Every voracious reader, including those of romance, has their favorite authors. Genres. Heat levels and writing styles. And what choices we have!
Romance novels, with all their various genres and subgenres, can be had in whatever length we prefer, from novella to epic series. Every day, it seems, a new genre pops into being. I was at a conference just a few weeks ago where I learned that women’s fiction, which does not technically fit the specifications for “romance” set by the Romance Writers of America, has now borne a new subgenre called “romantic women’s fiction.”
As a writer, I tend to read what I write. This ranges from contemporary romance to romantic suspense to paranormal. So my favorite authors run the gamut from Susan Elizabeth Phillips to Heather Graham to Simone St. James. I also partake in multiple formats. I’m also a huge fan of audiobooks to while away the 40-minute work commute. I try to gear my listening choice to the kind of book I’m working on at the moment. Since my present work-in-progress involves a haunted, Civil War era plantation home, Nora Roberts’ Boonesboro Trilogy was the obvious choice.
Now, when it comes to Nora, you either love her or hate her. For this particular series, the reviews range from 5 stars down to 1. Perusal of the lesser star reviews has been very enlightening as to what readers didn’t like. A few of these elements (cringe) show up in my own work, too. For example, nearly 40% of the reviews complain about too much detailed description of the building itself: Inn Boonsboro.
I’m guilty of this. I love describing settings in detail. Subsequently, I’ve reined back my own tendencies toward, shall we say, “painting the place by number.”
All of this rambling is to offer what I hope is a piece of useful advice to my fellow Soulies: If you have a favorite author, channel them. There are many definitions for this word, and some are really out there. Major woo woo stuff, i.e. channeling dead spirits and the like. I do write ghost stories, but that’s not the way I’m using the term here.
What I mean is this: learn as much about your favorite authors’ writing process as you can. Read—or listen—to every, single book by them that you can. Find one, or a series, that falls into a similar genre or storyline as your work-in-progress. Study the work as if you had to write a craft essay on it. Believe me, it helps. This kind of inspiration fires up the muse and shifts your creative process in the right direction.
Reading the reviews helps, too. Especially with authors who have hundreds or thousands of reviews, it’s easy to see what elements readers loved, or didn’t like. One or two random reviews are of little use, but when twenty or fifty all rave, or complain, about the same thing, it’s most likely a valid evaluation.
Of course, don’t push this channeling thing too far. We don’t want to end up like Helen Keller, who became so absorbed in a story by Margaret T. Canby that she was accused of plagiarism in her own work, King Jack Frost. I recently learned that Nora Roberts has been a victim of plagiarism as well, by more than one author.
Let me be clear: I want to channel Ms. Roberts’ writing style, be inspired by it, but I don’t want to end up on the other side of a courtroom from her!
It’s gospel truth that in order to write well, you have to read a ton of books. All the time. All kinds of books. I do. When I find one that I fall in love with, I treat it like a textbook. I study it—the characterizations, the plot structure, the poetry of the language. I’m not out to copy, but to emulate. To improve my own writing by reading and/or listening to the work of someone who, in my opinion, is a master.
Isn’t that how visual artists learn to improve their work? By studying the Masters?
So, these days, I’m channeling Nora. For my next book, it might be Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or Lisa Kleypas. Heather Graham or Jennifer Crusie. The possibilities are endless.
Aren’t we romance writers lucky that, unlike almost any other learning concentration, we have an endless—and ever growing—supply of potential textbooks?
I think so.