Lydia Sharp, whose blog you should very well know, recently celebrated the release of her new novella, Twin Sense. She's touring around the blogosphere being all smart and stuff, and she's written up a nice guest post for us. Enjoy, and don't forget to check out her book/author info at the bottom of the post!
Avoiding Genre Stereotypes (but only if you want to)
by Lydia Sharp
Before I get started, here is my disclaimer. There is no answer to the issue I’m about to discuss. There is no right or wrong. Mine is just one opinion, and shouldn’t be taken as anything more than that.
The advice given to writers to avoid character stereotypes is given so often as to be a cliché itself. But what about avoiding genre stereotypes? What do I even mean by that?
Since my newest book is a rom-com, I’ll use that as an example. What standard elements do you expect to see in a romantic comedy? The first thing that pops into my head is a quirky female lead. And this female lead must choose between a new love interest and her old/current love interest (who is often made to be the obviously wrong choice), or between this new person and her career/family/friends/lifelong dream (which she will end up, somehow, miraculously, gaining both of them in the end anyway).
Is there anything wrong with this setup? Not inherently, no. It has a track record of success. And there is also nothing wrong with a reader, or a viewer in the case of films, expecting to see some version of the above scenarios when they pick up the newest rom-com release.
This is where it gets tricky, though, because certain genres have certain, valid expectations from their audience. But what if you’re like me and you like to change things up? What if you like taking a basic formula and putting your own twist on it? What if you are genuinely sick of seeing only hetero couples in romance? Because seriously. They dominate like whoa. Gay characters seem to only have a place in rom-coms as the flamboyant sidekick, or the sensitive male shoulder to cry on without risking sexual tension with the female lead.
Short answer, you trust your gut. You do what you want to do, while also understanding that it very likely won’t be popular. Once you accept that, your boundaries can freely expand.
Have you read the book or seen the movie version of The Object of My Affection by Stephen McCauley? It’s a good example of a romantic comedy that broke all the rules (published in the 80s, no less). So yes, it can be done and can even have a measure of success. But first you have to be confident in your decision to take a risk.
In Twin Sense, I kept some of those basic rom-com elements and changed some others. The lead is a quirky female, but she is also bisexual. Her current boyfriend is not an obviously bad choice, their personalities mesh quite well and he’s an overall good person. The new love interest is ~gasp!~ a girl. And they don’t go through a typical “I hate you, now I love you” arc, like the one used in You’ve Got Mail. This new LI is also not a bad choice--they start out as friends--hence the conflict of “who will she choose?” is actually a real internal struggle for the MC.
Although this story is labeled LGBT, there is no flamboyant gay boy sidekick. That stereotype makes me… ugh, I just can’t. So the main side characters I chose were 1) the womanizing straight boy (which is usually reserved for the love interest or the current bad-for-me guy), and 2) a very unsupportive, short-tempered “friend” (which is usually reserved for the girl who pushes her way between the MC and the LI--for no reason other than that she is just so much of a slutty bitch she can’t help herself).
Therefore the MC in Twin Sense does not have a realization chat during a girls’ night with her friend/s, like you often see in female-driven romance. In fact, her realization chat happens with her single-parent father--another genre twist. A parent who understands? Unheard of in YA!
Even with these character flips, the story still adheres to a standard romance structure. In that way, my hope is that it will appeal to people who like the genre but are looking for something different.
I do the same thing with all of my stories, not just rom-coms. The novel I’m querying (as well as the one I just started writing) has a very strong romantic thread that drives the plot, but… wait for it… wait for it… it is told from a singular MALE point of view. Not surprisingly, the number one comment I’ve received for this ms is that romance with a male narrator is a tough sell.
Did they say it is impossible, though? No. No, they did not.
I know it isn’t standard, so it will be tough to push into the market. Yet I wrote it anyway, and am still trying to sell it anyway. Because I believe certain story molds are successful for a reason, but I also believe there is room to reshape that mold.
What do YOU think?
Lydia Sharp is a novelist and short fiction author who grew up on the shores of Lake Erie. Then she got tired of finding sand in her clothes so she moved further inland, but she'll always call Ohio home. Laughing is her favorite pastime. Kissing is a close second.
Here is the blurb for her new novella, Twin Sense, which can be purchased from Amazon, B&N, and Musa Publishing:
two boys + two girls = one big mess
As girlfriends of the Taylor twins, Layna and Sherri have only been friends by association. But when Sherri breaks up with Keith (for real this time), and Kevin gives Layna a promise ring (whoa, what?), Layna's whole world spins off balance. She avoids Kevin's unwelcome pressure to commit by spending more time with Sherri.
Without the twins around, Layna and Sherri are tempted to go beyond friendship status. Then Keith tries to win Sherri back, and Kevin apologizes for rushing Layna. Now she's stuck inside a double-trouble love quadrangle that has her reaching for the consolation cheesecake. The only way to sort out this mess is to make an impossible choice—between the one she wants and the other one she wants—or she might end up with no one.
Find extras and the other links on her blog tour here!