Guest Blog: Action Movies are Really Romance Novels

Join me on Roz Lee’s blog today as I discuss how the best action movies are basically just romantic suspense novels on film.

Check out the blog to see my Top 10 Best Action Movies that are really Romantic Suspense Novels on Film.  Agree? Disagree? Comment today (May 8, 2012) for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card! (Which you will hopefully use to buy my novel, DANCING WITH DANGER, wink wink nudge nudge)

Dancing with Danger (cover art) - by Laura Sheehan

Don’t Judge a Book by its Movie

I admit it. I’m one of those annoying people who constantly complains about how much better the book is, after having watched the film adaptation of it. Come with me to see a movie that’s based on a book I’ve read and I’ll keep you informed throughout with insightful comments like, “That’s not how it happened in the book,” and “Oh no, they cut out my favorite part,” and “This scene is so much better in the book.”

For anyone who’s suffered through my running commentary (mostly my husband): I’m sorry.

But…I can’t help it!

Besides, 95% of the time I’m right: the book is way better.

The Golden Compass Movie 2007

Philip Pullman's Golden Compass was a fantastical novel full of magic and heart that explored dark and violent themes from the perspective of a young girl. The movie version swiped out all of the magic and heart, and the remaining skeleton was therefore both jarringly vanilla and terrifyingly grotesque.

I’ve learned over the years to accept film-versions of beloved novels as merely one person’s interpretation of a story that had to be cut down and simplified in order to fit into two hours. I’ve learned to appreciate that even if my overall opinion of the movie is just “meh,” that at least I’ll get to see the characters on the big screen, rather than just in my imagination. And I’ve lowered my expectations to the mere hope that the writers and directors and producers will get at least one scene right, and allow me to completely immerse myself in a beloved story, even if it’s just for a moment.

But more often than not, I still end up leaving the theater underwhelmed, if not seriously annoyed.

I know, Mr. Barty Crouch, Jr., I too am pissed off that the directors of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire removed all the mystery when they made it into a movie. In the very first scene they gave away the surprise ending to one of the only plot elements of the book that made sense.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those book purists.

I’m not going to complain if a screenwriter or actor changed the wording of one character’s line from chapter four, or if the hero had blonde hair in the book but was being portrayed by an actor with brown hair. I love it when a director intelligently cuts a scene that barely worked on the page and has no hope of translating to film (e.g., Ron Howard’s wise decision to NOT have Robert Langdon jump out of the helicopter and miraculously survive at the end of Angels and Demons), or when a screenwriter adds a bit of dialogue that is pure brilliance (e.g. screenwriter Deborah Moggach’s beautiful dialogue at the end of the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice: You may only call me “Mrs. Darcy”… when you are completely, and perfectly, and incandescently happy.” “Then how are you this evening… Mrs. Darcy? Mrs. Darcy… Mrs. Darcy…” SWOON).

I have my issues with the film adaptations of the Twilight novels, but let's face it, Jacob's "I am hotter than you" line in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse movie is an epic win.

No, in fact, it is directors (and screenwriters) that care too much about that kind of nonsense who usually make mediocre movies out of phenomenal books.

But those aren’t the worst types of directors and writers. Oh, no. The worst ones are those douchebags who have either never read the book, or hated the book, and set out to make their own version of the story and in the end produce a pile of crap that only bears a vague resemblance to the original masterpiece.  They are the ones who end up making horrible movies out of phenomenal books.

The problem is that turning a book into a movie isn’t easy. Hollywood producers seem to think it is, but it isn’t. They look at a best-selling novel and they assume that if they make a movie with the same name, they’ll make millions of dollars. Unfortunately, they are usually right.

But if only they would take the time to do it RIGHT, then they could earn millions more!

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the few film adaptations that I actually enjoyed more than the original book version. In addition to its beautiful cinematography and sets and costumes and acting, the screenwriters and director took the time to cull Tolkien's weaknesses and highlight his strengths. For example, they managed to get Frodo out of the Shire in less than 200 pages, created a Rivendell that was even more breathtaking than that described in the book, and gave the female characters something to do besides be gloriously beautiful or try to be men, all without tarnishing some of the best moments ever written.

Yes, you can make a movie out of a book (especially if said book is insanely popular amongst the teen population) and break box office records. But 20 years later, no one will care about it. The books might still retain their popularity for generations to come, but unless you do it well, the movie will be a passing fad. Case in point: Elvis. His music? Legendary. His movies? Don’t be surprised if people born after 1985 aren’t even aware of the fact that he made any.

