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16 September 2011 @ 10:41 am
Why Romance Is More Popular Than Gen  
I periodically lament and wonder why romance is so overwhelmingly more popular than gen, when romance represents just one component of human experience, while gen encompasses all the other components.

Jesse Bering, evolutionary psychologist and Scientific American blogger, recently posted a sardonic and potentially enlightening contribution to that question.  "Listen Carefully: The Evolutionary Secret To Making a Hit Record" (08/30/11) discusses how "across music genres, the more 'embedded reproductive messages' [i.e. courtship, sex, procreation] a given song contained, the more likely it was to have become a smash hit."  That is, "Country songs averaged 5.96 reproductive messages per song, Pop had 8.69, and R&B a whopping 16.77 per song.  For all genres, however, and across a sixty-year history of the Billboard charts, the sheer number of reproductive messages in a song was meaningfully linked to that song's commercial success," even when controlling for the singer's popularity and skill.

Similarly, he reports that research analyzing newspapers in multiple cultures from the past three centuries shows consistently that:
[T]he hallmark of sensational news — what makes something particularly alluring to any readership — is its relevance to reproductive success in the ancestral past.  Most high-profile, front-page stories dealt with things such as altruism, reputation, cheaters, violence, sex, and the treatment of offspring.  In other words, argued these scientists, what whets our appetites in the social domain today are the very same gossipy topics of conversation that the first humans were probably gabbing about 150,000 years ago in sub-Saharan Africa.

The blog post includes a handy list of the 19 categories of "embedded reproductive messages" tracked and analyzed in the study.  Writers of romance, you may wish to refer to it. ;-)  They're almost like prompts, assuming that you have a preferred couple to which to apply them.

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greerwatsongreerwatson on September 16th, 2011 11:27 pm (UTC)
I think it's marvellous how researchers spend an extraordinary amount of time to statistically demonsrate the incredibly obvious. (Though, s you say, the "prompts" may amuse.)

Applying it to my own work, it suggests that, of the three stories I recently posted to fkcommentfic (whose deadline, you may recall, was extended to Sept. 15th), the most popular would be the second, "The Flavour in his Mouth", since it deals with Nick/LaCroix and Natalie. But would the last one come next? ("The Sun of Cairo" has war and presumed impending death.) Or would people prefer the first? ("A Cup of Coffee" is only Cohen&Schanke, but it's about Nick—and Nick-in-peril, at that—and it does mention Natalie.)

Mmmm. I'm a lot into gen, myself. So whadda-I-know, right?
cousinmary: Well-hellocousinmary on September 17th, 2011 01:15 am (UTC)
I have nothing against gen fic in general, however, good gen fic seems to be few and far between, and while romance is hardly 100%, I think people who actively avoid putting any romance in their stories are often trying to get some other message across that might not be quite as relatable.
Amy R.: Caddybrightknightie on September 17th, 2011 03:30 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing your take on the subject of gen's unpopularity. It's valuable. I'm sorry that gen overall seems inferior to you, but I am enlightened by your identification of polemicism as its besetting sin in your eyes.

As a gen writer, I'm afraid that I initially felt your perspective hit me rather hard, though you did carefully round off the sharp edges to prevent injury. :-)

I do not "actively avoid putting any romance" in my stories; there is, I'm afraid, nothing to "actively avoid." Romantic ideas don't run up to me and beg to be written. I would write them if they did! I would love to find romance "relatable," but that does not seem to be my destiny.

It crossed my mind to wonder whether a corollary message was that I should stop writing fiction, as I cannot provide romance. Wasting the time of those so very generous as to read is an ever-recurring fear of mine. At the least, I can promise to consciously strive to avoid polemics!
greerwatsongreerwatson on September 17th, 2011 08:33 am (UTC)
"It crossed my mind to wonder whether a corollary message was that I should stop writing fiction, as I cannot provide romance."

No, no! Please! You're one of the best writers FK has.

I think perhaps romance is easier to write for many people. Gen may not actually require a plot; but I suspect it is often perceived to need one. A plot means plotting, which means organization. Not everyone wants to get bogged down in researching history, twiddling out red herrings for a mystery, or working out an action sequence blow by blow.

A lot of fan writers are obviously fixing their fantasies in permanent form. At the worst, this means they madly dash off a quick ficlet and post it instantly (unbeta'ed, as like as not). It doesn't make any difference whether they're cosily wrapping themselves in fluff or visualizing two hot bods in a bed. Either way, the "prompts" listed in the essay you talked about are transparently present because it is they that motivate the author to write at all.

Of course, there is good romance fic out there. (You've recommended quite a few FK romances on Bright Knight, after all.) Good writers don't just dash off their fantasies: they use them as a starting point.

So you don't write romance yourself? Well, if most people write romance, surely that's all the more reason why one of the best gen writers should continue. There are others with a taste for gen, you know. We can't afford to lose you!
Amy R.: Caddybrightknightie on September 17th, 2011 04:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the kind words. My apologies if I seemed to fish or threaten! I often worry whether my stories can provide enough satisfaction to repay a reader's investment; it's a longstanding preoccupation. How to make a story worth the reader's time is always my plea to beta readers.

