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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 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.