Here’s the thing: the best books are written by fantastic authors. But book-to-movie adaptations are rarely written by equally fantastic screenwriters.

Because what works on the page is rarely going to work as is on screen. A good screenwriter has to really “get” the book, but they also need to have the know-how to translate what was so loved about a book into a screenplay that will elicit the same reaction. That means they have to tell the story in a different way, restructure a character’s development, add scenes, remove scenes, re-write dialogue, reorganize plot points, cut characters, change settings, etc. And throughout all of this, they have to retain enough of the original flavor and key moments to really do the source material justice.

Could you imagine if a screenwriter massacred Mr. Darcy’s "My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject forever," by changing it to “I’m still fond of you, but if you don’t feel the same, just let me know and I’ll keep my mouth shut.” Egads.

In short, it might be harder to translate a great book into a great film than it is to simply write a great film. You’ve got to do everything right when it comes to writing the screenplay, just as you would have to do for any great film, and yet there is the added pressure of having to remain true to the source material.

It is not an easy task.

And the sooner Hollywood realizes that, the better off we’ll all be.

But until they do: I urge you not to judge a book by its movie.

(Laura Sheehan’s debut novel, Dancing with Danger will be released by Red Sage Publishing on May 1, 2012).

Romance Novels: Haters Gonna Hate

For those of you not in the know, “hater” is a term that entered American slang vocabulary in the early 2000’s.  According to the top-rated definition on Urban Dictionary, a “hater” is:

“A person that simply cannot be happy for another person’s success. So rather than be happy, they make a point of exposing a flaw in that person.”

“Haters Gonna Hate,” is an equally awesome phrase.  Fairly self-explanatory, it’s a way of brushing off hostile criticism.  Think of it as the grittier big brother of the valley girl’s “Whatever!”
Haters Gonna Hate Africa

You can find "haters gonna hate" memes all over the internet, usually accompanied by a photo of someone strutting cockily.

So how does it relate to romance novels, you ask?

Well, I think it ought to be the new motto of romance authors.

It’s no secret that for many uninformed people, the term “romance novel,” is equivalent to “trashy.”  These haters assume inaccurately that romance novels are of lesser quality than other types of fiction, that the writing is poor, the characters shallow, the plot formulaic.

And yet books within the romance genre consistently nab the largest share of the consumer market year after year.  So why do they continue to carry the undeserved burden of being considered “lesser fiction?”

In my opinion, as both a voracious reader and author of many types of fiction, this misconception is due largely to the misunderstanding of what a romance novel actually is.

The most widely accepted definition of the genre is the one provided by the Romance Writers of America: Novels that have a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.

It’s a simple definition that embraces a wide variety of fictional works.  Acclaimed literary novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre and more recent novels like Outlander are all, by this definition, romance novels.

But haters don’t think of Fabio and bodice-ripping covers when they think of Jane Austen, do they?  So why would they assume all romances are  formulaic, shallow pieces of literary junk?  I’ll tell you why:

Haters gonna hate.

Yes, some romance novels are poorly written.  And, yes, some publishing companies cater to readers who want a very specific type of book (e.g. “series” romances, like those published by some of Harlequin’s imprints, which tend to be shorter novels that can be easily categorized by setting and/or style), making them appear formulaic.
But that is the nature of the beast when a genre becomes as popular as romance has.  Approximately 75 million people read at least one romance a year, and the romantic fiction market makes over $1 billion in sales each year (RWA statistics).  With over 8,000 titles being released annually, you’re going to get a huge variety in quality of writing, and you can’t blame publishers for employing marketing strategies aimed at making it easier for readers to find exactly the book they are looking for.
And it’s also worth mentioning that those who are turned off by the rigid categorical definitions of some “series” romance novels, there is also a much bigger market of “single title” romances that can be longer in length and don’t need to fit into such strict plot/style guidelines.

This is a romance. (A series Harlequin American Romance, "His Valentine Triplets," by Tina Leonard)

But so is this. (A single-title paranormal romantic suspense, "Darkfever" by Karen Marie Moning)

Remember, the only requirements for a novel to be considered a romance is that it have a central love story and a happy ending.  Every genre has restrictions that allow it to be categorized.  Just as a mystery is “a novel in which the reader is challenged to solve a puzzle before the detective explains it at the end,” and science fiction deals with “future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities.” It doesn’t make each story within that genre formulaic.

