There’s a well know mantra in the publishing world that says that everyone is looking for something “different.” Whether it’s the next Twilight or Harry Potter, writers hear all the time that they have to produce something unique that will knock the socks off those jaded, seen-it-all editors. But whenever you try to nail down exactly what that “something” is, the only answer you’ll hear is, “I’ll know it when I see it.”
Cue the psycho music, as said writer drives herself crazy coming up with something new and different. And what does that really mean for those of us who write genre fiction, particularly a very specific sub-genre, like historical romance? Is “different” all we’re looking for? Or is it more important to fulfill the expectations our readers bring to the genre?
I’d say both. If a writer can deliver on familiar genre conventions but do it in a fresh and exciting way, then she’s really grabbed the brass ring.
So, how do we do that? One way is by using the conventions but bringing a new twist to them. Monica Burns, for instance, blended the conventions of the historical romance with those of sheikh-themed books to produce Kismet. Loretta Chase wrote Your Scandalous Ways, a Regency romance set in Venice, involving courtesans and spies—a Regency James Bond as it were.
Writers can also bring fresh takes to established genres by playing with the conventions surrounding character types. Anna Campbell is a master of this, especially in depictions of that classic archetype—the tortured hero. In her books, Anna often tortures her hero—quite literally. In Captive of Sin, for example, the hero is a soldier who was ruthlessly tortured and now suffers from PTSD. It’s a very different take on what we’re used to seeing in a hero, and it really raises the stakes—both in the world of the story, and for the reader.
Different or unusual settings can also be a great way to mix things up. My latest book, Sex And The Single Earl, is set in Bath, England. Like any good Regency romance, it contains all those elements that readers love—the glittering parties, the pretty clothes, and the handsome rakes. But only part of the story takes place within this conventional setting. Bath, surprisingly enough, had a thriving criminal underworld that one rarely reads about. That captured my imagination. I was determined to throw my heroine, a well-bred and fairly sheltered young woman, into this different and dangerous setting and see what transpired. Putting her into such an unusual setting gave me all kinds of room to ramp up the plot, and raise the stakes for my characters.
So, readers, that brings me to my question. How different do you like your romances? Do you like unusual settings, characters, or stories? Or do you read for that sense of comfort and familiarity, looking for those books that totally deliver on your expectations? One commenter will win a copy of Sex And The Single Earl.