I have been reading a lot of semi-romance novels / bumbling-female-detective novels lately. My latest story incorporates a difficult romance, you see, and I’m not really well versed in the language of romance in any shape or form. I’ve been attempting to determine what makes a person romantic, or appealing in novels. Normally I just read them, enjoy them and don’t think about then once I’m done, but now I’m in the business of actually writing them, I need to start paying attention to what works.
I don’t live a romantic life. I’ve been married for 7 years and never received a marriage proposal. I simply explained to him that since I had given up my home and career in Brisbane to move in with him in Cairns (which as it turns out was the right choice since everyone at my workplace soon lost their jobs after a corporate takeover), it was only fair that he make some kind of gesture to demonstrate he was equally invested. I saw a ring I liked, we bought it. That was that. Our actual wedding was just as no-frills. We had no real intention of getting married, I was satisfied with the ring and the fact we had built our own house by this point. Unfortunately in the January of 2009 we lost the first of several pregnancies that would end and I decided we should get married so when I looked back at that particular time in the future I would remember it for something good, not the nightmare it felt. We got married on Friday 13th February. Not an auspicious date apparently, but I never bought into Valentines Day nonsense, and neither was he. We were pretty sure that the marriage celebrant would be free that day, and we were right. We were married in the backyard of the house we built with mostly family and a couple of friends and then we all went to the pub where the entire wedding party got outrageously drunk. My best friend (who is a dude and has the same name as my husband) and my brother decided they were the best of friends, drank the bar out of JD, went to the Bottle-O, bought a carton of Guinness and another bottle of Jack, and got maggoted to the point where one of them slept under the stairs after chasing a roommate with scissors? (Question mark because my memory is hazy) The friend in question has zero memory of the night and my mother still calls him the Shadow-Chaser, as he was fighting shadows at one point. My other bestie, who has the same name as my mother in law, sat next to my mother in law and between them I think they downed six bottles of wine, friend was blathering on about some artsy feminist movement and the mother in law was just like “uh-huh, yeah, sure” having no clue what was actually going on but trying to keep up with the conversation. It was actually pretty fun. Then bestie’s boyfriend showed up and shook his head at his messy girlfriend and her outlandish behaviour that I secretly love about her. Haha. Jokes on him, he married her.
Anyway, so as I mentioned, not particularly romantic. But I am struggling with a lot of these books. Maybe it’s the feminist in me that keeps popping out at inopportune moments to ruin my enjoyment of things by saying, “Bitch, please.” I recently went on a trip to Melbourne with my 5 year old. After she was shagged out for the day with all the exploring, there was a lot of time to read books. I’d bought 15 for my Kindle and I think I read about 9 of them. I did enjoy them, but the thing I found most annoying, surprisingly was both the male and female protagonists. The women were mostly all written as the ingénue, innocent and naive, and scared about their feelings for the bad boy. They did things like wear sensible shoes and have simple pony tails and the thought of a dalliance with the male got them into such a tizzy that they daren’t even consider it without wilting in a pool of hormones. And the men! Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bad boy (hello Damon from the Vampire Diaries!) but I found it incredibly tiresome in the end, almost as tiresome as Damon’s stupid wet blanket girlfriend Elena always whining about her feelings and being mopey and judgy all over the place. The men in these books are all dark, brooding and dangerous, with mad skills that are amazingly well suited to jumping in at the last minute and saving the girl from her dumb decisions. They don’t talk about their feelings, they stride in and out of scenes oozing sex in tight jeans and make sexually suggestive comments that would get a lesser (any other) man slapped in the face and make the woman hot, bothered and distracted because of their ‘otherness’ and commit all manner of crimes that the girl can just sweep under the rug because, again, hormones. And he’s insensibly attracted to her innocence and naivety. WHY? Is it some kind of primal conquering the virgin thing? I’m sure it’s not supposed to be, it’s supposed to be some kind of ‘your decency makes me want to be a better man’ thing, but it very rarely comes across as anything other than a caveman’s lust for something that isn’t his.
We’re all attracted to the other, that’s why the bad boy trope is so successful and why Katy Perry sang a song about ET (which I find enjoyable, although a small part of me wants to write an angry paper about it being exactly how rape culture is proliferated and becoming normalised). I guess my real bug bear is, why aren’t more of the ‘bad boy’ characters actually ‘bad girls?’ Why couldn’t a very regular or uptight male character find a joyous delight in a female character who’s off-centre? Can we have a bad girl that’s not written as a slut that needs to be saved? Can we have a male character that is shocked and surprised by a woman’s appearance/behaviour not because he is a controlling asshole but because it’s so refreshingly different and he realises that he’s missing a spark from his own boring life? Can we have a girl that speaks her mind and has opinions without being labelled as an overbearing psychotic bitch or a man-hater? Why is it always the women that are innocent, well-mannered and well-bred with disapproving families? Why can’t it be a guy? Why are all the men secretive and dangerous? Why not a woman? Why does there have to be such an instant sexual attraction? Why can’t they just hate each other on sight and work out their mutual respect through a bunch of flaming circus hoops?
I want Pride and Prejudice in the modern day, don’t I?
Any recommendations? No? Better get writing then.