Words by ACTWC Blogger in Residence, Bec Fleming.
I have a confession to make. I am guilty of underestimating the romance genre. I suspect I am not the only one. In my youth, I believed the stereotypes about romance. I believed romance writing was formulaic, with weak female protagonists being rescued by strong male leads. I believed feminism and romance were mutually exclusive. What I didn’t think about was that in making these assumptions I was devaluing not only the genre, but the writers and readers of that genre. As a feminist, I was failing. I was failing to give respect to the millions of women and men who choose to read this incredibly varied genre. More significantly, as a writer, I was failing to give respect to the hours of dedication and persistence those who write romance give to their craft.
In August this year I attended the 2014 Romance Writers of Australia conference and any lingering doubts I may have had about the professionalism of the writers of this genre were shattered. In short, I fell in love at first conference. I fell in love because the members of RWA not only take their craft incredibly seriously, they are some of the most generous and supportive writers I have ever met. The supportive spirit ranged from awarding ribbons to members who had published their first book, to a suggestion that in the breaks attendees approach someone they didn’t know and ask them about their writing. The room was buzzing in each break with excited writers sharing their stories and ideas. There were no awkward writer introverts standing in the corner without the courage to speak (trust me, I’d know, I’m usually one of the awkward introverts). The supportive atmosphere extended to the keynote speaker, Cherry Adair who at the end of each day offered to sit down with attendees at the bar and help them plot their novel! An incredible woman who was as generous with her time as she was with her knowledge.
The sessions I attended varied from Q and A sessions with publishers and authors, to workshops on plotting and character, conflict, resilience as a writer, to a workshop on self-defence. Anyone who might attempt to read the scrawled notes I made in each session could tell I was inspired by the ideas being shared. The kind of ideas that are too hard to get down neatly because your brain is moving quicker than your hand. My mind was simultaneously listening to the sessions and applying the ideas to my work in progress. I love conferences like this.
While many of the sessions targeted their advice to the romance genre much of the advice given could be used across genres. For instance, Cherry Adair offered a guide on writing scenes, suggesting that each scene do at least two of the following things:
- Reveal character
- Progress the plot
- Provide insight into the character’s emotion
- Reveal backstory
Author, second degree black belt and martial arts instructor Susanna Rogers, also offered great advice in her session on self-defence. From detailing the physiological symptoms of fight or flight—heart rate rises, pupils dilate, mouth becomes dry, person experiences tunnel vision—to reminding the audience that fight scenes should be written in short, sharp sentences, her session was one of my favourites. What I enjoyed most about this session was the linking of real world self defence issues, like the importance of situational awareness in safety, to the application of that issue in writing. So, a character in a threatening situation might be looking for an escape route, or not aware of their surroundings because of a trauma and therefore more vulnerable to attack.
The entire conference exceeded my expectations. It taught me a great deal about the craft of writing and inspired me to continue with my own. The romance genre may not be for everyone, but I have learned that those who write it are passionate professionals who work hard to achieve their dreams and support others while doing it. They are a model for feminists of the 21st century and should not be underestimated.
More information about the Romance Writers Association and news on their 2015 conference here.
Bec Fleming is a Canberra based writer, historian and poet. She graduated with a PhD in history from the University of New England in 2010. She has spoken at the National Portrait Gallery, the Australian War Memorial and for the ABC program Now Hear This. Her poem ‘An untimely death’ was shortlisted for the 2013 Michael Thwaites poetry award. She has loved words for as long as she can remember and thinks it is a little bit magic when they line themselves up in just the right order.