There’s no money in poetry. I’m seriously considering I might switch genres and write the new Fifty Shades of Grey (with fewer whips* and a lot more literary value, of course), because people are actually buying that stuff. I could take a year to write it and have it come out as a paperback in the beginning of June next year. It would be sold at airports and stations, for light summer holiday reading.
In addition to easy sales, the beauty of the popular romance fiction genre is that it’s formulaic. No need to come up with complex plot twists – just follow the formula, come up with good characters, and being a skilled writer can’t hurt either (although great skill isn’t required for sales – see literary reference in previous paragraph). I’m not good at inventing characters, but I’ll just use real people with made-up names and hope their real-life inspirations never read the book. For the formulaic structure, I’ve found my reference material: Oliver, M. Writing Romantic Fiction (1997) Oxford, UK: How To Books.
So what happens?
Two people meet and fall in love and live happily ever after. No matter what happens along the way, you don’t need to stress about the conclusion. Predictability is good in this genre.
Don’t do the Bella Swan
Oliver (1997:23-24) emphasises that romantic fiction isn’t necessarily antifeminist: “good heroines […] refuse to be pushed around by the hero, and in romances the woman always wins anyway.” There’s no need to create a heroine who has no personality apart from being obsessed with a man. My heroine will be interesting; she’ll have a past, she’ll have opinions, she’ll do other things with her life. A complete character rather than a means of getting to write anatomical descriptions of the female body.
No real men
No realistic male characters, duh. Write the perfect man. According to Oliver (1997:35), “It is obligatory that female readers fall in love with your hero.” You won’t sell any copies unless the male protagonist is absolutely the perfect man out of the daydreams of any woman who might buy a book of romantic fiction.
I wouldn’t have thought of this myself: Oliver (1997:25) suggests, “make the heroine’s first name fit the hero’s last one.” This will be a subtle hint that these two might end up getting married. So cheesy, so excessively cute and so subtly clever!
Dumb it down
I’m not saying this genre is for readers with limited intelligence; it’s for readers of any level of intelligence who want to read something light on the beach or on the train. I’m generally capable of reading academic texts and complicated novels, but I save that stuff for term-time. If one can be bothered to read on a hot summer day, it has to be something clichéd and predictable.
*Speaking of whips, I’ll be one of the feature poets at La Petite Mort at the Flying Dutchman on Thursday, June 13th. It’s a “themed” event, and I might get booed off the stage for not being BDSM enough. But that’s not because I’m shy or conservative about such things; I just think sensual, suggestive expressions in poetry have more literary value than detailed descriptions of human anatomy. As Oliver (1997:88) writes, “graphic sex is […] about as exciting as a blow-by-blow account of eating and the digestive process.” It’s more exciting to leave something for the imagination of the reader (or in case of poetry performance, the audience.) Well-written suggestive text over badly written explicitness. That’s what my romantic fiction will be like, too. And it’ll sell better than Fifty Shades once people realise that it’s the intellectual, literary kind of erotica (i.e. once I’ve bribed someone to write that in a Guardian book review.)