RWA Nashville Retreat Notes: Maybe a Good Podcast Discussion?

Did a little writing today, about a thousand words into a new scene. It’s a scene set in a college classroom, which you think would come as easy as breathing to me, but it’s always challenging managing multiple voices in narration — any kind of crowd scene is the worst, and starts making me really wish I was writing a play or screenplay. 🙂

Feeling virtuous after writing, I took time to chat with people over the brown bag lunch. Had a fascinating conversation about Harlequin and Hallmark, and I think it’s wildly unlikely that I’ll end up writing either, but the thought of creating a South Asian protagonist for a Hallmark novel that could potentially be turned into a sweet Hallmark movie to accompany my Christmas baking does have a certain appeal.

Unfortunately, I suspect it would carry some stigma with the ‘serious literary writer’ grant-giving people if I did that, though. I’m not sure I care, though. I can be serious and frivolous all at the same time; I contain multitudes. I suppose that’s what pseudonyms are for.

A bigger problem might be that I’m not sure that entire genre isn’t inherently conservative in a way I’d have trouble with (big city = bad, small town value = good, etc.)? Maybe that’s just the movies I’ve seen, though. Maybe they’re not all like that? Hm. I wonder if Hallmark would let me write a story about a queer woman who is stifled in her small town and flees to the big city, where she finds love, community, and acceptance?

Also, do Harlequin / Hallmark ever do anything with more-than-two in the romance? Inquiring minds want to know.

After lunch, wrote a little more (layering in draft narration over the original draft dialogue, refining the dialogue). Then went to a talk on writing effective dialogue, which was…hmm…interesting.

I mean, the first bit was mostly mechanical, where the speaker was talking about things like interrupting the flow of your dialogue with speech tags, sometimes to ridiculous extent. That part was a good reminder; I think I do that sometimes, and it’s mostly because of some kind of misplaced anxiety that they’re just talking for too long, and probably that’s just wrong, and I should let them talk, speech tags be damned.

The second part, though, was mostly focused on differences in men’s and women’s speech, citing Deborah Tannen and using various examples. And yes, I do want my guys to sound like guys — but what the heck does that mean?

It made me think about how much of romance is built on misunderstanding, and gendered misunderstanding specifically. If you have two people who are clearly a terrific match, but you have to keep them apart for the space of a novel, then you have to have some reason why they’re not just together. And a lot of the time, I think romantic stories deal with that by having them misunderstand each other, sometimes in hilarious or tragic ways.

And the thing is, it works. It works because, much as I hate to admit it, men and women are often conditioned to speak in different ways. I’m not sure I buy all of Tannen’s arguments there — they seem mostly anecdotal from skimming her work, and I kind of feel like she picks anecdotes that support her argument.

Do I really think that men are motivated by status and hierarchy and being top of the totem pole in dialogue? Well, sometimes. (Sometimes I am too, though.) Do I really think that women are ‘team players,’ and use dialogue to come to consensus — and if they don’t, they get labelled as ‘bitches.’? Well, a lot of the time, yes, but it makes me super-cranky.

Do I sometimes end up in these kind of dynamics with both Kevin and Jed? Unfortuantely, yes. 😞 Do I end up finding workarounds for things like: Kevin doesn’t like me giving him household tasks; he has a reflexive ‘you can’t tell me what to do’ response. Yes — it eases pressure if I just make a list and leave it where he can easily access it and work on things when he feels like it. Is it annoying to have to do the workaround? Yes.

Gah, I sound like I’m really agreeing with the argument, when most of the talk, I was arguing with her in my head, saying it’s not always like that, these are huge generalizations, WHAT ABOUT QUEER PEOPLE, WHAT ABOUT NONBINARY PEOPLE, etc. and so on.

Food for thought. I think I’d rather have my conflicts mostly come out of other aspects of my characters’ personalities, rather than gender constructions, but maybe that’s just me being stubborn. Hm. Benjamin Rosenbaum, maybe good topic for podcast discussion?

(More pretty waterfall and fountain photos for you.)

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