On reading “trash”, i.e. romance novels


(This is fake book cover, by the way. Just thought I’d specify that.)

As a translator, I get all sorts of assignments: some fascinating, some boring, some really badly written (there, my proper title should be “decipherer”) and some “trash”. Trash as in romantic pop fiction. I use trash with quotation marks because I don’t think there is anything wrong with it: it can be quite entertaining. It’s the type of fiction you often find on “summer’s must-read lists”. It’s on the lighter side, brushing up with fantasy and thriller, but at the end of the reading trip, everyone is happy. It’s easy-to-digest fiction and, again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

So I’ve translated a good amount of that kind of fiction since I’ve been in the biz, and while it can be quite enjoyable, it also led me to the thought of: “Why couldn’t I actually write a novel like this?” And the answer, of course, is: “Why not? Give it a go.”

To write a genre well, you have to read that genre extensively. Actually, to write, you should read extensively. That’s not me saying this, but Mr. Stephen King himself in his book On Writing (which I highly recommend, by the way–not that Mr. King needs more money or anything). So lately, I’ve been reading some romance novels. Studying them would be the more appropriate phrasing. What makes a romance novel good? What kind of storyline grabs the reader from the get-go? How detailed should it be? Must romance always include erotica in this day and age?

I don’t mind telling you that it’s a fascinating journey even though it leaves me puzzled at times. Must everyone be perfect for the romance novel to work? Are women readers (let’s face facts) only interested in strong, alpha male characters? Is there room and interest for something else? The truth is if I want to have the slightest hope to get a romance novel published, I will probably have to stick to the clich├ęs while finding a way to make them sound fresh.

Romance novels may be an easy read, but the more I study them, the more I understand that they are not that easy to write.