Not a Romance

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lizmonster

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It's just a harder slog for the writer if they have to go against reader expectations.
I'm not even sure this is true. I suspect this particular expectation is strongly genre-dependent, and also dependent on the story being told.

I mostly read mystery for 30 years. Yeah, there were lots of nice romantic thrillers. But there were also plenty of bestsellers that didn't hook up MCs. Sometimes I might think two characters would do well together, but it didn't make me hate the book if the author didn't go that way. (That's what fanfic is for. :))
 

lizmonster

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The question I originally responded to was "What am I doing wrong?"

My answer (post 17) remains: Signal to the readers what it is that your story will deliver. Simple as that.

I agree with you up to a point. I don't think the character needs to be attracted to a whole bunch of people to make it work. I think the central conflict can be True Love vs. Career, and the MC can choose Career.

Will a book lose readers over a choice like that? Sure. Books lose readers for all kinds of reasons. But it sounds like it'd be true to the story being told.
 

mccardey

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My main character is a nursing student and then a nurse in the 1930s. At that time, nurses couldn't marry (and remain in the profession). My character is not by any means a "man hater," and like most young women, she likes to be liked.

My problem is that whenever MC is attracted to a young man, my readers expect romance and are disappointed—read ANGRY—when MC tears herself away to be true to her profession.

What am I doing wrong?
I'm guessing you've just put the book out to the wrong readers. I would not see this set-up as indicating romance. Is it possible your readers are expecting romance because that's what they read generally?
 

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If a subversion is expected to happen, is it really a subversion anymore?

That's like asking do shows like the Twilight Zone and Black Mirror have twists if everybody knows a twist is coming.

Woman who spends all her time working on her career and doesn't have time for love but meets a nice handsome Christmas tree farmer and then she learns the true meaning of Christmas and also love is a whole genre of movies.

Also writing that out, it sure does feel shitty that it's "expected" for a woman to throw away her career so she can be with a man (who will presumably now provide for her). So honestly it is very nice that OP has a story where that doesn't happen.

Things like Hallmark movies play to a very specific audience, one that that likely doesn't have the kind of high-powered careers to put aside. It's also why those movies generally don't have much mainstream appeal and are limited to made-for-tv and, even then, a handful of specific networks.

That said, there's usually some underlying message about actually finding happiness and examining if you're chasing success for success's sake that goes beyond "women should throw away their careers to be with a man," although the "for a man" is usually how the parodies of those programs portray it. I imagine most people, myself included, have more experience with the parodies than the actual programs. (And my favorite was probably the Simpsons Hallmark Christmas movie episode.)

In my experience as a reader outside the romance genre (e.g. fantasy, SF, mystery), for pretty much every book I read that has a female protagonist and a male MC, there's a romance subplot and the two of them get together (HEA, HFN, or didn't quite work out endings). For pretty much every book I read that has a male protagonist and a female MC, there's no romance subplot -- they may or may not boink, but romance/love isn't part of the male protagonist's agenda.

So I think maybe yeah, readers are led to expect romance with a female protag because that's what's put in front of them so often.

I'm trying to remember the last book I read with a male protagonist that didn't have a romance subplot and I'm coming up blank. I'm sure there have been a few, but it just feels it's an expectation, even if they just tease the thing the whole time instead of having them actually get together.

Even a lot of horror novels tend to be big on romance subplots, which in some cases is one of the things I remember most from them.
 

frimble3

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How about making it really clear what's wrong with these guys, and why's she's not looking for marriage?
I assume, in nursing training, she runs into a lot of medical students:
The guy who thinks she'll get a nursing job and put him through medical school.
The guy who thinks she'll make an excellent nurse for his practice (regardless of what kind of nursing she was planning on.
The guy with the chronic health problems, who's thinking it would be convenient for him to have a free nurse on hand. (Or, for aging parents.)
The non-med student thinking it'd be nice to have a working wife until he starts making 'real' money, whereupon she can quit and raise his children.

Or, simple as he wants to take over his father's practice, catering to rich old hypochondriacs, and she wants to be a missionary, or work with the poor.
Just something to make it clear that she's more interested in how her life will play out than getting her MRS. degree.
 

llyralen

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It’s okay to write a non-romantic book that has a story about something else, sure. But what is the something else? What does this character want?

