The Romance Genre on the Web

Researching online romance genre communities and their perspectives

GuestBlogs, Bellas, and heroines

Filed under: Discussion questions,General — Bron at 8:42 pm on Thursday, May 3, 2007

I’m GuestBlogging over at Romance By the Blog today, so if you haven’t come from there, please pop on over and join the wonderful RBTB Bellas in some lively discussion.

And for the Bellas who’ve come over here to visit – a big welcome! All the discussion questions are open for comment, so please feel free to browse through and add your thoughts and views

Also, another big ‘welcome’ to students from my uni’s COMM 323/423 New Media unit, who I’m looking forward to working with next week. (After you’ve had a browse around here, click that link above to RBTB – a great example of an active, positive, and warm online community. There’s also some links to other romance genre sites in the links over on the right of this page – have an explore, and we’ll talk about some of them next Thursday.)

Last week’s post about heroes and the responses to it got me thinking more about heroines in romance novels. Like heroes, much of our discussion uses only a few labels, that probably kinda work okay for our ‘insiders’ purposes as a kind of shorthand, but not so well for those who don’t read the genre, or who want to explore it more thoroughly. And some of the commenters on the previous post agreed that we seem to label heroines more negatively – TSTL, Mary Sues, ‘feisty’.

So, if we were to think about the types of heroines we see represented in romance novels, what would those be?

I’m just brainstorming here, but I’m coming up with:

The Innocent
– she’s usually young, with less experience than those around her, but she’s got courage.

The Nurturer
– she looks after everyone else, and cares deeply
The Battle Maiden – well, Maiden’s probably the wrong word; this is the kick-butt, take-no-prisoners kind of heroine
The Capable Woman - she gets things done, often behind the scenes, but can neglect her own needs because of her ‘duty’
The Artist – she’s a free-thinker, often unconventional, sometimes quirky, and will probably turn the hero’s ordered world upside-down.
The Scientist/Genius/Scholar – this is the dedicated, very intelligent heroine. who because of her special gifts has focused on her talents and missed out on other aspects of ‘normal’ life.
The Princess – she’s rich, privileged, adored by many – and she knows there’s more to life than money and fame.
The Crusader – she’s passionate, and dedicated to a cause

What do you think? Do these broad ‘types’ fit the heroines in romance books you read? What others would there be? What ones don’t you agree with? Or are heroines really too diverse to even contemplate identifying ‘archetypal’ characters?

Heroes – Alphas? Or Leaders? Or what?

Filed under: Discussion questions — Bron at 7:06 pm on Wednesday, April 25, 2007

There was a great, lively discussion last week in response to Sarah Frantz’s post, Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know; or, Just a Jerk? on Romancing the Blog.

Personally, I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with discussions in the romance genre about the ‘Alpha’ hero. Part of it is my reluctance to pigeon-hole anyone, fictional or otherwise, and to slap a label on them – particularly when there’s only a choice of three labels: alpha, beta and gamma. I think there’s some confusion, also, about what the terms mean, particularly with ‘alpha’, and this was highlighted in the above discussion, with some interesting but conflicting views. I’m not sure that the wolf-pack or animal origin of the ‘alpha male’ term really translates effectively to humans and human emotions and interaction. I also worry – maybe unnecessarily, but it’s there – that if WE, readers and writers of the genre, confine our discussions of male characterization to these three types, then are we providing fodder for those who criticize the genre for cardboard-cutout characters? If we can’t articulate the depth and variety of characterization within the genre effectively, how can we ask others to comprehend it?

I love complex characters, and I read characters in books as complex people, not as stereotypes or even archetypes. Yes, I like characters – male and female – to have strength and power of some sort, whether that be physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. Emotional strength and confidence – the ability to accept, respect and value oneself AND the other – is, to me, an essential ingredient in a committed relationship, so in order for me to have faith in the ‘HEA’, both the lead characters need to attain this somewhere along the way of the story.