Romance writers seem to succeed much better at satisfying readers; contemplating that mechanism is another longstanding preoccupation.
chelseagirlchelseagirl on September 17th, 2011 10:37 am (UTC)
I'm puzzled by why not having romance is polemic but advocating Nick/Natalie, Nick/LaCroix, Nick/Janette is not. Especially because choosing one of those pairings tends to divide the fandom, doesn't it? (At least in larger fandoms it does.) There are many aspects of life, as well as of fiction, where romance isn't really relevant, because people have partners who are not a part of their professional lives, people have friendships which may be relatively separate from their romantic partnerships. (I am going to visit my oldest friend upstate today; my husband is not coming . . . ) And people don't have partners.
Amy R.: Caddybrightknightie on September 17th, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC)
>"I'm puzzled by why not having romance is polemic but advocating Nick/Natalie, Nick/LaCroix, Nick/Janette is not."

Good point!

I believe that cousinmary's idea is that advocating for a romantic goal is inherently "relateable" (to most people), while advocating for any other goal is not necessarily so. That is, everyone agrees that romance is a worthy goal, but they may or may not agree that solving a crime and staying off blood is. Both approaches may be technically polemic, but only the second is perceived that way, because the first is so universally accepted in fannish culture that its partisanship is invisible.

Another thought is that out in today's giant fandoms, people segment themselves first and play later. (I was recently staggered when, through Leela-cat, I briefly brushed up against Granger/Snape HP fandom. It's gigantic!) At home in FK, we played together first, and segmented second. I wonder what role that has in interpreting gen as "against" the "norm" of romance, instead of gen as the canonical baseline, when the prerequisite baseline for fannish interaction has become picking a favorite couple...
greerwatsongreerwatson on September 17th, 2011 07:24 pm (UTC)
"That is, everyone agrees that romance is a worthy goal, but they may or may not agree that solving a crime and staying off blood is."

Certainly that's true of staying off blood; there's a whole crowd who feel that Nick should accept his vampire nature, especially since there's bottled blood nowadays.

I'm not so sure that people doubt that solving a crime is a worthy goal in and of itself. I suspect they just feel that it's the boring part of Forever Knight. Or, if they don't feel that way themselves, they fear that potential readers will. FK was, after all, essentially a cop show. It never had enough character scenes of any type, and we treasure them.

I think this ties into the point you made elsewhere about fans who want to continue what the show did (which here means solving murder mysteries) and those who want to expand on what the show left out (i.e. character scenes, especially romantic ones involving the principals).

There is another point to consider, too. Among those fans who do try to incorporate a murder mystery, many do it badly.

Detective stories take a lot of careful plotting. When I was writing FK4, I had ideas for flashbacks, vampire themes, and character interactions that I wanted to do. In fact, quite a number of small character scenes came to me very strongly, were written down lest I forget them, but then had to be saved as small files for later incorporation if I could find a suitable spot. The point is that nothing could go forward until I came up with a police plot. I always had myriad notes and notions and little files that simply couldn't gel into an episode until that elusive murder mystery was hammered out.

On top of that, the cop show aspect always took up the lion's share of space—perforce, since I was trying to simulate actual episodes of FK. It was often very frustrating. There were so many things I wanted to fit in, and hadn't space for. That is why I eventually wrote an entire virtual season (and still had more ideas that were never used).

Ploting out the murder mysteries was really tedious at times. Contrariwise, with character scenes, all I had to do was put Nick, Nat, LaCroix, Tracy et. al. in the same room together and let them talk...and then write down what they said! (And edit it later, of course.)

Abstract the tedious, tricky mystery plot, and you are left with character vignettes, heavy on dialogue. Fanfic archives are full of them.
greerwatsongreerwatson on September 17th, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
"At home in FK, we played together first, and segmented second."

When I gave a paper on FK factions and wars at the ICFA this spring, I had several comments from people who were quite curious about the way FK fans used factional splits to create wars that actually served to glue the fandom together. They all assumed that factions lead to wars of a rather more flaming kind that splinter a fandom.

The impulse to write fiction in which fans meet and interact with characters is quite common, though it usually results in one-off short metafic. So far as I know, it is unique the way FK fandom used that impulse to subvert the centrifugal tendency of factionalism.
cousinmary: Well-hellocousinmary on September 17th, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
Oh I didn't mean to imply that there was something unworthy about gen! Some of the best fic I've read has been gen. However, I do think it takes more skill and depth of thought to craft a story outside the usual romance themes that will still hold an audience. Romance promises a certain emotional payoff: either a happy ending or a hankie-grabbin' angstfest. And while gen can be just as, or even more, emotionally engaging when done right, I think the “burden” on a gen writer is greater.
chelseagirlchelseagirl on September 17th, 2011 10:24 am (UTC)
You know, I'm with you. There are so many aspects of human experience to explore that do not have to do with courtship rituals. Plus, we have an anniversary coming up soon and honestly? In some ways that aspect of my past is still very vivid, but in others . . . it feels a million miles away. I do have certain pairings that make me happy, but mostly, I'd just like to see stories about characters.
Amy R.: Caddybrightknightie on September 17th, 2011 04:06 pm (UTC)
It often puzzles me, not that romance appeals, but rather how its massive appeal crowds everything else down into a tiny, cobwebby corner. :-) I read an exquisite Dead Poets Society gen piece recently, but its author had labeled it "pre-slash," apparently afraid that no one would read it if it were "just gen."

Bering, the SciAm blogger, of course sees through the filter of his field, evolutionary psychology, but it does seem a reasonably viable explanation for some readers' preferences. Stories contribute little to air, water, food or shelter. Next instinct up: sex.

Speaking specifically of fanfic, there's also always the division between those of us who read it to get more of what canon provided, and those who read it to get what canon did not provide.

(Happy upcoming anniversary. ~g~)