I’ve already given my honest opinion, but
if the message of the story arc is that nurses should be willing to give up personal relationships for their job, then I’d be ticked off about that. I think nurses get little enough thanks as is.

At this historical time, nursing was a lot of work for a very small amount of pay and hardly any appreciation or recognition. Nobody (probably no woman) really expected to get ahead in life in nursing at the time— because women weren’t allowed to “get ahead” in hardly any sense. Definitely not in compensation. The attitude through the war also changed with nurses and marriage. At the end of the war they just needed help from whoever as far as I understand it, married or not.

Nursing is a better job now with a few chances of upward movement (not much, though) still not much recognition or appreciation so no way would I expect a nurse to continuously give up their personal dreams if they have dreams. If they don’t want a relationship, then why would it really come up in the book?

It sounds like other people don’t mind a fictional flogging, though, or maybe love the idea of romanticizing the profession. We do this with teaching too and it usually means less compensation as somehow people have decided the hard work is it’s own reward. In real life, it shouldn’t have to be and it’s a problem when people think that it should be. My 2 cents as someone from a similar line of work that is not yet correctly compensated for. It really took men getting into the nursing profession for the compensation and benefits to get taken seriously… true story. Hopefully that’s it from me on this.
 

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if the message of the story arc is that nurses should be willing to give up personal relationships for their job, then I’d be ticked off about that. I think nurses get little enough thanks as is.
In this historical setting, I think it's that nurses should not have to choose between earning their own living = being independent as a single woman, and marrying a man = being unable to hold paid employment and being wholly dependent financially on their husband.
 

Helix

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I’ve already given my honest opinion, but
if the message of the story arc is that nurses should be willing to give up personal relationships for their job, then I’d be ticked off about that. I think nurses get little enough thanks as is.

The situation at the time was that nurses who married had to give up their profession. A story where the character arc involved a woman dedicated to her calling being happy to chuck that away for a man would make me furious. (Btw, married woman having to relinquish their jobs carried on well into the 1970s in some places and some professions.)
 

mccardey

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Gotta say I'm surprised at the idea that a story with a male protag is expected to have a romance subplot. And I'm kind of disappointed at the idea that there's something problematic in a (story about a) woman who doesn't want to get with a man, or indeed to partner up at all.

I keep checking the forum to make sure we're not in Romance.
 

lizmonster

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Gotta say I'm surprised at the idea that a story with a male protag is expected to have a romance subplot. And I'm kind of disappointed at the idea that there's something problematic in a (story about a) woman who doesn't want to get with a man, or indeed to partner up at all.

I keep checking the forum to make sure we're not in Romance.
I've been trying to say this. I've been clumsier about it.

I think having romantic subplots is pretty common. Readers shipping characters is super common. :) But I don't think most genres would have trouble with a book where the romantic partners don't end up together at the end. Stories are full of heartache and disappointment and bittersweet happy endings and bitter sad endings.

I love romance novels, but I'm puzzled by the idea that HEAs are somehow required across all genres.
 

llyralen

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The situation at the time was that nurses who married had to give up their profession. A story where the character arc involved a woman dedicated to her calling being happy to chuck that away for a man would make me furious. (Btw, married woman having to relinquish their jobs carried on well into the 1970s in some places and some professions.)
I commented on the true-life historical situation.

It doesn’t matter. Either way you choose to sacrifice, whether you choose to make low-paying highly demanding career or love the golden calf, if the story is only about tempting the person with the thing they already decided to reject in order for them to prove their loyalty to the calf then it is still, in my opinion, an annoying story. It would be like reminding someone of their choice over and over.
 
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mccardey

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It doesn’t matter. Either way you choose to sacrifice, whether you choose to make low-paying highly demanding career or love the golden calf
What if that specific choice doesn't exist for the character though? What if, although she likes men well enough, she just doesn't have any interest in finding a partner?
 
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Helix

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I commented on the true-life historical situation.

