Anyone who knows me will also know that I’m not a great fan of romance. I’ve read a good deal of it (eons ago) and while I don’t hate reading it, I find other genres much more interesting.
But I think to be able to write contemporary romance is a great skill. Genre books often have romantic subplots, and it’s not unusual that the romance feels forced. Moreover, it’s likely that genre books have characters, and that you’d like the characters to be full and well-developed.
Writing contemporary romance can help immensely with both.
In contemporary romance, you strip away everything that makes a setting cool. You take away the space ships, the magic, the historical context, and you’re left with just characters and an everyday setting that’s well-known to all readers and needs no explanation…
Leaving the author to craft a story solely based on the characters and the developing of their relationship.
To the non-romance writer, it might seem that the daily tasks of the characters are full of “mundane, trivial shit” that we do ourselves day in day out. You know, cook, eat, go shopping, catch the bus to work. Stuff like that. Bo-ho-ring!
Yes, if you look at it that way, it is boring.
But. Big but.
Every action the characters perform, every choice they make, builds their personality. Don’t believe me? Look at these three guys:
1. Goes to the gym regularly.
2. Hates gyms with a passion.
3. Goes to the gym no matter what come hell or high water and gets upset if he can’t.
Can you see character types form in your mind from just these three life choices?
These little, insignificant, boring life choices shape the supposedly “mundane shit” that your characters do. Every. Single. Step. If they see someone trip, do they help? How often do they ring their partner during the working day? Do they perform well in their job or do they hate it? Add up all these things, and you have a fully-formed character. It requires a lot of disciple (no, you can’t throw in a gun chase if a scene gets boring) and makes you really think about how to portray characters, what makes them likable or what makes people go “eew, no” in a nuanced way that’s not over the top.
Characters acting way over the top is one of the ways to tell a new writer from a more experienced one. Writing contemporary romance, even if you never sell a single word of it, is a great way of learning how the environment shapes the character.