I worry that I'm taking these books way too seriously. On the other hand, I would absolutely love to read some honest to God critical analysis of these things by people with PhDs. Please point me in the right direction. -M.R.
It's hard to believe, but NaNoWriMo is half done. I'm writing this a little in advance, on my lunch break at work, so I have no idea whether or not my word count is on track, or how much more of my outline I've managed to plow through.
Anyway, today we'll talk about characters, specifically the male and female leads, because, according to Harlequin, "I :( secondary characters." (Whereas I <3 things like conflict and dialogue.) The secondary characters exist purely to move the plot forward, or to get in its way, and no time should be wasted on them that could be spent on developing the romance between the two main characters. This is a shame, because some of my favourite characters are secondary ones (love you forever, Billy!). I have about four secondary characters in my novel, one of whom hasn't had any dialogue yet, and probably won't until the very end.
But what about the main characters? Well, they also don't need to be developed all that well, because the main thing that they need to do is fall in love, and since they're inevitably sexually compatible, they only really need to have a few shared characteristics, and then you're set. The main characters also need to work out some kind of issue together, usually, which is the issue that generates the circumstances for their meeting.
The female lead is, at the beginning of the novel, an independent single woman. If she has a sexual history (apparently virgins in romance are going out of style), it's lacklustre. She may have had One True Love in the past, who died tragically, but she will soon realize that the male lead makes her happier. She usually has a career, but it's something that can easily be dropped or pushed into the background, even if, in reality, it would be the kind of job that would destroy all of her free time (i.e. any job). She may be in her twenties or thirties. She is good-looking and her body is built within one standard deviation of the current female ideal. Basically, she isn't really exceptional, but she is hardworking and superficially ambitious.
The male lead is also independent and single. He usually has a storied past and is a sexual virtuoso. His career is well-established and he is more than financially secure enough to take on a dependant/wife. The reason for his success is that he is special in some way, either particularly talented or driven. If he's ever loved before, the object of his affection is dead now, and can't compare to the female lead. He is very manly and powerful, always handsome and muscular, confident about absolutely everything other than the female lead's feelings for him.
So the two of them are thrown together. Their desires align instantly, and they're both more than willing to make a sacrifice or two. As I mentioned before, they're also perfectly sexually compatible (and we'll get into this a bit more in the next post). Probably the weirdest thing of all, though, is that almost 100% of the time, once they realize that they're in love, both characters want to get married and have a baby right now (and we'll go over this more in another post, too).
But yeah, that's basically the deal with the romnov characters. It's almost as if they can't be well-developed characters because they need to be malleable enough to make their happy ending a lasting one.
(PS I'm aware that my generalisations above don't cover all romance novels. But this stuff seems to be true of many of the ones with contemporary settings.)