It doesn’t matter. Either way you choose to sacrifice, whether you choose to make low-paying highly demanding career or love the golden calf, if the story is only about tempting the person with the thing they already decided to reject in order for them to prove their loyalty to the calf then it is still, in my opinion, an annoying story. It would be like reminding someone of their choice over and over.

I'm not sure what the Golden Calf is in this situation, but I'm imagining it's marriage, given the 'or'. But nursing in the 1930s would not have been about the money, so I'm not sure why that keeps coming up. It would have been about a) pursuing one of the few acceptable professions for a woman, and b) wanting to help people. If a character then tosses that aside for a man, well, this reader probably won't be finishing the book.
 

mccardey

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I'm not sure what the Golden Calf is in this situation, but I'm imagining it's marriage, given the 'or'. But nursing in the 1930s would not have been about the money, so I'm not sure why that keeps coming up. It would have been about a) pursuing one of the few acceptable professions for a woman, and b) wanting to help people. If a character then tosses that aside for a man, well, this reader probably won't be finishing the book.
I think the golden calf is standing in for "your goal." As in - You sacrifice, whether you choose a demanding career, or make love your goal.

But yes, like Helix, I don't see that that actual choice existed historically - and I don't see either, that it needs to exist at all. I don't know why OP's readers are bumping up against it so hard, unless the storyline has set it up out of habit, and then forgotten that it needn't be there.
 
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llyralen

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I'm not sure what the Golden Calf is in this situation, but I'm imagining it's marriage, given the 'or'. But nursing in the 1930s would not have been about the money, so I'm not sure why that keeps coming up. It would have been about a) pursuing one of the few acceptable professions for a woman, and b) wanting to help people. If a character then tosses that aside for a man, well, this reader probably won't be finishing the book.
It’s kind of a tangent but if you look at professions of healthcare or teaching you will see that pay does also matter to the lives of those with the job. I work in healthcare in a type of job that helps people myself. I am here because I am passionate, and these kinds of jobs have a history of people kind of glorifying them and believing they are their own reward— sometimes resulting in poor compensation and poor working conditions for the workers. So I personally don’t appreciate the idea being perpetuated in any film or books of highly demanding and specialized work being it’s own reward. It is and it isn’t. Most of us personally want more. If I asked every nurse I work with they would tell you this is just part of their life, we all need more.

Reward in a book is due to set up and pay off. What I’m asking is.. where is the reward for the character and the reader? If the reward is nursing for its own sake then that’s where the plot line should be is in something threatening her nursing career—like a charge nurse trying to get rid of her or maybe she is struggling to learn how to do her job as well as she wants or a new doctor doesn’t let her do what she knows she is capable of. Maybe there is jealousy from another nurse who is sabotaging her and it could even be from jealousy over a doctor the other nurse is in love with and who likes her. The tension should be that we are worried she won’t reach her goal. If her goal is to be a great nurse, then that’s where the tension should be.
 

Helix

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Reward in a book is due to set up and pay off. What I’m asking is.. where is the reward for the character and the reader? If the reward is nursing for its own sake then that’s where the plot line should be is in something threatening her nursing career—like a charge nurse trying to get rid of her or maybe she is struggling to learn how to do her job as well as she wants or a new doctor doesn’t let her do what she knows she is capable of. Maybe there is jealousy from another nurse who is sabotaging her and it could even be from jealousy over a doctor the other nurse is in love with and who likes her. The tension should be that we are worried she won’t reach her goal. If her goal is to be a great nurse, then that’s where the tension should be.

What's threatening her career is the romance. If she marries, she loses her job. So the choice is:

be a nurse + no marriage vs abandon nursing + marriage

And she can do a lot more as a nurse in terms of plot and choices than she can if she gets married. But the hospital intrigue is so worn. And the other nurse in a jealous snit over the doctor is about as creaky as it gets. (And also circles back to romance.)

IIRC -- and sorry, TellMeAStory, but I haven't double-checked -- this is a tale set during the Spanish Civil War. Now there's a source of personal conflict and high stakes.
 

llyralen

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What's threatening her career is the romance. If she marries, she loses her job. So the choice is:

be a nurse + no marriage vs abandon nursing + marriage

And she can do a lot more as a nurse in terms of plot and choices than she can if she gets married. But the hospital intrigue is so worn. And the other nurse in a jealous snit over the doctor is about as creaky as it gets. (And also circles back to romance.)