I was musing on the whole ‘Alpha male’ thing last night while I was lying awake with a spasming back, and it occurred to me that perhaps the notion of leaders and leadership could be applied to many romance heroes, and that there are different types of strengths that are displayed by various characters. When I got up to get some painkillers, I also woke up the computer and jotted down some different types of heroes: Warrior, Commander, Strategist, Servant leader, Dynastic heir, Techno-genius, Entrepreneur, Scholar. Then I got thinking about some of the key positive characteristics of each broad type:

Warrior: physicality, and courage

Commander: leadership, courage, and responsibility

Strategist: intelligence, risk analysis, conviction

Servant Leader: commitment to duty, integrity, compassion for others (NB, this is a term from leadership theories which is not about servants in the employer/servant concept, but rather describes a style of leadership in which the concept of service to others is a prime motivating factor).

Dynastic heir: pride, self-confidence, commitment to family/cultural traditions (?)

Techno-genius: intelligence, ‘out-of-the-box’ or creative thinking, focused

Entrepreneur: imagination, audacity, confidence

Scholar: intelligence, broad knowledge, questioning

Now, I’m not pretending that that’s a complete picture, or that these are the only archetypal heroic figures. Tami Cowden came up with a different list of eight hero archetypes (and eight heroine archetypes) that go beyond the standard alpha, beta etc, but, while they work a bit better, they never quite did it for me entirely. There are also a range of other archetypal characters identified in literature, although not necessarily applicable to the romantic hero (or heroine).

When I thought about the heroes I’m writing, I could place them in the broad framework above, whereas I’ve never been able to label them as ‘alpha’, ‘beta’ or ‘gamma’ or anything else in that framework. Elliot is a mix of Commander and Servant Leader; Cole is a mix of Warrior and Scholar; Ronan is a Techno-genius Warrior. For Gil, I might have to add a ‘Lone Wolf’ type, although the mix of Strategist and Warrior probably works for him.

So, there’s some pain-killer-assisted ramblings about the nature of romance heroes. It’s very much initial thoughts, and comment, criticism, and additional ‘types’ are welcome. (Perhaps we need to add the Hedonist…)

Do we need to think beyond the traditional alpha, beta, gamma etc in our discussions of heroes? Do those traditional ‘labels’ help or hinder our understanding of the genre, and the perceptions of it? Does it matter, as readers, or writers, or academics?

(And why do we spend so much time discussing heroes, and not so much discussing heroines? Our ‘labels’ for them tend to be more negative – TSTL, Mary-Sues, ‘feisty’. About the only one that I can think of at the moment that isn’t negative is ‘kick-butt’.)

Online lives

Filed under: Discussion questions — Bron at 9:11 pm on Monday, March 12, 2007

We’ve been having some great discussions about the romance genre in the posts below – why romance appeals to you, whether you regard it as escapism, fantasy or reality, and your thoughts on romance’s reputation. The comments for all the posts are still open, so if you’re new to the blog, or just didn’t have time to comment before, please feel free to add your thoughts to those posts.

In this post, I’d like to ask questions about romance genre activities online that you participate in. The survey responses so far (440 of them – thanks, everyone!) indicate that around 43% of respondents spend between 3 to 7 hours online each week at romance-related sites and activities, and about 24% spend 8 or more hours per week. I confess I’d be in the higher end of the latter group. First thing in the morning, I stumble to the computer, and stare at it with bleary eyes, to see what my friends on the opposite side of the world have been up to while I’ve been snoozing. (These days, I can call it ‘research’, but that wasn’t always the case :-) )

So, can I ask about your patterns of activity online? Where do you visit, how long do you spend on certain sites, do you have particular ‘must visit’ places you visit daily, or do you just ‘cruise’ around as the interest takes you? Do you do all your participation in one or two bursts of time per week, or do you spread it over multiple times during the week? And can you hazard a guess at what percentage of your online time is focused on romance genre activities, compared to other activities?

Romance’s reputation

Filed under: Discussion questions — Bron at 10:58 am on Sunday, March 4, 2007

I’m sorry it’s taken a little longer to follow up on the post and comments about romance as escape or reality than I intended. It’s the weekend, and I had obligations in town, and didn’t get the brain space to craft a post properly. One of the challenges about being ‘the Researcher’ is that I’m supposed to maintain as much objectivity as possible, and focus on facilitating your input rather than imposing my views. This is easier said than done, especially for an opinionated person like myself :-) So it’s taking me a while to think about what I’m going to say and ask, and how.