This is also a romance. (An Amish, inspirational romance, "The Harvest of Grace," by Cindy Woodsmall)

And this, too. (A contemporary romantic comedy, "London Falling," by Emma Carr)

And even this. (Futuristic romantic suspense, "Vengeance in Death" by J.D. Robb, aka Nora Roberts)

Lumping all romance novels into one, easily-criticizable category is useless and unfair.  And judging an entire genre based on your opinion of one book is equally ridiculous.  Sort of like calling 2001: A Space Odyssey, Aliens, Star Trek and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial “trashy” because you hated Battlefield Earth.

Sure, romance isn’t for everyone.

There are plenty of genres I have no interest in.  For example, I am not a fan of horror. But just because I think Saw III is torture-porn, doesn’t mean I think The Exorcist is too.

There is a portion of the population who (sadly) think that romance is cheesy and that happy endings are unrealistic.  These people have my sympathy, and to them I say: Don’t read romance novels.

And to the rest of us, my fellow romance authors and the majority of the general book-buying population, I say:

Judging a Book by its Cover

They say not to do it, but admit it, you’ve done it before and will do it again.

The results of the 2011 Romance Book Consumer survey (commissioned by Romance Writers of America) report that most readers claim the major factors in deciding to buy or not to buy are:

  • The story
  • The author
  • It’s part of a series
  • Back cover copy

I agree with that, but… c’mon, people, you know at some point you’ve judged a book by its cover!

There have been plenty of books that have caught my eye and made me pick it up off the shelf and give it the first-10-pages-test.  There have also been plenty of books that I scanned over and passed up, based on nothing other than the shallow fact that I found the cover art unappealing.

Does that make me a bad person?

Nah.  I think it makes me practical.

The cover for “Warrior” (by Zoe Archer) caught my eye because A) it conveyed a sense of adventure and danger, B) the hero seemed like an interesting mix between Indiana Jones and James Bond, and C) he’s hot. 

I simply don’t have time to read the back-cover copy of every book on the shelf.  By scanning the cover art, I’m hoping to find a book that appears to fall into the right category and have the right tone I’m looking for.  A regency historical fiction should be easily distinguishable from a contemporary romantic suspense (otherwise the marketing and art department have failed miserably).

I love this cover of “Wicked Intentions”, which introduced me to Elizabeth Hoyt and her Maiden Lane Series, because it has a sense of suspense that is unusual for restoration-era historical romances.

With e-books and online shopping, the cover art is slightly less important since I can reduce my browsing time by choosing specific categories (Fiction > Romance > Fantasy and Paranormal > Time Travel) rather than browsing the shelves of the entirely-too-broad category of “Romance” to find the type of book I’m in the mood for.

But bad/good cover art can still make or break a sale for me.

If the cover art is cheap-looking (especially for self-pubbed novels), it’ll turn me off.  I start thinking that the quality of the writing must be equally half-assed.  The same goes for overly-cheesy covers, I don’t want to be embarrassed when seen reading it.  (On that note, has anyone else ever folded the front cover over on itself when reading a romance novel with one of those bodice-ripper covers?  Especially when you are reading said book at your desk at lunch at your work place? Yeah, OK, maybe it’s just me.)

Setting the right tone/mood is imperative.  If it’s steamy, I want to see a hint of that.  If it’s adventurous, give me some action or a sense of movement/suspense. With online sellers and e-books, sometimes simpler is better when it comes to cover art (since the size of the photo will most likely be significantly smaller than in real life).  No one wants to squint at a tiny, cluttered image trying to figure out what the hell is being portrayed.

I *love* it when a cover has clearly been created *just* for that book… when there are little details that are unique to the story, like a specific tattoo on a hero’s (or heroine’s) arm, or an actual scene from the story itself (with correct props and clothing and background), or seeing the heroine in a dress that perfectly matches the description the author provided in chapter three…  Sometimes details like that can add a whole new enjoyable element to my reading experience.

The cover for “Hounded” (a fantasy adventure novel by Kevin Hearne) has an intensity that grabs you right away. It is also clearly not a stock photo, as the hero matches the author’s description down to his distinctive facial hair, boyish good looks, Celtic arm tattoos, and one-of-a-kind sword.

However, sometimes specificity backfires.  I’ll admit that I’ve NOT bought a book because I found the male model on the cover unattractive.  (OK, alright, I’ve also BOUGHT a few books based solely on how hot I thought the male model was).  So sometimes I prefer silhouettes or below-the-neck-only renderings of the main characters, because those vague images allow me to fill in the blanks with my own imagination.  And of course my own imagination will always match my tastes.

So what kind of novel cover art makes you pass it up or snatch it up?