Sporkage: Guidelines

As we missed out on our bit of fun at the weekend….

I Found this article the other day: Tina’s Guide to Writing Romantica™ on the Ellora’s Cave Website. I’m assuming that it’s a guideline for what Ellora’s Cave want to see, but frankly, I’d rather gouge my eyes out than read some of these themes. It was sporked, most delightfully by Gehayi (and I tagged along, being sarky) so I said I’d post it. The Guide itself is in bold italics Gehayi’s comments are in purple, mine are in green (because i’m rude).

I love the conceit that she owns the term Romantica, too. The only Romantica I know that is trademarked is the font “Romantica”.

1. During “forced seductions”, redeeming the hero is crucial—nobody wants to read about a rapist.


Never mind the fact that if he’s forcing her to have sex, this does, in fact, make him a rapist.

And of course, redeeming him makes him a Nice Chap and he’s never ever going to do that again is he boys and girls? ” I promise, darling…”

Make sure that the heroine clearly wants the situation to occur by the time there is penetration.

This is one of the most pernicious notions about rape—that “no”doesn’t necessarily mean “no,” that women really want to be taken by force, and that if a guy is sufficiently determined, he can convert a woman’s “no” into a “yes.” It also carries a nasty corollary in real life–that if a woman gives in, rather than continuing to fight the man, this “clearly” means that “she wants the situation to occur” and it isn’t rape.

And that giving in (the safest way to come through actual rape as advised by experts) means LURVE.

Another corollary–and I’ve seen this one more and more frequently of late–is that if the heroine becomes physically aroused or orgasmic due to rape or molestation, this is another version of “wanting the situation to occur,” and means that it’s love rather than rape. After all, the argument runs, you wouldn’t respond that way to a rapist, would you?

The unpleasant fact is that actually, you might. Bodies are traitorous things. It’s possible for a rape victim to feel sickened, appalled and violated AND have her body react in a way that has nothing to do with her mental state.

Exactly. There are cases where men have been raped by women and the cock often does what the cock will often do. Doesn’t make it fun. Doesn’t make it right.

…And it DOESN’T make it love.

What gets me most particularly is that a woman wrote this anti-woman advice for–by and large–women writers, who would primarily be writing for women readers. Why encourage women to believe that these patently false notions, which damage women socially and legally, are true…and not only true, but romantic?

I’m all for fantasy, and hell, if a story has to have a rape fantasy–if that’s what floats your boat, then have a rape fantasy. Don’t make it into a seduction because she “was asking for it.”

2. Strong heroines are a must. Women are much more interested inwatching an independent female give a hero a run for his money and thensubmit than in reading about a weak creature who is a pathetic empty vessel waiting to be filled.

It may come as a great shock to some writers, but I couldn’t care less about a relationship that ends up with one of the loverssubmitting to the other. In fact, I find it sickening. When I see a strong, independent heroine voluntarily and easily eradicating whole chunks of her personality to become a sweet, demure, blissfully obedient Stepford Wife, I want to take the author and shake some sense into her.

You see, I have this weird notion that characters should be consistent and believable. And I’m a hell of a lot more interested in two real people who love each other despite all their headaches, arguments and personality clashes. That’s scads better than a couple who are so busy being something they aren’t that neither ever gets to know who the other person really is.

I am looking at this here from a historical fiction perspective, and frankly my dear, I don’t want my historical heroine to be kick-arse. I loved my Austen heroines for the fact that they are bright, intelligent, witty women who are quite capable of dissolving into panic and grief as the rest of us. They can whip a hero into contrition with a well aimed word, or a look.

As for submitting – no thank you. There’s no way that Lizzie submitted to Darcy, after all.

3. This is a take off on point 2: “brave resistance” = money forauthor; “petulant heroine” = negative reviews. There is a fine line between brave resistance, giving the alpha male a run for his money,etc. , and having the heroine be cruel, vicious, petulant, and unwilling to give the hero a break. Said heroines are trying to the nerves, induce gritting of the teeth, etc.

Right. Complete bitches never sell in romance, be they in books oron TV. Just ask fictional uber-bitches Scarlett O’Hara, Becky Sharp, Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan, Erika Kane. No one has ever been even vaguely interested in them…

Oh. Wait.

