critical links between plot points. And because so many Romance readers have read so much Romance, I think this process becomes almost unconscious, to the point where readers don’t recognize they’re being asked to do this, don’t have to struggle with it, and therefore don’t have any reason to think that they’re actually taking on a certain element of what I think is the author’s job in delivering a complete and coherent—and hopefully somewhat distinctive—vision.Some people think that maybe 'the romance genre would greatly benefit from a healthy dose of tragedy' but it already has plenty of that (orphaned heroines and emotionally tortured heroes aren't exactly rare), just not at the end. And if we lost the HEA, the novels might be romantic, but they wouldn't be Romance as we know it and as the RWA defines it.
I was beginning to wonder if romances about normal people, doing relatively normal things and having a happy ending, might actually be somewhat radical. It's not that 'straight contemporaries' have ever gone away, but there don't seem to be that many romances around at the moment which are about normal people living normal lives and whose bodies are not the stuff of fantasy.
As I was pondering what 'normal' actually means, and wondering how many romance readers are looking for a fantasy, I remembered Pulp's Common People. It's about a woman whom I can imagine as the daughter of a billionaire Greek tycoon romance hero, and her idea of a romantic fantasy is to 'live like common people [...] sleep with common people'. The song is about 'slumming',
a practice, fashionable among certain segments of the middle class in many Western countries, whereby one deliberately patronizes areas or establishments which are populated by, or intended for, people well below one's own socio-economic level, motivated by curiosity or a desire for adventure. (Wikipedia)If 'slumming' is seen as offensive, is it any better to practice it in reverse? And is it similar in any way to the cultural appropriation discussed by Gwyneth/Gwendolyn, and Karen Scott? It's not just an issue for contemporaries, since this was, after all, the week in which AAR's At The Back Fence columnist Robin Uncapher declared that
I believe that Americans not only identify with 19th century English, we understand them better than many of their descendants who live in England today. Those descendants know a lot about their ancestors, but do they know what its like to be the focus of the national foreign policy of virtually every country in the world? Do they know what its like to feel, in some way, responsible for the world’s welfare?The Smart Bitches have been discussing which changes might be required to propel romances onto the pages of the New York Times Book Review and I'm wondering if fewer archetypes and less cultural appropriation would change the image of the genre. On the other hand, while that might work well for low mimetic romances, I'm not sure high mimetic romances could be written without using at least some archetypes.
I'm still thinking about all the issues raised in this week's discussions, and I hope we can carry on discussing them in the comments, but in the meantime I'll conclude with Goodess Gracious Me's Hindi People, a parody of Pulp's Common People which takes a satirical look at cultural appropriation and stereotypes of British Asians.
Stick figure from Wikipedia.