Why is “Character Development” a dirty word in Romance?

Okay fine, it’s two words 🙂  My point is, I’ve been pubbing for almost two years now, and I’ve published four romance novels in the last year (holy crap, with a full time job to boot – no wonder I’m tired!).  And I’ve had a lot of reviews, mostly positive.  But I’ll ask you all, because it baffles me – why do so many readers (not you Team Vance members, or else you wouldn’t be here) dislike it when I do character development?

For me, there are two important things in CD – backstory and research.  A character’s backstory in the Vance Canon has always ended up being either his childhood/youth, or at least enough of his life to show how he got to be who he is.  “A Little Too Broken” goes back as far as Tom’s injury in Afghanistan, just after realizing he might be gay, and Jamie’s toxic relationship with the emotional abuser who gave him HIV.  For “Given the Circumstances” I had to go back to Roger and Brian’s childhood to explain how they became who they are at the start of the story, and who they turned into after that.

Research means that if I write a story about a Special Forces guy, I make sure that I know something about that.  For Sam’s Reluctant Submission, I read “Chosen Soldier” and “Inside Delta Force,” the Army’s SERE manual, and innumerable web pages.  I wasn’t going to fuck that up – these guys do some seriously dangerous and important shit, and even if I was going to write a “mere” erotic short I was going to get it right..  Same for Colum’s Viking Captivity – I spent more time reading books on Vikings than I did writing the stories.

And a lot of people DON’T LIKE THAT!  They say, too much sports in this romance about athletes, for instance.  But for me, if you just say (and you’ve heard this pet peeve before), “Here’s Rocky the Rock Star and he Really Rocks, here’s some sex,”  then why should I care if he falls in love or not?  If characters are nothing more than the same paper dolls with different outfits (rock star, soldier, barbarian, billionaire, vampire, collect ’em all)…who cares?

And I suppose, I think, I guess, that a lot of readers have their own ideas of “the rock star” or “the billionaire,” and are only looking for the paper doll, they don’t want an author to get between them and their idea of what a hot rock star is like.  I don’t get that.  I like, no, I want, need, to surrender to an author, I want that author to create a real person who I want to spend time with.

Honestly?  I think my approach is much better.  Is that massively egotistical?  Hell yeah!  If you didn’t have a gigantic ego in this business, you’d give up on day one.  I said it before and will say it again – the day is coming when M/M Romance/Erotica BLOWS UP like 50 Shades did.  And I want to be the E. L. James of M/M.  I want to be The King!  I did cut corners on some of my stories, and that’s why I went back and did my “digital remastering” on all of them (except Worst Best Luck, my red-headed stepchild, which I just can’t face yet because I know it’s not up to my quality standards).  Because when I blow up big, I can’t have anything crappy in my catalog.  When one book blows up big, people go back and consume your backlist, and I want to make sure that it’s all good.

Maybe I’m totally wrong.  Maybe it’ll blow up big, and I’ll be the also-ran because I did all that research for GTC on NCAA regulations on countable athletic activity time and division transfer rules and draft eligibility, and for the majority of people, that bogged down the story.  So it goes! I gotta be me.

Umm, yeah, so anyway…your opinion in comments?  Why do *you* think some readers don’t like CD?

14 Comments on Why is “Character Development” a dirty word in Romance?

  1. Well all I know is a lot of the reviews I see on Goodreads talk about the character developement of a book and how that boosted the star rating.

    • That’s good news…I know there are readers who appreciate it, but when I look at what sells big, they look like the minority…

  2. robsessedjenn // July 5, 2014 at 2:45 pm // Reply

    when i want something dirty/nasty, i still prefer the 40-60 page stories with *some* CD. when i want a real story, i MUST care about the characters. I want to know how not only their childhoods shape them, but also their current life experiences. Colum and Sam are some of your best works – in large part because they feel so real, because i know that colum’s intelligence is part of why viggo wants him, and i know that derek would never want sam or submit to sam, and vice versa, if it weren’t for their mutual respect, which only is illustrated through the action, which has to be based on your research. please, please keep keepin’ on.

    • BradVance // July 5, 2014 at 3:02 pm // Reply

      Thank you! I have no intention of changing my style…I’m just baffled by the reviews that complain about it…

  3. I’ve just finished A Little Too Broken, and I without the character development the HEA would have been limp beans, honestly, because without seeing the characters go throw the fire, either in the past or present, the HEA isn’t worth anything. The reader has to feel what the characters feel. As a reader, and a writer, I need to follow them through their reality, even if it is in the past.
    The sting of tears hit my eyes before I finished the first chapter. Jaime sold me on the book. Why read about characters who are two dimensional. For me, character development is more critical than plot, because who cares what happens if the characters aren’t memorable?
    Since I just finished the book seconds ago, I haven’t had a chance to review on Amazon, so give me a bit. I’m right at the moment more interested in this topic you’ve brought up. The idea of characters without a history, without a past to haunt them, or shape them, then why read the story. It baffles me. Developing my characters is my favorite part of writing, the next being the cruelty of dropping them into horrific situations and watch them pull themselves out… Then hand them their HEA.
    I love that as a reader too. Okay, sometimes I throw the book, but I pick it back up later. Now I read on my kindle app on my laptop, so I don’t throw my devices. I hate crying at books, but I must love it at some point too. My consistent MO, is to pick up books where our heroes are broken, and healed by their own actions along with the love of others.
    To read a short story, novella, or novel without great character development would be a waste of my time. A Little Too Broken was not a waste of my time and I appreciated the glimpse into both character’s past. Especially Jaime’s time with Daniel. There was a lot of pain there, and angst. It made the HEA so worth every word written and read.
    Thank you for a lovely read and an opportunity to weigh in on this topic I take quite seriously. Also, thanks for donating to IAVA. It makes my heart feel good.