Yep. All those bad reviews must have made Aaron Spelling cry all the way to the bank. *boo hoo*

4. Monogamy = good, faithlessness = bad. This “unspoken rule” is for protagonists only. The beauty of erotic romance is your secondary characters can get away with anything, so if a particularly kinky idea occurs to you, have the secondary characters indulge in it. But for protagonists…be careful! The hero and heroine cannot have sexual penetration with anyone else once they have met. If you allow that to happen, you will receive angry emails from women all over the world.

Oh no! Angry e-mails from all over the world! How could I possibly cope? *swoon*

I don’t have much patience with this idea.

I don’t have ANY. Unless this was written in the 1950′s or something. *checks date on article* ah. Nope.

I much prefer to have characters to act in ways that are consistent with their personalities. It makes for a much better story if the characters are free to choose to act in diverse ways, rather than obligated to behave in a way both false and stereotypical.

I much prefer to have characters behave in a way that’s REAL. People cheat. If a writer is worth his/her salt then they’d be able to include this antiquated “taboo” and still make a story work.

That said, you CAN get away with sexual touching in sci-fi so long as it’s done properly. In the Trek series, for instance, there is something called a “Consummation Feast” where the heroine is brought to orgasm by the hands and mouths of 5 or more warriors before she’s given to her mate for penetration. In the Oath series, there is the “linking”ritual which requires a male close to the hero to rub all over theheroine’s naked body while she’s orgasming. (You gotta love sci-fi!)

I’m going to guess, therefore, that the following sci-fi novels aren’t “proper.” They contain a lot more variations and generally involve the protagonists.

Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley. Only promiscuity is acceptable, and sex has nothing to do with love. When the Savage enters the Brave New World, his predilection toward romance and monogamy are seen as perversions.

Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) by Robert Heinlein. Futures group marriage and pansexualism.

Memors of a Spacewoman (1962) by Naomi Mitchison. Interspecies sex on shore leave. Aliens who change sex.

Babel-17 (1966) by Samuel R. Delany. Starship crews engage in, and are emotionally bonded by, group sex. There are also sexual relations with spirits of the dead.

The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula K. LeGuin. Humanoid aliens move from genderless neutrals to one sex or the other a few days a month. Relationships range from vowing kemmer (which is the equivalent of monogamous marriage) to group orgies. All are acceptable, and accepted.

The World Inside (1971) by Robert Silverberg. Promiscuity is culturally enforced.

I’m busy gagging over here. Why is sci-fi singled out? What’s wrong with the heroine getting frotted and loving it and STILL running into the arms of her sickening hero and submitting to him? Hells bells, people this is 2007. *despairs*

5. Don’t always write perfect heroines. I can’t stress this enough.The occasional “babe” is okay, but they should be more of the exception to the rule than the rule itself. Write chubby heroines, passingly pretty heroines, average heroines, etc. , but not too many drop-dead gorgeous heroines. Remember that your readers include every race, every culture, every body type, etc. Never refer to body fat in a bad way, for instance. Call it “pleasingly fleshly” or something of that nature.

Although… I am overweight, and whilst I don’t agree with anyone being a size 10 when they should really be a size 16 (I have no clue what these sizes relate to in US terms) I don’t think that we should say that it’s ok to put an unecesary strain on your heart, either.

Actually, I agree with this one, at least in principle. I have to admit, though, that I’ve never seen a romance heroine who was plain or ugly. Generally, the heroine differs from the norm of her society, convincing her that she’s ugly, while in our eyes she’s stunninglybeautiful. This bores me. I’m tired of writers who try to have their cake and eat it too.

Mmmmm – cake

Also, I’ve never seen a fat heroine in a romance. In fact, I’ve never seen one, period. I don’t think that fat heroines exist–just heroines who wail about their fatness while the wind threatens to blow them away.

I have, in chick-fic, but as you say, it’s usually “FAT” like Bridget Jones or “Ugly” like Anne Hathaway. I rarely read anything where a woman is normal as in real life, but then I guess that’s the point, the myth is that all the fatties like me want to read about thin women and fantasize they are them.

6. Heroes are always tall, masculinely handsome (never pretty), muscular, and well-endowed.

Because all women like the same physical type, of course. All this instruction does is make me want to create a homely male dwarf protagonist with an average build whose problem with the ladies is thatthey want to find out if he’s a dwarf all over.