IIRC -- and sorry, TellMeAStory, but I haven't double-checked -- this is a tale set during the Spanish Civil War. Now there's a source of personal conflict and high stakes.
Here is where @TellMeAStory can please explain more if I misunderstand the set up and plot. As I understood the OP (and what I’m responding to) is that the readers of this story are getting upset because of romantic prospects introduced that the MC is obliged to reject. Tellmeastory (in a later post) said that characters who the MC is attracted to are introduced in order to provide a temptation to the MC. In other words, temptation and disappointment are consciously major themes for the story if I am understanding the author?

What I am saying is… if the plot is mainly written as a test for the MC for her devotion to nursing (above romance) and this is the main set up of the book, then my hypothesis is that many readers will not want to be continually disappointed and tested along with the MC and they likely were not expecting to be led into such a deal as that. Maybe rejecting others is a reward? It for sure wouldn’t be for me. Im not going to want to cheer someone on for doing things that sacrifice her own self-interests either if in fact marriage and potential family looked like a better prospect than cleaning up feces and blood and getting paid pennies for it, if that is what is expected. Nursing has its high points, but it’s got a ton of low points. It isn’t for everyone obviously. The idea of a “career” was pretty new and different back then and even now this would be a big decision if we weren’t told we can have it all. The set-up initially looks like a romance, and readers probably didn’t expect to be disappointed or tested. My thoughts were if you want to make it about nursing then make it about nursing, but if the author wants the plot to be about strong temptation but with resolve/determination/ the love of self-sacrifice and experiences of rejecting advances then the author probably needs to find a way to let the reader know what they are in for. Set up and pay off needs to be looked at.

My questions explored the assumptions it took to set up a test like this and also the potential pitfalls (like why is this MC leading people on?) I wouldn’t want to be in a position to say that choosing nursing is the right decision for someone else either and I wouldn’t automatically cheer someone on for staying in a career if something else seemed more valuable and better to them. That’s very individual in my opinion, but if someone else wants to assert the “rightness” of that, that’s for them. I have always kind of agreed with human needs as set up by Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and these ideas challenge some of our human needs and force choices and I’m not disagreeing that there were poor choices for women to attain these needs through history… but those aren’t the only things to explore here.
 
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Catriona Grace

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In those days, women gave up a fair amount of autonomy when they married. In the US, they'd only had the right to vote for a decade. They were forbidden by law in some states to work after marriage. In 1932, the federal government was required by law to fire one member of a couple if both were working in government jobs. A year later, married women were required by law to take their husbands' last names so that they couldn't sidestep losing their jobs. Some women married secretly to keep their jobs. Prior to 1922, a woman who married a man who was not a US citizen lost her own citizenship and was forced to take that of her husband. It wasn't until 1931 that a woman could marry an Asian man without losing her citizenship. Male US citizens could marry women of any nationality without imperiling their citizenship.
 

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I remember my mother telling me about needing my father to cosign in order to get a loan in the late 60's in order to buy the Christmas gift she wanted to buy him that year.

I remember one of my grandmothers telling me that back in the day, either her own or her parent's, female teachers had to be single but male teachers had to be married to teach 1st-12th. She was born in the 1910's.
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Before the Women's Rights movement, the US, at least, was a very different place. A woman in a field other than nursing, teaching or secretary? Ha! There might have been one or two with men's only occupations here or there, but not many.

As for the official occupations? They better be single and stay single or else. Probably nothing worse than getting fired, but still.

Oh, and if historical shows are any indication often the occupation itself was a way to get out and meet a potential spouse so she could quit, get married and have children. Since, you know, she didn't need to have a job and support herself since she was married.

If the original poster wants the book to be historically accurate, it does need to be an either or choice. If there is potential for romance, I do think the writer needs to virtually hit the readers over the head with the fact that it was a different time and that the MC is serious about her choice. While doing so in a way that is so seamless it is effectively invisible to the reader.

Or have her marry a doctor who is willing to let her work in a private practice he owns. Not that she'd work much, if any, once she starts having children.
 

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