In the previous discussion question, most of the responses commented on the fact that there’s escapism in most fiction, and I feel similarly. Whether we’re reading/watching CSI, Miss Marple, or Lord of the Rings, I’d say that there is for many of us a sense of taking some time out from other concerns to focus for a few hours on something entertaining, with the comfortable assurance of a positive resolution.

Yet romance’s form of ‘escapism’ – with its focus on (eventually) successful relationships – seems to attract far more negativity than forms in other genres. Challenging local Inspectors, clashing swords with the bad guys (or Orcs, as the case may be), and studying dead bodies are equally imaginary outlets, but are rarely criticised for their unreality, or described in terms such as that used by Germaine Greer on romance – ‘the opiate of the supermenial’.

In recent years, there has been increasing discussion, both academic and more informal (but not necessarily less rigorous) in romance genre communities exploring the themes, plots and concerns of the romance genre – how they can be interpreted, (for example, the recent discussion at the Smart Bitches); why they are valued less than those in other genres, and how this impacts on the genre (eg recent posts by Tess Gerritsen and Helen Kay Dimon.)

What are your experiences and thoughts on this undervaluing and criticism of romance? Does it impact on you, and if so, how? What are your thoughts about the reasons for it, and how do you respond to it?

Romance books – escapism, fantasy, reality, or…???

Filed under: Discussion questions — Bron at 7:08 am on Thursday, March 1, 2007

I was interested in the comments to my first question, ‘why romance?’ that several people talked about romance as an ‘escape’ – Valerie spoke of romance novels as ‘escapist’ from a ‘too-stressful and demanding daily existence’; Jennie talked of an ‘escape hatch when the going gets tough’. Others mentioned that they read romance because they value or are interested in relationships between people. Kate commented that romances validate her own experience (love at first sight, and for 35 years afterwards); Kimiko spoke of hoping for love in her own life; Helen noted romance’s ‘very real, very powerful place in the world’; Ingrid noted how the world focuses on how high the divorce rate is but not on those who have been happy together for years.

So, I’d like to delve a little further into how you as readers (and writers) view romance. Is romance an ‘escape’ for you? Do you read it as fantasy, unconnected with reality, or do you read it because there’s a resonance or validation of things that you value and believe in? Do the relationships depicted in romance books reflect a reality for you, or are they entertaining fairy tales, without substance?

I know there’s going to be a range of views on this – the variety in the genre is huge, as is the readership! – and, as Toni mentioned some of us probably look for different things at different times, but I’m interested in that range :-)

Welcome!

Filed under: Discussion questions,News — Bron at 6:12 pm on Thursday, February 22, 2007

My University’s Human Research Ethics Committee has approved the first stage of my PhD research project, which includes the online survey and this blog, so we’re ready to roll!

I’m very excited (and yes, a little nervous!) about this research project, and in particular using a blog as a way to interact with online romance genre readers and writers. The romance genre websites, blogs, email lists and other online forums form a wide, diverse and very vibrant community, full of fascinating and lively conversations, views, ideas, and a wonderful sharing of knowledge and resources. I’m hoping that this blog will become a part of that community – a place where we can discuss a range of issues about the genre, about what’s happening online around the genre, and about your perspectives on romance fiction. I’m interested in what YOU think – questions like what you read, why you read it, where you talk about it, how and why you choose what to read, what you think about it, and where you go online to share your interest in the genre. Over the rest of this year, I’ll be making regular posts to this blog, exploring issues and themes in the genre and what’s happening online, and asking you for your views and thoughts on them.

I’m very aware (because I’ve read most of it!) that past academic scholarship hasn’t always come from a position of respect for the genre and its readers, so I’d like to assure you that as well as being a scholar, I’m a romance reader, and a romance writer, and I have a great deal of respect for the genre, and for the women and men who read it, write it, publish it, market it, review it and sell it. This is why much of my research methodology is focused on listening to your views and ideas – you’re part of a huge and significant literary genre and cultural form, and we can’t hope to understand all the diversity and richness of the genre, and its readership and authorship, without listening to you.

So, let’s start! My first question – I’ll start with an easy one :-) – is, ‘Why romance?‘ What appeals to you about romance fiction? What do you look for in a romance book? If you’re a writer, why do you write romance?