I’d read that, and I agree. What Bollocks. Women like pretty men too, you know. Or are we feeling threatened here?

It doesn’t matter who his heroine is…the hero is always yummy.

Because women are shallow?

WHY. Why why why why why why why? Oh…. I know. It’s because books with ugly heroes, like those stupid books with Rochester and Heathcliffe never EVER sold.

Best selling heroes are also slightly obsessive—women readers love territorial males who stake claims right off the bat and focus their energies on one woman.

Personally, I think that it would be fantastic if Western literature would stop presenting stalkerish behavior as romantic and desirable. People can be in love and not be obsessed, y’know.

*Iz scared*

7. Vamps, futuristic/sci-fi, and MaleDom bondage sell the best.

Which just goes to prove that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

Good grief.

Really? Someone had better tell Norah Roberts to break out the numchuks.

8. Always have a plot.

Blimey. A plot? Really? This woman is GOOD.

Preferably not a plot against the audience, however.

9. Use condoms wisely and if it fits the storyline,

Why? To prevent fictional STDs? And again, I’ve never seen aprotagonist use such a thing. The only time I’ve ever seen condoms inscience fiction or fantasy was in Terry Pratchett’s The Fifth Elephant,in which a manufacturer of “sonkies” is immersed in a vat of latexrubber and suffocates.

I’ve seen them in gay erotica and porn and chick lit.

not just to be “pc”—remember this is fantasy.

Again–never seen a condom used at all in fiction. I’m not sure why this advice is even being given.

To show she’s “down with the kids”?

10. Don’t worry excessively about grammar usage to the point where you are stifling creativity in the name of technicality.

We can has talk English much more goodly than you is thinking us does.

Grammer? We don’t need no steenken’ Grammer.

Do remember, however, to stay away from culturally specific words(bloke, porridge, flat, etc.) unless it’s necessary to the plot ( i.e.historical).

Heaven forfend that anyone get the idea that a foreign language and culture might in any way differ from those of twenty-first century America.

Yes – because all people in all countries use words like guy, oatmeal, apartment and LOVE to hear heroes and heroines – specially in England – use them. I know I do!!!

And of course, this does imply that Romance readers are incapable of gathering ANYTHING from context and none of them own a dictionary. Or a computer. Or a BRAIN…

18 Responses

  1. Well, it was a guide to writing Ellora’s Cave trademark “Romantica”, and not romantica in general. (Can’t understand how they were able to trademark the term though. Someone somewhere didn’t do their research.) So why use time to gripe about it. Many points that were addressed in the list are actually ones that would interest me if I wanted to write a manuscript that sells to a specific publisher.

    My main gripe with the list is that it didn’t make any difference between advice about what Ellora’s Cave wants to publish, and about writing in general. For example, it is true that concentrating on form can destroy momentum, and that bad slang makes even decent writing ridiculous… But are these really such typical mistakes in manuscripts that they need to be specifically mentioned? Or were they just included because Ellora’s Cave wants writing that is not too fancy and doesn’t stress the reader’s comprehension with strange words? Why don’t they say so, then? I didn’t get it at all.

  2. I have to say that if this is what Ellora’s Cave wants, then I certainly have no interest in writing for them. Why would I want to read the same book over and over again, but then I’ve said that about Romance, many times.

    I found it extremely depressing that grammar wasn’t terribly important, I must admit.

  3. Romantica is meant to be ROMANCE. The whole snark could have been much better if this doesn’t turn out to be yet another rant about what makes the romance genre what it is.

    Yes, yes, boo to the lack of fat heroines in the romance genre.

    But perhaps this rant will be more effective if the writer has shown some evidence that she or he has some familiarity with the genre. “Norah Roberts”? Heathcliff is ugly? Heathcliff is ugly? Seriously now, he’s the epitome of the tall, dark, and wounded hero that the genre makes a template out of.

    And I’m not even going to start with the hilarious statement about no fiction ever presenting the use of condoms since nearly all contemporary romances feature safe sex nowadays.

    I don’t mind if you guys want to bash the formulaic constraints of the genre, but the ignorance passed off as “snark” displayed in this rant is mind-boggling.

