Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Romance, A Guest Blog by Barb Caffrey

by Stephanie Osborn

Today's take on romance as a part of modern stories is rather unique, since Barb Caffrey (a new Twilight Times author, and now something of a protege of mine, as well as an excellent editor in her own right) looks at the history of romance itself, and how that factors into storytelling over the centuries. Her first book, An Elfy On The Loose, by TTB, will be out soon! (Rumor has it the release will be in June -- which seems appropriate!)



When Stephanie Osborn asked me and a number of other writers to talk about romance as an element of storytelling, I wasn't sure what to say. Sure, there's the obvious – romance has been around forever in one fashion or another, and many novelists and playwrights have written about it. Geoffrey Chaucer had an ironic and bawdy take on it with his stories of the Wife of Bath (who was married many times more than once and proud of it, too), while Shakespeare had so many different takes on romance – failed and, every so often, one that actually works – it's hard to keep track of them all.

Courtly love, though, used to take different formats than it does now. In the 13th and 14th Centuries, women were to be adored from afar and put up on pedestals. Troubadours and Trouvéres sang to court ladies, and some lost their hearts to them, no doubt...but most did absolutely nothing about it for a wide variety of reasons.

Actual marriages were usually made for business considerations – say, if two people from adjoining farming families married, land would be settled upon them from the existing family farms. Or if a prosperous merchant family trained an apprentice from a different family and that apprentice wanted to take over the family business, usually he'd have to marry in.

So how did romance as a thing actually come to be? Well, feelings and hormones aside, the lot of women from early on was probably none too good in most societies. Being bartered in marriage was by far the least of these ancient women's worries. But as our world matured and societies became more stable, there was more leisure time available – especially in the upper classes – and people started to think.

Why couldn't marriages be made where both people respected and liked each other? Why, if everything else was equal, couldn't a suitor actually romantically care about his proposed wife? Wouldn't that be beneficial to all concerned?

Slowly, societal mores changed, and as they did, storytelling changed with it. This is when we started to see tales like Chaucer's, where the older Wife of Bath tells younger, prospective brides and grooms that love is not all it's cracked up to be – but sex has its charms all the same.

So there was a two-stranded theme to romance as of that moment: Love, and sex. If you can get both at the same time, more power to you; but if you can't, sex by itself along with respect and a bit of liking beats whatever's in second place.

We see that now in contemporary romances of all descriptions, but most particularly in erotic romance. There, the sexual act is much more of a player, and the romance behind it usually doesn't signify too much (though in the best erotic romances, both are intertwined).

In other romances, love is usually shown to be a melding of sexual attraction (hormonal), liking and mutual respect. The latter two take time to engender, but once you have them, they build and build and build...

In my own work, which is relentlessly cross-genre but I suppose you could call "humorous romantic urban fantasy," that's the tactic I use. My hero and heroine in AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, Bruno and Sarah, get to know each other during an extremely stressful period in both their lives. The more they know about each other, the more they like each other...and as both are at the right age for a romance, it's not surprising they have one. It's my own conceit that a young man of whatever species (Bruno is an Elfy, a type of shorter Elf) would worry far, far more than he is usually given credit for when it comes to romance, in order for people to laugh a bit while remembering their first attempts at dating and romance.

Personally, whenever I try to write a story without some element of romance in it, I find it much harder. Romance is part of the human condition, and whether you're in the far future (as is my late husband Michael's character Joey Maverick, hero of "A Dark and Stormy Night" and "On Westmount Station"), the not-so-distant past (as with Katharine Eliska Kimbriel's Night Calls series, set in early 19th Century Michigan), or the present-day (as with Stephanie Osborn's own Displaced Detective series or my own AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE), romance is possible because the human condition doesn't change all that much over time.

Even in stories where romance isn't part of the main theme, such as Rosemary Edghill's Bast novels about a Wiccan detective in modern-day New York (collected in BELL, BOOK AND MURDER), romance still plays an integral part. Who's dating whom and who's sleeping with who has to be factored in by Bast as she does her best to solve mysteries; who wants whom, and why, also must be considered.

Don't think that because your story doesn't contain a well-developed romantic strain that romance doesn't matter to you as a storyteller. Sometimes the absence of romance tells you more than its presence.

