- Is this a world where drugs are mined, such as “Dune” series?
- Is it “Better than life” such as in Red Dwarf?
- Is it Valerion such as in some steam punk books
Photo: Gabor Kiss
Did you know that romance novels are one of the most widely read genres? Did you know that the best Mills and Boon authors can churn out a novel a month and earn a respectable income? Do you know that Pride and Prejudice has made it as #2 on the list of quintessential British novels?
If your answer to these questions is “no” then it’s time to start exploring Romance as a creative writing genre. It might not always be high literary art, but it’s popular and widely read, and what is a story without a reader?
Romances were originally stories or novels in the courts in the middle ages, with the romances of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table typifying the genre. Over time the genre changed to the classic style we think of as historic romance, “Pride and Prejudice” and “Jane Eyre”. Of course, these novels were contemporary in their time, and the classic form has lived on into the twentieth century: an intelligent woman and a man with hidden depths or secrets resolve their differing backgrounds until there is a declaration of love.
Over the last decade or so this genre has broadened out to include a number of different sub-genres including gay romance/erotica, billionaire, country and western and “historic” romance. The availability of e-books has increased sales over that of printed words, and has allowed the diversification and flourishing of the sub-genres, particularly the more erotic styles of romance, due to the economics of publication and the ability to read in portable, anonymous format.
For this month’s challenge the conflict in your story has already been set up: “My parents said no”. Think about your place in the story, and to whom your parents said “No”. Who are the main protagonists? Your parents? You? Your siblings? What are their beliefs that are being challenged, and how did they resolve this conflict? The use of conflict helps to raise the sexual tension and sets the background for how the protagonists explore each other’s character and nature as the story progresses towards its conclusion. Typically this has a “happy ever after” ending, but there is no requirement for this. So while romance fiction today is often stereotypical and predictable, there is no reason why you cannot delight and surprise with novelty and originality.
This challenge is open to you to write in any style in any sub-genre. Some really good tips are outlined in the Mills and Book author guidelines. We suggest a minimum length of 800 words, with a maximum of 10,000 words, to allow sufficient character development. Please submit your document by 30th April to firstname.lastname@example.org in Word or Pages format.
In the meantime here are a few suggested books to read:
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austin: The quintessential romance with intelligent protagonists, the woman coming from a disadvantaged background while the man has many secrets and is very reserved. The social setting is an insightful observation of middle class England of the day.
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë: The wild and isolated background of this story is a metaphor for untamed passion. This book is probably one of the first to document marriage gone bad through domestic violence.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman – John Fowles: On realising what is wrong and what is right.
Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak: The two women in Dr Zhivago’s life sets up a conflict that is echoed by the conflict of war.
Outlander – Diana Gabaldin: This series has captivated readers with its time-travelling theme, proving that love is timeless. Readers wait for the next book much like the Harry Potter series.
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy: The Russians do tragedy so well. This classic story of a woman who loses everything in the pursuit of love is more dramatic due to the rules of society and the laws of the time.
The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks: The timelessness of love has many challenges to overcome, including how circumstances and time change the beloved.
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden: Untangling sex and love against the background society of Japan as is changes from the old ways to the new.
Mississippi Jack – Louise A Meyer: A sexually ambiguous Jacky Faber has rollicking adventures as a pirate master which leaves her forever unfulfilled by her fiancé and lovers.
So by now, hopefully you are nearing the end of your first draft for the February short story. Depending on what you are writing, dialogue is one thing that helps drive your story forward. Not only that, it’s a way to build your characters. Below are some tips on writing effective dialogue.
- Read it out aloud. If it doesn’t sound natural, rewrite it. Reading it aloud is one way to find poor word choices or poor phrasing. It also helps show your characters.
- Is it necessary? Is the dialogue driving the story forward or building character? If it isn’t, cut it out. In a short story, every word counts. Don’t have words just for the sake of words. If it’s not doing anything important, remove it.
- Watch out for your dialogue tags. Most of the time, he said, she said is all that is needed. If it’s a conversation, the first time your character speaks is the only time you need it. The reader can easily understand who is talking at the time.