  4. The grammar thing went against the official guideline as well (included in the same document). It said very clearly that a submission should not contain grammatical errors. I guess that the writer of this “how to” was trying to say that you shouldn’t be too bothered about grammar during first draft, but bungled the job.

    By the way, something I forgot to mention — about the forced seduction fantasy. Which happens to be a big favorite of mine. Neither Tina’s advice nor the criticism above felt at all relevant to me. The penetration-centric view of sex is ridiculous. On the other hand, having to be PC and all morally hygienic about rape would kill the fantasy. Fantasies like this are not meant to be politically correct. Often their whole appeal is that they go against what is correct and acceptable in real life.

    We are more than aware that it’s a fantasy. It is not okay to patronize us about it. But that’s probably more than I should have said about the whole thing.

  5. Well, we all differ, but having been raped, I don’t like any kind of rape fantasy, specially once that infers that as long as the hero is bigger and stronger and won’t take no for an answer, eventually the heroine will have to succumb, and after being raped, will fall in love. Not being PC or moral, at all, it’s just something I dislike heartily.

  6. Oh God, I *hate* those ‘alpha males’! Every time I meet one in a book (and that’s all the damn time) I want to take a sledgehammer to the arrogant tosser and gradually break every bone in his body until he learns a bit of humility. And after that I’d mercifully shoot him through the head. OK, this is a fantasy, but perhaps not the one they were aiming to provoke.

    Why is it so impossible to want a hero who is first and foremost a decent human being?

  7. I’m still giggling – that was delightfully catty. Thank you!

    I find it depressing that they basically want the same book over and over. Whatever happened to creativity and originality and… oh, wait. This is Romantica, right? *rolls eyes*

  8. I suppose it’s a good thing they don’t publish m/m romances — and an extra-good thing (for me, at least!) that I stopped reading m/f romances a long time ago, for pretty much all the reasons you outlined above.

  9. I suppose it’s a good thing they don’t publish m/m romances — and an extra-good thing (for me, at least!)

    They do publish m/m now. The “Quickie” Anne and I sold them has done quite well. Despite the book’s short length we’ve gotten a lot of compliments on the characterization–and the grammar is pretty darn good too. ^_^

  10. Standish was very nearly their flagship m/m romance, actually – I sent it to them and they accepted it, but when they couldn’t promise it would be a print book I backed off.

  11. [...] because I am about to be critical of someone else’s attempt at making fun. The rant entitled Sporkage: Guidelines is hosted at a review site run by authors of gay romances. I believe that the author, Erastes, is [...]

  12. To Mrs. Giggles:

    “Romantica is meant to be ROMANCE.”

    Why not just use the word “romance” then?

    “Norah Roberts”?

    A typo, clearly.

    “Heathcliff is ugly? Heathcliff is ugly? Seriously now, he’s the epitome of the tall, dark, and wounded hero that the genre makes a template out of.”

    You tell me. Here’s the description of him from the first chapter of Wuthering Heights:

    “Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark- skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure; and rather morose. Possibly, some people might suspect him of a degree of under-bred pride; I have a sympathetic chord within that tells me it is nothing of the sort: I know, by instinct, his reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling – to manifestations of mutual kindliness. He’ll love and hate equally under cover, and esteem it a species of impertinence to be loved or hated again. ”

    So while Heathcliff is tall and well-built–that’s how I read “erect and handsome figure”–he’s of an unpopular and un-English nationality (check the book for how many times Heathcliff’s darkness and/or resemblance to a gypsy come up, and not in flattering ways); he’s morose and ill-tempered, both of which show in his face; and he’s a slob.

    Another description, this one from Chapter 7. Nelly Dean is the speaker:

    “Do you mark those two lines between your eyes; and those thick brows, that, instead of rising arched, sink in the middle; and that couple of black fiends, so deeply buried, who never open their windows boldly, but lurk glinting under them, like devil’s spies? …Don’t get the expression of a vicious cur that appears to know the kicks it gets are its desert, and yet hates all the world, as well as the kicker, for what it suffers.’”

    He’s also described later as cruel, vindictive, sullen, and abusive toward Isabella Linton, whom he marries out of spite. He may love Cathy Earnshaw, but that doesn’t make him a handsome man, or a kind one. Frankly, I think that most people who consider Heathcliff handsome are envisioning Laurence Olivier in the role.