    • BradVance // July 7, 2014 at 2:34 pm // Reply

      Thank you, from the reactions I’m getting maybe I’m overreacting to the minority opinion. So glad you like this book!

      • Remember, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and they all stink like shit. I think if you are finding success writing your stories and creating characters you and your readers enjoy, then the negative chatter from some miserable folks just aren’t worth your time.
        Tom and Jaimie are memorable. I enjoyed my time with them and they even sparked a discussion in the car with my husband. I’m a scrub tech, so I hear all about the state of medical care in this country, and I have a nurse who is fighting with the VA for her husband.
        So this story has a special place in my heart. Jaimie’s story of medical insurance and care, the VA aspect, it all leads back to this feeling I have where I want to scream “WTF-why is everyone so worried about whether or not gay folks get married? Focus on our vets and the people in this country who need medical insurance now, not 60-90 days from now when they’ll be dead.
        My friend’s husband who is Vietnam vet can’t wait 90 days for his dialysis. For Christ’s sake people.
        Anyway, thank you for writing such a wonderful story.

      • BradVance // July 7, 2014 at 2:49 pm //

        Yeah I’m going through the same nightmare trying to get prescriptions filled with this mandatory mail order pharmacy I have to use now. I have private insurance and I’m still getting screwed. the whole system is just fundamentally broken.

      • Be care with that too. My friend’s husband was a government employee and a good former soldier who used his own insurance for years. The plan was, when he started experience the fallout of Agent Orange (he was an already documented case of exposure) then they would tap the VA benefits. Backfired in a big way. The biggest problem for my friend is everyone tells her to do something different. It’s come down to writing her congressmen now. Hopefully something will happen. She had to privately start his dialysis or else he would’ve died before they even got back to her. They canceled 3 appointments without telling her and she showed up only to be told no dice. Part of me gets the feeling they hope some of these vets die before they have to shell out to help them, but I try to think its just my anger talking.
        Big pharm pisses me off too. My sympathies for what you’re dealing with Brad. I hope things improve in this fucked up medical system.

  4. Reblogged this on A Writer's Nest and commented:
    Character development to me is the cornerstone of writing and I’d like to share Brad Vance’s post on the subject. Please feel free to comment and visit Brad’s blog. Also, read his book A Little Too Broken. Proceeds go to the IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. It’s a sweet story I enjoyed reading.

  5. Aloha Brad.
    Interesting blog thanks. I’m also a reader and writer. Without CD I’m bored to tears. I want to know how they got there. What drives them. How they redeem themselves and come out the other side in HEA. For me, it’s part of the ‘heroes journey.’ Otherwise it’s just stroke if you write with an erotica element. Boring.
    What makes anyone interesting is what has formed them and their experiences. Whether that be someone you meet in life or in a book. That’s actually my main gripe with 50 shades.
    I love the free publicity from it and bringing erotic wiring as any kind intoore mainstream. But the characters drove me up the wall. They never seemed to really develop. They still seemed as ignorant and disconnected from themselves at the end as the day we met them. Arghhhh.
    But yes. We NEED character development. Karin Slaughter writes a fabulous series. What makes those books. The character of Will Trent who’s a bad dyslexic detective and his awful background. It’s riveting!!
    Jefferey Deaver writes two series. One with a character called Lincoln Rhyme. His character is fascinating and compelling because if his background.
    Jonathan Kellermans psychologist is Alex Delaware and detective Milo Sturgis. I read just for the characters now. Because I want to sit down with these characters and hear their thoughts.
    I think if anyone doesn’t read for character and only plot. They’re pretty vapid people. And series that sell over and over are because people like the characters. We want to know their background. I think too of Evanovich and her cast of characters in her Stephanie Plum series. The plot is a variation on a theme each time but the characters we love.
    Sorry. Waffling on. I’m also equally baffled by anyone who wouldn’t like CD. Why bother?
    If you build it. They will come.
    Aloha Meg Amor

  6. I can’t imagine why. Those are the types of books I seek out. I’m pretty tired of the Wham Bam, Thank You Ma’am titles that make up so much of the m/m genre. I look for the same thing in m/m that I do in mainstream fiction — authentic characters with life stories and a careful development of the narrative arc. That’s why I loved GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES. Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you! Me too! One of the reviews that kicked this off basically said, “too much time is spent on their separate lives and backgrounds, I wanted the story to hurry up and get to the romance.” When the characters get to the Wham Bam I want it feel like, WHAM! These two belong together!

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