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Thursday, November 17, 2011

So What If a Bodice Rips?

[This is a rewrite of a piece from my blog at the address that appears at the end of this post. I thought I'd share the thoughts here in the hope of getting a conversation started. Please read with the idea of commenting - whether you agree or disagree with me. Lots of folks disagree with me, but I think that's just proof that there are too many sane people out there.]

There are folks who pride themselves on being open-minded and accepting. I like to consider myself one of those folks. However, within the live and let live tribe, there are a bunch of members who only accept something if it meets their rules and regulations. They think they're open-minded but in reality, they're the opposite. These are people who only want to accept what they find acceptable. Yes, Virginia, I'm talking about card-carrying members of the PC Police. I'm gonna call 'em the PCP because I think the name fits. Lord knows they often act like they're high on something.

Too many of them are reader-come-latelys. Yeah, they might've been well-intentioned enough back when they started reading romance. But they hung around with the wrong crowd. They listened to the wrong sermons and soon enough, they started believing them. And the young PCP converts were tapped as missionaries - sent out to convert others and convince them that the only good romance, the only acceptable romance was new romance. Older romance was written in the wrong style with the wrong plot elements.

Yes, Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers (guided by talented Avon Books editor Nancy Coffey) created a genre. It wasn't a genre where you might pick up a book on occasion and read it. It was a genre that compelled readers to buy another book so they could start it the second they finished the last. It was a genre that incited and inspired a generation of women.

Perhaps that was all very well - then. And those women who devoured romance novels like Christmas candy? Well, they didn't know any better. Besides, Woodiwiss and Rogers and the writers who learned from them were all the readers had. But this is a new day. There are a horde of writers who've learned the rules and write the proper stuff. If a writer is tempted to wander off the true path -- she'd better not. The PC Police will get her.

Do they have an APB out for me yet?

If they don't they'd better issue one because I'm about to lay some truth on the readers of this blog. It's the kind of truth that clears the system of the Kool-Aid that writers and editors and publishers of the PCP have been force-feeding readers for far too long. It's an earth-shattering, life-altering truth. Are you ready?

Despite the PC Police, there are still writers who cut their teeth as readers of the groundbreaking work by Woodiwiss and Rogers. Some of us discovered those books at local libraries, long after they'd been published. And some of us love them still.

The work that incited a new genre and inspired a generation can do the same again. The style and plot elements of a Woodiwiss or Rogers romance have been declared incorrect and offensive by the PCP. But I understand the power of a good mind trip and I believe that many readers, like me, read romance in order to get inside the heads and the hearts of the hero and heroine.

Those who decide such things have decided that writers must show, not tell. Well, I am an indie writer who is proud to claim the traditions of writers who created our genre. One benefit - and it's a big one - of being an indie is that the one who decides such things with my books is me. And I've decided that if writers want to stop this generation from putting down a book to watch a TV Show or movie, they'd better show AND tell. Because if we're just showing - well TV does that better, so do movies, YouTube, video games and any other visual medium. A writer's medium is words and when they're done well they shouldn't just conjure images, they should conjure emotions.

To paraphrase The Duke of Eden - writers had better show and tell or (continue) to say fare thee well to our readers. Romance grew into the blockbuster genre because our readers preferred to be reading a love story than doing most anything else. And that was back in the day when the only real distractions from reading were TV and movies. Today the internet, which has opened the doors to careers for indie writers like me, has also opened the floodgates to a world of distraction.

If we want to do more than cater to readers who pick up our books sometimes - when they have time, then we better forget the Kool Aid and offer the wine. Readers can pick and choose their entertainment with YouTube and become part of it with Twitter. If we want to inspire a new generation so much that they turn away from other entertainment, then we'd better learn an old lesson. What created our genre was writing that carried readers into the minds of the characters and made the readers part of the story. After all, telling lets readers come backstage. When a writer shows AND tells we know what characters are saying and we see what they're doing but we also know what they're thinking and feeling and why they're thinking and feeling those things.

Even if we bring back show and tell writing, given the excitement level of the other distractions, we won't engage the readers enough unless we throw out all the misrule of the PC Police. And that means that even the Holy Grail of the PC Police must be breached. SO WHAT IF A BODICE RIPS? Let's rip some trouser inseams too.

No, I'm not advocating rape. What I am advocating is that we stop throwing the baby out with the bath water. There's a world of difference between some use of coercion or even force and rape. There is both dark fascination and universal appeal to situations where desire is inspired against our will, against common sense, even against our morals. They may be presented straight up involving the hero using his superior strength to prove to the heroine that the desire is mutual. Usually, in a Woodiwiss book, that got answered by the heroine using her superior wits to show the hero that the love was mutual as well. The dark side of desire may be presented as a joke, like I did in A Faerie Fated Forever. It may show up in a shoe is on the other foot fashion (involving the hero) as in A Golden Forever.

The dark side of desire may also show up in a dozen different ways. And, yes, bodices may be ripped. But it worked in early romance because those writers carried the reader inside the heads and hearts of the character. It would never, ever, work where writers are only showing.

