When I was in my pre to early teens I read a lot of Harlequin Romances. My mom read them and so did my best friend next door. I wanted in. They seemed so enamored. My mom would laugh and make little noises while she was reading. My best friend told me how good and riveting the stories were. So, I was like oh hell yeah!
I added romances to the pile of stuff I already read voraciously. My best friend was right. At first, some of the stories were different simply because I’d never read them before, but after a little while I noticed a pattern. That pattern was only the tip of the iceberg.
I just didn’t get it.
I read and read hoping it would change but a majority of the time it didn’t. Maybe I was an enlightened twelve year old? Maybe I just knew better? Maybe I just didn’t understand why a woman would put herself through that kind of shit.
What kind of shit you say?
Man and woman meet. Man treats woman like crap and despite that the woman can’t seem to fight her attraction and falls in love. He ‘takes’ her or they fuck whichever term you like to use; they break up usually because the guy was an ass and commitmentphobe; and then somehow they find their way back to each other.
It was eye rolling really. I tried my best to draw my friend into a debate about the ridiculousness of this, but she refused to buy what I was trying to sell. Instead, she just kept buying more books. I mean, the Bunnicula Series and books by Judy Blume did better at holding my attention. However, when I wanted something more risqué I moved on to the more sexualized stories sometimes depicted in magazines around that time. Shit, it was straight up and honest. I think I enjoyed the lack of subterfuge and the varying degree of heat.
Mind you this was all before I discovered women or rather, before I knew I had been trying to discover women all along. My life in retrospect and I’m sure I’m not alone in this is a series of snapshots where I can discern my growing interests in women.
But, I digress yet again because I obviously do it a lot.
Getting back to the subject at hand, the romance formula is prevalent in the romance genre of lesbian fiction as well. I read a post on Facebook a couple weeks ago. The woman who wrote it was complaining about the formula a particular publisher used. She stressed that she was tired of (I’m paraphrasing here) woman meets woman. They don’t like each other at first then in about twenty five percent of the book something changes that. Not far from that point they fuck. Then, they break up due to fear of commitment, misunderstanding or blah blah blah and eventually find their way back to each other with everything tied up in a neat little bow.
It does sort of. Throw in some side characters that serve no purpose except to push the romance plot along. Keep the main characters talking to each other a majority of the time (ala in a bubble). They can’t fuck around with other women because…reasons. So on and so forth.
Variations of the romance formula are tried, true and tradition. It’s what people like to read. It’s what sells. It’s what works. Readers like cookie cutter. They like knowing what to expect. Books that don’t go along these lines get celebrated by the up and coming contingent but the same books get railed on because the story, the characters didn’t fit the formula.
Even as I write my own lesbian romance novels, the thought of becoming cookie cutter scares the utter shit out of me. I don’t wanna be a hundred books in and realize that my characters have all been the same but with different names and different hair color. I don’t wanna realize that my stories are rinse, wash, and repeat.
However, I do want to sell books.
It’s an incredible inner struggle to conform or not conform. Part of me wants to lean toward the readers who like different and get that it’s okay for the story not to be neat and tidy; a protagonist to curse; fuck around; be an asshole, etc. Whatever remains wants to also be embraced by tradition and be remembered and revered.
What the fuck am I supposed to do?