Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Genre Pondering

Two things have me thinking about genre conventions tonight.

First is the current brouhaha at RWA over the elimination of the "strong romantic elements" category in the RITAs and specifying that novels entered in the YA category must focus on the romance--something which very few YA novels do. The second is a delightful movie I saw tonight Celeste and Jesse Forever.

So... I'm not really sure I want to debate the RWA thing here but that said, I just can't keep quiet sometimes. :) I get that RWA is a romance writers organization and that lines need to be drawn somewhere... but really, it's the organization itself who defines what a romance is or isn't, and frankly they can define it however broadly or narrowly they choose to.

By including YA and SRE they embraced a lot of authors of popular fiction who write books that don't fit neatly into genre boxes and I'm not sure why they'd want to reverse that. I mean romance is such a strong genre, it's not like the future of romance publishing will be threatened by recognizing the work of writers of popular fiction that has a similar audience (largely women), but which doesn't fall neatly into any specific genre. Books that are closer to romance than say, horror, or thriller or mysteries or sci-fi. And I'm not sure why the RWA so recently sanctioned the new Women's Fiction and Young Adult chapters only to turn around and tell the members of those newly formed chapters that their books don't qualify to be entered for the organization's biggest award... But hey. I'm not on the board and wasn't there to hear the debate when the decision was made.

And it's the former of those arguments, the "why should RWA shun stories that are highly romantic but don't neatly fit within the genre's definitions" question, that made me think of the movie I saw tonight. (or vice versa)

I don't want to ruin the story--Celeste and Jesse Forever is a really nice movie that is definitely worth a rental--but without ruining it, let's just say the plot definitely focuses on the romance. The romantic relationship between this couple is the main plot in this story. It's about a married couple who've decided to get divorced, but are still best friends. They still love each other, and yet have decided to split amicably. She's too controlling. He won't grow up. It's a story about how sometimes to have a lasting relationship it takes more than love and compatibility. Sometimes it takes timing and compromise and hard work. And maybe a little luck.

The story has a happy, hopeful ending... I thought. But let's just say it's not a typical romance happily ever after ending. So, by the strict definitions of the genre, this movie was not a romance. Even though it was wholly about a relationship between a couple.

By the reactions in the audience, I think the ending caught many people by surprise because we're all trained for romances to end a certain way. But the film was really enjoyable and has high ratings both from critics and viewers on rotten tomatoes, so obviously I"m not the only person who enjoyed this film. Clearly it has an audience. But I don't think it's getting a huge release. Probably because it doesn't fit neatly into a genre.

For me, as a reader and movie goer, I wish there were more stories like this. Stories that are interesting, well told, but don't fit neatly into a box.

I guess I just like coloring (and reading and movie watching) outside the lines.

How about you? Can you enjoy a romance like, say, The Bridges of Madison County, where the couple doesn't end up together at the end? Or does that make you crazy? Is it not a romance just because of how it ends? Do you think anyone beyond the RWA really cares or can tell that Nicholas Sparks books don't qualify either?


Stephanie Doyle said...

Maureen - totally agree with you on RITAS. I think by limiting these contests rather than expanding them does nothing to promote the romance genre.

I want to see YA authors, and SRE authors at our conference. I want to include rather than exclude. Why can't RWA be not just a "romance" organization. But an amazing "writing" organization.

And limiting YA to only stories that focus on a romance seems 100% ridiculous to me. While we love watching teens fall in love (hello - 90210) there is always that adult inside you that says... yeah that's probably not going to last. (Even though I do have a friend who started dating her husband when she was 15 and they're still married!)

So I know it happens but typically happily ever after in YA is saying maybe they make it still dating through that first year of college. Or maybe they hook up again 10 years later when they are ready to be in a serious relationship.

The fact that people outside the strict confines of romance want to enter our contest is a testement to how far we've legitimized our organization and those awards. Shutting the door on anyone makes no sense to me.

Anonymous said...

I agree, and personally think it's opening the doors that will help legitimize romance as a genre. I love romance when it's combined with other genres, and closing the Rita door to those books is sad.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I need someone to explain the changes to me - honestly, I'm baffled.

Eileen said...

It's a cycle. I feel like RWA does this periodically. I remember when they wanted to exclude chick lit books and erotica. The pendulum will have to swing back the other way eventually.

That said, I do like movies and books that surprise me and there are lots of ways to do that. It keeps it interesting.

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