To all the writers, I'd suggest that we lock up the PC Police and learn to be as smart as our readers. It's harder to mind hop, heart hop and soul hop but doing it well opens the keys to all the cages. Doing it well means that nothing is off limits.

So, there you have it. I've advocated the end of "Show, Don't Tell" and a return to the era of ripped clothing and no holds barred enticement - even if force or coercion is involved. I'm sure the PC Police have an APB out for me now.

On second thought, they've probably skipped the nicety of getting legal process. I bet they've given a shoot on sight order. I'll have to pull out the heavy ammunition. Yes, when the PC Police show up and draw their guns I'll have to........... have to............ rip my bodice. They'll faint dead away and I'll skip right off into the sunset -- but I'll take my readers with me, right inside my devious little brain.

TO THE BLOG READERS - Are you ready for a return to show and tell writing? Would you pass out from shock if a bodice ripped? Comment at will - even if it's to assess the insanity of the Crazy Duck Lady. (Lord knows, many have tried.)

Mary Anne Graham
Quacking Alone Romances
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Image credits, in order of appearance:
Hippie ducks
Flame & Flower cover
Sweet Savage Love cover
No Kool Aid
PC Police


  1. Mary Anne:
    Sometimes I seem to be going in the opposite direction. I read the mentioned authors and loved the stories - but I was younger and...well, stupid when it came to love. I would have loved to have my bodice-ripped back then because I thought that showed just how much the man wanted the woman. But now...I think I would rather rip open my own bodice, like you said.

    And even though I'm published in erotic romance (BSP: Teasing the Muse by Macie Carter at The Wild Rose Press), I find myself writing less "bodice ripping" - leaving everything to the imagination of the reader.

  2. Mitzi -

    Despite all the bodice ripping in "old time romance" I think it left more of the bedroom boogling to the readers' imagination than much of the work today. A lot of today's work seems more descriptive of the sex and less of the emotional reasons that the sex matters.

    But then, that's my opinion and I'm a head hopper from way back!

    And I agree - the whole romance genre would fall if we didn't have such imaginative readers.

    Thanks for the comment and I hope everyone check's out "Teasing the Muse."

  3. This blog post was really, really stupid. I don't tend to go into the gutter like that but first you advertised it in the comment section on a completely unrelated blog and then I read it and was pretty horrified.

    I don't know if you are aware what the term bodice-ripper means to the general public and to romance readers. It means rape and you can prettify it with romance, but rape it is. Forced seduction yada yada, it's just sex without consent and its wrong.

    I was curious enough about the title to actually read your post and I think you need some correction about what folks are looking for. I began reading romances as a very impressionable middle-schooler and I stopped reading before I finished high school because I had a mother who taught me to be independent and smart and reading about women who chose to be victimized, or women who didn't know if they wanted to have sex or not wasn't working for despite the GOOD things the Romance genre had to offer. About relationship development, about true love, about respect and devotion. It took until I started reading Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb who wrote smart, educated women who made the decision their own decisions that I could reenter the genre. Now I devour romance. Probably around 300 in the past year.

    I'm glad for the converts, who go out there and preach that the genre and the women it have gotten a lot better. They're filled with grown-up men and women who make grown up decisions. Does that mean they get caught up in the heat of passion and clothes get ripped off? Of course, happens all the time.

    Does that mean, that when they say "no" the "hero" he ignores her and her silly feminine thoughts and has forcible sex with her anyway? No! You say you're not advocating for rape, but the legal definition is when somebody says "no." It's not that complicated. Yes, a lot of the old romance sucked. I don't judge those who read it. People can read what they want. But its crap. I as a member of the PC police you decry will say it's crap because it is. If that shit happened in real life it'd be rape, no two ways about it. If you want to read it's a free country, but don't bash people who know what rape is and don't want to read about it for entertainment.

    It doesn't matter if you have 250 pages of good writing and good character development or great plot if your storyline also contains forcible rape. So that's why the PC police doesn't espouse Kathleen E. Woodiwiss type books to those looking for a good romance to read.

  4. Emily:

    Thanks for your comment. I did try to advertise the blog in the hopes we'd get some diverse opinions. However, I think I only commented on a couple of romance blogs so I wasn't wandering around sci-fi or YA blogs promoting this post.

    I've been accused of having bats aplenty in my belfrey but I don't see the old romances as showing the weakness or inferiority of women. I seem them as showing female power. Men often use physical strength to win battles. Women use emotional strength to win wars. By the time the lead couple's tale was told the woman's tender tenacity had triumphed over paltry brute force.

    I never advocated rape - but a thousand vivid variations lie between the words "Yes" and "No." As long as readers are inside the heads and hearts of both characters I think writers can explore every one of those vivid variations.

    As a reader I don't like stories where the woman is so tough that I can't sympathize with her. Don't take me through one rock-em-sock-em scene after another without taking time to explain why. Because if I don't understand why then I won't care about what or how.

    I'm very glad that there are writers whose work brought you back to romance, though. I think we all need more happy endings.

    Thanks again for the comment - I need people to remind me I'm crazy now and again although I do think that sanity is way overrated!


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