Photo: Steven Barber used under CC License
Your time is up!
How did you go with the February challenge? Your February short story should be submitted to email@example.com in *txt or Word format (not RTF as previously stated).
Your piece will be checked for publication and you may be asked to make minor changes.
Now to start the March challenge.
This month, the genre is Australian, and the theme is “Childhood Summer.”
How will you tackle this? You might do something biographical or even autobiographical, or you may choose to tell a fictional story set in the present or the past. Will you tell a dark and complex story with gripping psychological power? Or will you instead tell a coming of age story?
Try to grasp the essence of summer and the essence of childhood. Your child might show innocence, wonder or curiosity about the world they live in. Summer in Australia might be acres of baking bitumen, days on the beach or bushfire and drought.
Your target is 800-3000 words (there is some flexibility with this). We will try and get some editorial expertise on board to polish up your piece once submitted.
On a final note, I may be a little quiet over the next week or two, as I have a grape harvest in my life at the moment. I will be calling for expressions of interest in participation in the SALA project so that we can start planning for this.
So, one week to go! How are your words flowing?
Personally, I’ve written over 5000 words in the first draft. I’ve been trying to create tension between events and the attitudes of my protagonists. I’ve tried not to put too much into detail of day to day life – I have neither the background knowledge nor the time to research. Instead, I have chosen the traits that make us human, and tried to write a story based on the understanding of the world in the past.
My next job is to trim, edit and re-write – this will be the hardest part as we are right in the thick of vintage at the moment! So I refer back to my previous post about making every word work hard. I’m trying to convey realistic personalities of complex characters, which makes it a challenge if I’m going to trim the words down.
I’m also going to use the editorial process to shape the story. In times past, the change from night to day and night again limited the activities of humans, and so my story will be paced to match this. I’m aiming for a gradual rise in the tension and drama, punctuated by the night. My peak tension is within the last 600 words, with the final 300 words about the purpose of my story – what it is that being human is all about.
Let’s see if I pull it off!
One final word: I need to change the format in which manuscripts are submitted. They should be TXT or DOCX files. Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. I am in the process of organising an editorial panel to review and polish the final submitted works. I hope to be able to reveal this to you shortly.
Any questions? Drop us a line.
So now you should be on your way with your story for February. Here are some brief tips for good short story structure.
- Open with a bang. Don’t dilly dally around! Your reader wants to know within the first few paragraphs who your main characters are, what context they are playing in and the root of the story.
- Your story doesn’t need to have a linear time-line. You might like to start at the beginning and work through to the end, but consider dumping the reader right into the action for a more interesting read. Some stuff can be inferred, rather than explicitly detailed. For example “Peter leaped out of bed on Wednesday morning” is only exciting if Peter had been grievously ill on Tuesday night.
- In a short story, you don’t have space to spare for words and sentences that don’t pitch in and contribute to the story outcome. Consider whether your descriptions are making an important contribution to the narrative, characterisation or atmosphere. If they are just sitting around looking pretty, rip them out and put in some hardworking words instead.
- The best stories work towards a climax where maximum tension occurs. This point is usually characterised by conflict of some sort at about 70-90% of the way through the narrative.
- The easiest stories to read and write involve physical or emotional conflict between two or more characters. The story resolves when the conflict is resolved.
- Harder to write are stories that have characters experiencing inner emotional, ideological or philosophical turmoil. Inner conflict is triggered by external circumstances, and the story resolves when the character experiences a transformation.
- The final few sentences are the writer’s opportunity to shape the reader’s reaction to the story. Do you want your reader to feel satisfied that everything is sorted out? Are you aiming to make your reader question their own beliefs? Or are you leaving the ending open so the reader (or another story that you write) can extrapolate their own ending onto the story?
Riverland Creative Writing has had a long history of contributing to the ABC Open Project. This project is for short stories, 350-500 words in length, written for an on-line audience. The stories must be true and in the first person i.e. must have happened to you.
The February project is “HEARTBREAK”, and can be submitted to ABC Open on-line.
Here is the link: ABC Open Projects.