    “And I’m not even going to start with the hilarious statement about no fiction ever presenting the use of condoms since nearly all contemporary romances feature safe sex nowadays.”

    Re-read the specific guideline that was being sporked. It said:

    “9. Use condoms wisely and if it fits the storyline, not just to be “pc”—remember this is fantasy.”

    The author of the guidelines was talking about using condoms in FANTASY–which I took to mean the sub-genre of fantasy and science fiction romance. And that’s what I responded to–the fact that I’d never seen a condom used in science fiction, and that the only condoms I’d seen in fantasy were the “sonkies” in Pratchett. The sub-genre of contemporary romance wasn’t mentioned at all–not by the original author, and not by us.

    I hope this clarifies matters somewhat, and am sorry that you were so perturbed.

  13. “Also, I’ve never seen a fat heroine in a romance. In fact, I’ve never seen one, period.”

    Why would EC want stories featuring full-figured heroines? It’s not like they have a whole section for them, or anything. Right? Oh. My bad. ;o)

    There may not be so many Historicals with full-figured heroines, but there are plenty of Contemporaries. 40% of American women are a size 14 (UK 16?) or larger–it stands to reason that at least some of them would, every now ant then, want to read about women who look something like them (same as I like to read about nonwhite heroines and heroes–and, amazingly enough, there are romances featuring them, too.)

  14. Nod nod. I have read many contemporary books with larger heroines, and oh I would LOVE to read a historical one where the heroine wasn’t trim or willowy.

    It’s sad though that EC’s Rubenesque selection doesn’t actually have any Rubenesque ladies on the covers.

  15. I’ve just read this and the Dear Author response thing. I think overall the cookie cutter romance novels that these overly-detailed guidelines would produce isn’t anything I’d want to read. Just silly to say what all heroes and all heroines have to be, IMO.

    That being said, I actually agree with them about the condom thing. When I read contemporary romance (and I’ve read quite a few modern paranormal romances lately), they mostly show safe sex, and I think, especially if you want realism in your romance, condoms are a good thing.

    I don’t think fidelity and honor are necessarily old fashioned and out of style – I take keeping my marriage promises very seriously on a personal level, but again, the prescriptive nature of those guidelines bugs me. Even the most committed, faithful person can succumb to temptation if the circumstances are right and to say that in NO situation should either party ever be other than completely monogamous once they MEET (not marry or make some commitment – just meet!) the other party is very silly.

    I mean, think about it. Sally is dating Joe and has been for a year. She’s walking her poodle and gets leashes tangled up with a rotty owned by Ben, the hero. She’s now met Ben. So she can’t sleep with Joe anymore? WTF? How is that any kind of realistic characterization?

  16. It’s sad though that EC’s Rubenesque selection doesn’t actually have any Rubenesque ladies on the covers.

    nods back. Maybe Poser doesn’t have a Plus Size option? ;o) Royalty free pics of Plus Size models are harder to find.

  17. Since I’ve sold three radically different stories (a space opera, a BDSM contemporary and a dark-future trucker adventure) to EC, I kinda take offense at the “cookie cutter” idea.

    The nice thing about writing m/m is you never have to worry about a heroine. You can have two alpha males circling, or you can have (as is more common for me) a caretaking male and one who needs care taken.

    I did pull Nikolai, though, mostly over the “No sex with anyone else” guideline. Nick gets tutored in sex, as in everything else, by several people.

  18. *giggles* at Bettie’s Plus Size.

    Angelina: Yes, that’s what I like about m/m – I wouldn’t like (although I’m sure some people do) an alpha heroine in the same way that a male can do the alpha thing, and yes, you can blur the roles much more effectively too, gives one a lot more scope.

    The whole fidelty thing drives me bonkers in this day and age, whilst fidelty is obviously a good thing, it’s not universal and is the most obvious plot point conflict within relationships that exists

    As for condoms, I think Gehayi was saying that she’d never seen them – obviously they must exist, but they aren’t terribly common. I read a lot of short stories and they don’t appear too much in those – i’ve never seen one in historical fiction (obviously for m/m that wouldn’t be an issue, but even with m/f I’ve never seen it) and certainly never in fantasy. Gehayi said to me that it seems to be that in sci-fi the theme is that once we reach the stars we’ve beaten all the STDs.

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