Slaying Genre: Reading Romance Aloud
I'm the first the admit that my family isn't normal. Of course, we aren't normal in our own special way (as most families are, though I do tend to think that mine tips the crazy scale more than a bit). Let me give you an example. One of our favorite activities is reading aloud the worst romance novels that we can find. Cheesy, melodramatic, adverb-laded, implausibly plotted tales. (When I say "worst" I actually mean "best ever" as in most entertaining.)
The number one all-time family favorite to read aloud is an ancient copy of The Sheik and the Virgin Secretary. Yup. Shiny cover, swirly script, and an image of a woman (obviously the virgin secretary) swooning in the arms of the moustachioed hunk of a sheik (the image and, also obviously, the text is pretty offensive. Check out this Jezebel article for more on that).
One of the things that reading romance aloud has taught me is to be able to recognize when dialogue gets too distracting. In my advanced fiction writing classes, I encourage my students to complete the following exercise:
Write a scene where two of characters have a fight. Try to deliberately make your dialogue go awry—use excessive address, too much faithfulness to real speech, overblown dialect, etc. If you don’t have such a scene in mind, use the following scenario: Dakota and Storm are in a relationship. Unfortunately, Storm believes that Dakota is cheating. Write the scene of their confrontation.
Just for fun, I have my students read these aloud (and, ok, sometimes act them out). A wonderful thing happens next: the writer and the listeners can easily pick out what needs attention, what is just plain ridiculous. This is easy, most of the time; because of the nature of the exercise, they're already hyper-aware of the melodrama that they've intentionally created. And then another even better thing happens: they see where their dialogue is actually bursting with potential (sorry, too many romance novels!). They see where they can dial it back and more often that not, they hit on some pretty heavy realizations and emotions that had been simmering below the surface of their characters-in-progress that they'd been shy about going for. By keeping the stakes low (this is just an exercise, after all), by asking them to emulate something that isn't supposed to taken seriously (in the opinion of many, which is just a whole damn other post), they're able to loosen up and go for it.
My advice? Dust off those old Harlequins. They may be more helpful than you think.
*Image via Public Domain.
KL Pereira's chapbook, Impossible Wolves was published by Deathless Press is 2013. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are forthcoming or appear in The Drum Literary Magazine, Shimmer Zine, Lightning Cake, The Golden Key, Innsmouth Free Press, Innsmouth Magazine, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, The Medulla Review, Bitch Magazine and other publications. Pereira’s work on fairy tales, sexuality, Wonder Woman, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are featured on Studio 360 and other radio programs, cited in numerous publications, and assigned in courses all over the United States and Canada. Find Pereira online on klpereira.com and @kl_pereira.See other articles by KL Pereira