Contemporary Romance Class: A story by the numbers
We had our first face-to-face “class” yesterday. “Class” is being used loosely here — it was more of a group of people sitting around a table talking. We met at Balkan (Yugoslavian Home Cooking) at Legazpi Village, Makati, and talked for a little over two hours.
On the agenda: Everyone got to introduce their story, spoil everyone else for how it ends, and ask questions specific to what they need to do to finish it.
My “lecture” was really just guiding them through the outline I used for Fairy Tale Fail, based on the hero’s journey/morphology of the folk tale. It pretty much identifies all the necessary scenes in a certain linear sequence, and hopefully it leads to a fully outlined novella for everyone.
I asked two people in the class to share how they did their first assignment. One of them was writing a male main character and I enjoyed how she pretty much storyboarded her submission — it gave me a really clear picture of what she planned to do and how it was going to end. The other had so very detailed visual and behavioral pegs for her characters, so I felt that I really knew who they were, and it seemed like every decision they’d make could be traced back to that “character bible.”
We also discussed some trends I saw in the story submissions. Some of them:
– Family: In my own novellas (7 published so far) I haven’t given as much weight to how a main character’s family affects her romantic choices. I don’t think I’ve factored it in at all. But that’s because of my own upbringing (my family never told me who to love) and also because I wanted to avoid that trope, which is so common in Philippine media. But I didn’t discourage anyone from doing this, as it’s common in media for a reason. It’s actually true in many cases.
– Romance by coercion/compulsion: Related to the family trend, there were a few pitches that relied on an external force “compelling” the Main Character and Love Interest to a certain decision. Usually a dying wish, or parental pressure. This I gave comments on, in some cases leading the writer away from it, or at least asking how we as readers can feel confident about the Love Interest’s love if he’s being coerced/compelled into it.
– Gay: A few stories mentioned the “Mistaken for Gay” trope, or the “Transparent Closet” trope. Told them to reconsider, unless they really know what they’re doing.
– Mary Sue Main Characters: In the form of main characters who are remarkably similar to the author in terms of: physical appearance, career, certain behavioral traits, “no boyfriend since birth” etc. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but authors overidentifying with their main characters could lead to the bad things about Mary Sues (too perfect, too defensive, too tailored for one person’s wish-fulfillment).
It was fascinating! And I thank everyone who came over, some from very far, on a Sunday afternoon to talk about the crazy idea of actually finishing a romance novella.
Next assignment is due on March 9, and the next face-to-face class the week after.