The Results of the Homework

So, a few days back I got a parcel from Sarah which contained a bunch of bestselling (at least according to the covers) paranormal romances. The basic idea was that I read them and see if I can write something that will fit the general formula, since the stuff sells like hot… er… very popular stuff.

So I read them. Full disclosure, I skipped the sex scenes, of which there were rather too many for my preferences (let’s face it, there’s only so many ways one can describe the sexual act, and too much of it starts to read like IKEA instructions – insert tab A into slot B and wiggle until it relaxes). What I saw from my sample set of 7 apparently best selling paranormal romances does fit something of a formula. I might even be able to work with said formula without too much hassle.

The formula (to spare those who are wondering the effort and trauma of reading too many IKEA sex scenes) appears to be as follows:

  • Take one headstrong female who no matter what she’s done in her past is still fundamentally innocent in some way
  • Give her a troubled past, preferably one without actual love unless the love was either doomed or with the male and failed due to a misunderstanding
  • Add one seriously hot male with a tribe of issues of his own. He must be protective and dominant. Assholes are permitted so long as they mitigate the assholery around the female.
  • The male should preferably be something not-human and must be drop-dead-sexy.
  • Add a collection of enemies of one or both wanting their target dead for reasons that can be quite flimsy.
  • Stir up the whole mess in a way that drives the two of them to have sex somewhere around 1/3 of the way through. The sex is often at least a chapter’s worth.
  • There should be an argument after the first sex scene, preferably one that makes the two of them seem to hate each other.
  • Put one or both in danger of their life somewhere around 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through. Once the danger is past, they can have passionate make-up/”you survived” sex.
  • The climax should involve danger and sex. If both can happen at the same time, so much the better, otherwise, go with the danger. It seems to be popular to kill or nearly kill the male at this point (being supernatural, he either revives himself or a friendly goddess might do the deed for the female).
  • After the climax (yes, I know), they can avow their undying love – which since at least one of the pair, possibly both is likely to be immortal could really be undying.
  • For series, have supporting characters who can have their own love story in future books.

I was worried that my natural tendency to go dark would be too much, but judging by some of these books, there ain’t no such thing. This is scary – if I really let the dark out instead of leashing it the way I do, it would be at the “Anne Bishop at her most terrifying” level, only I wouldn’t be only torturing the males on-screen (for those who haven’t read Anne Bishop, google her and check the plot synopsis of her first three books. The running joke with her friends is that anyone else’s ‘dark’ is her ‘light and fluffy’).

So… Food for thought, and homework done. Now I need to let the information sit and fester for a while before I try to do anything with it.

25 comments

  1. I’ve read a couple of books billed as urban fantasy, that fit your paranormal romance formula to a T. The only differences I could see is that the plot tended to be a little stronger, and the author was either a) attempting to branch out into other fields than romance or b) a man (we all know men don’t write romance, right?)

    1. Bearcat, the problem is that the two terms have become interchangeable, especially from the agent/legacy publisher standpoint. When I was first shopping Nocturnal Origins around, I classified it as urban fantasy. I would get comments back from agents and publishers about how they really liked it but where was the sex? Or why didn’t I rewrite it in first person and, oh, where is the sex? It didn’t matter that sex was the last thing on the mind of the main character as she tried to figure out if she’d lost her mind or really was turning furry on the full moon. The problem was I had a FEMALE lead so it had to be a paranormal romance. (Rolls eyes)

  2. Before you get all excited about making gobs of money, realize that this is your life you would be spending if you try to write paranormal romances AND they aren’t really you. You will be spending time with these characters, putting them through these plots, and, oh yes, writing these sex scenes.

    It’s not that you couldn’t if you wanted to – people like Lawrence Block have written stuff just for the money, and talk/write about it extensively – but that you have your own stories. Some writers can do both – they have the energy and the creative, ah, juices.

    But if there’s anything I’ve learned from learning to write, and the ages devoted to the WIP, it’s that I have nothing to spare. The idea of spending any of my time on things I wouldn’t even want to read appalls me. Maybe it’s because I’m older than you are, and there is knowledge of mortality and the always fun and possible senility: writing has become use of scarce resources, and I’m not wasting any of them.

    On the other hand, maybe if you make those gobs of money, you can laugh all the way to the bank. Just don’t do it UNLESS the gobs are guaranteed. It would be really sad to spend your valuable time writing things you didn’t care about deeply – and not even get rich. Good luck.

    1. Gobs of money would be a good thing. Gobs of money that meant I could write full-time instead of needing a day job would be an even better thing.

      Whether I can do this and enjoy it – or avoid having the whole scenario twist into something more like horror – is another question I’ll be trying to answer.

  3. Egads! I have some under the bed manuscripts that could be beat into that structure with less work than I’d like to admit. Definitely pen name time. Assuming I don’t shove them back under the bed faster than I pulled it out.

    ABE, sometimes you do art, sometimes you do craft. The good times are when a work involves both. But sometimes a writer writes what sells, if she wants to continue eating. As Kate said, she has no trouble doing Dark. Holding nose (or holding in giggles) while writing two or three chapters with explict sex will not turn writing into a hated job.