To sum up, the way we express things now has changed from Chaucer's or Shakespeare's time. Women have far more of a say in our governments, we have more say as to who we marry and when (at least in the West), we can and do own businesses and we often direct our own affairs. But our need for connection, for closeness, and for understanding has not changed.

Whether you're talking about a romance between a traditional male-female couple, a same-sex romance or a romance between two aliens we can barely comprehend, romance still matters and must be taken into account regardless of genre.

So long live romance! And may we continue to see it in all its various forms as long as stories are told.


Excellently said! And a nice historical brief on romance through the ages, both in story and in real life. I look forward to posting a blog about Barb's new book, An Elfy On The Loose, when it's released!

-Stephanie Osborn


Unknown said...

Great post! I love this series! Incredibly insightful! Looking forward to next week's installment! Thanks Stephanie and Barb!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for having me, Stephanie. I enjoyed writing a blog for the "Elements of Storytelling" series.

Quick note: AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE's release date has been moved up and is now going to be out as of April 15. (Yes, in less than a week.) I'm quite excited.


Anonymous said...

You're welcome, Christi. Thanks for reading!


Stephanie Osborn said...

YAY BARB! Congrats on the new release date!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Wonderful article, Barb! Thanks, Stephanie, for sharing this with us. Great stuff. ;o)

Unknown said...

I have never really been one to read "romance" books, however with the take that you all seem to have taken on, it is making it easier and easier to pick up a book with romance and enjoy it. I look forward to the being able to read the new book and congrats to Barb on the release date being moved up.

Hilaire said...

I've found that romance can be the motivation for a character to reevaluate their actions and attitudes. It can bring out the best and worst in characters.
Which, is why I found it silly and frustrating that regular sci-fi or fantasy publishers shied away from stories with strong romantic elements. The romance publishers said it wasn't a romance. The others said it was.
Do you find it harder to sell stories if the romance is a strong part of the plot, even if it isn't the main part?

Stephanie Osborn said...

Oh heavens above, gal, I so get that. I have the same problem. I write SF/mystery crossovers with strong romantic relationships. The SF folks tell me there's too much romance. The mystery people tell me there's too much romance. The romance people go, "What romance?"

Seriously. My publisher told me she tried to get one of my books -- which a couple of Amazon reviewers had dinged as having "explicit sex" in it (it doesn't) -- featured on AllRomance. AR wouldn't do it because it wasn't nearly steamy enough. On their scale of "five flames" it baaaarely rated a 2.

Yes, it's frustrating.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Stephanie. I'm pleased about the new release date myself. :-)

And thank you, Aaron. Glad you enjoyed my guest blog. (I enjoyed yours, too.)

Thank you, Charmalee . . . I hope you will enjoy AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE at least as much as you enjoyed this guest blog.

Hilaire, I'm with you on that one (and with Stephanie, too). However, there are two authors besides Stephanie herself who have successfully bucked this trend in the area of SF/romance -- the first, Linnea Sinclair, successfully got a number of her military SF/romance novels marketed primarily due to the romance. The second, Catharine Asaro (a past President of the SFWA, if memory serves), has had several of her SF/romance novels marketed due to the SF aspect.

So it is possible to get your novel over if it features more than one genre (thank goodness, or AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, which is a fantasy/mystery/romance, and is funny, too, would've never made it).

And that's only speaking of traditional publishers (whether at a bigger house, like Sinclair or Asaro, or at a smaller one, like Stephanie's and my own) . . . it may be possible, due to the rise of independent publications, that we'll see many more cross-genre works in the future.

Because people do like them. And eventually, publishers will pick up on that. (Fortunately for me, Lida Quillen at Twilight Times Books already has.)


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Charmalee . . . the book is now out, and I hope you will enjoy it. (BTW, I tried twice last week to say thank you, but Stephanie's blog apparently ate it. I hope this one will go through . . . )

And Hilaire, Stephanie said it much better than I ever could. I think cross-genre novels are a tough sell for traditional publishing. They don't seem to know what to do with them. But readers, fortunately for those of us who write cross-genre novels, *do*.


P.S. Thank you again, Stephanie, for allowing me to share this blog with you. And bless you, Aaron, for enjoying this blog post!

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