    1. Of course you’re right – personal experience skews perspective so much we should all fill in a bias statement at the beginning of everything we write.

      I come from a place where 1) I HAVE food and shelter, and 2) every minute I eke out for writing comes with physical pain attached (and guilt from not doing the family paperwork I am somehow in charge of).

      If Kate does Dark with sex, I just hope she is wildly successful at it – or at least, has a lot of fun. Or, at a minimum, pays bills better than otherwise. It is a simple business proposition (if anything is ever simple).

      1. What if she is a professional B/D/S/M domme and he’s a werewolf who’s absolutely vanilla in his tastes? Have them meet at a macrame class. The class instructor is found dead, which gives you a paranormal romance craft mystery . . . πŸ˜‰

        1. You are a very bad person. Not a macrame class, cross stitch or some other form of embroidery. I don’t know enough about macrame.

          1. Why not at a simple sewing class, it seems that Sean could use one to replace all the clothes he destroys when changing forms unexpectedly, and she can wonder why this masculine guy is taking something as feminine as sewing πŸ˜‰

  4. Victorian porn. Out of copyright, highly, er, descriptive, and mostly obscure. If you can’t write by-the-slots sex scenes, you could copy it and people would salute you as the new E L James …

    1. Eep. Don’t tempt me… I have a slim volume containing some of the… ahem… best bits of Victorian porn.

  5. Were any of the books by Jennifer Ashley? Her shifter books are fun. I don’t care for vampires much and don’t like the supernatural (ghosts, angels, demons, etc,) and don’t care for godesses and what not. She’s got shifters and fae and the shifters are living “out” in true blood style. Yes, it gets darn repetitive and if the men have any bigger equipment someone is going to get hurt, and yeah, lots and lots of sex (darn fae created them to breed after all). They *sort of* follow the template. Sometimes the women are shifters and the men are human, etc,. (One novel is 99 cents on kindle atm.) And so far the women, even the human ones, haven’t triggered my “too stupid to live and it’s supposed to show she’s strong” alarm… which is saying something.

    But I do read them (like I read anything) with a little running tally of what I’d do different or what I don’t like. The long life thing is great but I think that having magic make a human mate live the same life span is not only a cheat, but a problem. I can think of one science fiction book that shortens the lifespan of the enhanced humans… more authors should do that. Yes, it’s nice to have rejuv or something and it’s understandable as a middle aged fantasy, but it would be more interesting if (like on Highlander) one party knew they’d outlive their true love and have to mourn… but that’s the case in real life, too.

    1. Actually, no, she wasn’t one of the authors in the collection – although all of the authors were… shall we say generous? to their male leads. Excessively so at times.

      You’re right about the bittersweet part of outliving one’s love – something that is usually avoided in these.

  6. The one part of the fantasy I like is the “mate for life” part… though that can be done in a squicky way, too.

    1. It certainly can – and undoubtedly has (and I don’t want examples. I can imagine quite a few of my own).

        1. Werewolves and squicky? Makes me think of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s description of the similarities of the..ahh.. sexual equipment of werewolves and dogs. (You know how dogs get ‘hung-up’ when they breed? Yeah, that’s right, werewolves are the same)

      1. I think that in a romance the “never leave” part is done as a positive, but I remember in the movie “I Am Number 4” it included that “people from my planet mate for life, I’ll never love someone else, ever” and it was very *romantic* but in the back of your head you couldn’t help but wonder what happened if someone didn’t love you back. In Ashley’s shifter world you get the idea that it may take a very long time to get over either unrequited love or the death of a mate, but it *does* happen.

        But I’ll admit… one of my science fiction settings has this life-bond thing but it’s a pretty major complication and not just a warm fuzzy feeling of security and ever after.

        1. Oh, yes. The life-bond thing can be quite traumatic if things go wrong. Which of course is more fodder for the writer.

        2. I should note here that I DON’T read supernatural romance. What kicks me out is the supernatural part — I don’t go for as dark as Kate does, and the dark squicks me. I do however have access to a thrift store with cheap books, and I have friends who write these/talk about them. So I thought “Kate might be able to do these” and did a cruise-by the thrift shop grabbing all supernatural romances on shelf that said “bestseller”. Now, mind you, there were only seven. My friend who works in a bookstore says they LITERALLY can’t keep these on the shelves.

          And ABE — while I understand where you’re coming from, some of us are in a position where we’re going to spend our lives FOR food and shelter AT something. This is the level of writing where Harry Turtledove told me “you might as well be driving a truck.” And yep, same thing. I could be working as a secretary or I can do some amount of “fill in the blanks” writing.

          Now, at the moment, I’m not doing any of that — in fact, I’ve done very little, most of it write for hire, and I don’t/can’t admit to it. (Though weirdly no actual media write-for-hire.) I was lucky.

          BUT when in a pinch, the trick is to find something you can write “like driving a truck” that is not actually repugnant to you. I COULDN’T do dark fantasy romance/supernatural romance. I’d break something. I PROBABLY could do light/funny fantasy/supernatural romance and enjoy it… except for the tab a, slot b parts because yawn. BUT if I’m enjoying 90%… Um… I just found my post for tomorrow, didn’t I? We shall call it “Can you write the hem a little shorter?”

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