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Not a Romance

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TellMeAStory

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So much to respond to. Yikes!

At present, there are four volumes to Lily's story. Her first year of nurse's training--the one with non-romance situations--is volume 2.

We don't get the Spanish Civil War until volume 3 (Lily doesn't go, but her friends do, and they write to her about it.)

But back to volume 2, which takes place in 1933-34. During this year, she navigates both ordinary nursing school subjects and (for her first time) a social life. She experiences sexual attraction for the first time and finds the sensation novel and interesting. [My readers expect romance and are disappointed.]

Lily and her classmates learn--by various means--a most important message: that a young woman should never allow herself to be alone with a man. [my readers are amused.]

At one point, a friendly young intern proposes, and Lily finds that insulting. [My readers revolt.]

And finally, there's a strong likelihood that the nursing school will close down. For various reasons, Lily can't transfer to some other school, so yes, then marriage does seem a viable option, but then the school doesn't close, and she deserts the young man--whose already chosen another option anyway--and she returns to nursing wondering how she could ever have...etc. [My readers fly up in arms.]

Have I responded adequately?
 
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lizmonster

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Sounds like a good story to me. :)

Are your readers revolting because they think it's unrealistic, or because they've invested emotionally and are disappointed? The former might be something to fix. The latter strikes me as you doing a good job making your readers care about the story.

I'm also wondering - what genres do they generally read? What do they write?
 

TellMeAStory

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Sounds like a good story to me. :)

Are your readers revolting because they think it's unrealistic, or because they've invested emotionally and are disappointed? The former might be something to fix. The latter strikes me as you doing a good job making your readers care about the story.

I'm also wondering - what genres do they generally read? What do they write?
I'd say they're invested emotionally. Some of my readers rarely read fiction, others--gosh, all kinds of fiction.
 
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lizmonster

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I'd say they're invested emotionally. Some of my readers rarely read fiction, others--gosh, all kinds of fiction.
So there's different ways readers can be invested emotionally. They can be "I can't believe you broke them up! I'm so sad!" invested, and there's "I can't believe you broke them up! I threw the MS across the room!" invested. (Also shades of gray in between.)

How you choose to react to their responses is up to you, but I do settle on "getting readers invested is a good thing."

As an aside: one of my most faithful beta readers was furious about how I ended my current MS, and said she'd indeed have thrown it at the wall if she'd had a physical copy. I did not change the ending. :)
 

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There is an alternative to all this…

Give the novel a surprise ending.

I did that on my first novel. The twist came on the last sentence. All through the book the reader is not sure if the main character is going back to his estranged wife or his new girlfriend.

It ends up being his new girlfriend, but as it ends with him in saddened tears, the reader thinks it’s for one reason then

Bang

You realize it’s for something completely different relating to the first paragraph.

In that way it is the quintessential happy ending but a surprise as to why.

Be creative!!
 
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SusanStar

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I'd say they're invested emotionally. Some of my readers rarely read fiction, others--gosh, all kinds of fiction.
How you choose to react to their responses is up to you, but I do settle on "getting readers invested is a good thing."

As an aside: one of my most faithful beta readers was furious about how I ended my current MS, and said she'd indeed have thrown it at the wall if she'd had a physical copy. I did not change the ending.
I've been following the conversation silently from the shadows. Maybe it's just me but I love when my readers feel like their hearts are being ripped apart because of what happened to my character. There's some part that laughs at their despair but mostly I take it as they saw my characters as real enough people to feel some amount of empathy towards them.

IMO, if that's what's got your readers in pitchforks, I'd say relish in the fact that you've made a real person to traverse the journey that is your story. I'm sure you'll get a plethora of readers who will respect her commitment and understand her struggles enough to relate.
 

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The idea that the only reason a job could be meaningful is high pay and/or promotion to an executive level is also questionable. Especially when the alternative also includes losing a lot of what we now consider basic human rights. Women stayed single for many very good reasosn then, in addition to the very good reasons that still exist today.
 

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Without reading it, it's hard for me to say why readers feel that they are set up.

Is there a particular goal she is working toward beside continuing as she is in her profession? For instance, does she want to be promoted to a higher position, or gain admittance to a special training program or something like that. Are the temptations to romance things that have serious consequences if she strays too far? Is there a point where she almost loses her position?

If the story is more focused on her maintaining a status quo while fending off determined suitors, it might feel like the set up for a romantic arc, or perhaps some happy workaround that will allow her to have her profession and a romance.

I think most readers would also be angry (nowadays, anyway) if she did meet some guy and decide she wants to give up being a nurse after all.
 

Fuchsia Groan

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Are readers falling in love with the character of the intern and wanting her to accept his proposal for that reason? Are they hooked on her sexual chemistry with the intern? Or is it more that they want her to have a romance on principle?—“It’s so sad; no one should be alone,” etc.? If the latter, I would find new readers who can accept the notion of a woman having higher priorities than romance.

If the former, it’s trickier. It sounds like you’ve done your job of setting up a conflict with stakes. There are a ton of 19th-century novels that hinge on the conflict of two characters wanting to be romantically together but restraining themselves because of duty, morality, etc. (Edith Wharton comes to mind.) That seems like a legit plot arc to me, but maybe it helps to be a little on the literary side so that readers aren’t expecting an HEA romance.
 
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ElaineA

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But back to volume 2, which takes place in 1933-34. During this year, she navigates both ordinary nursing school subjects and (for her first time) a social life. She experiences sexual attraction for the first time and finds the sensation novel and interesting. [My readers expect romance and are disappointed.]

Lily and her classmates learn--by various means--a most important message: that a young woman should never allow herself to be alone with a man. [my readers are amused.]

At one point, a friendly young intern proposes, and Lily finds that insulting. [My readers revolt.]

And finally, there's a strong likelihood that the nursing school will close down. For various reasons, Lily can't transfer to some other school, so yes, then marriage does seem a viable option, but then the school doesn't close, and she deserts the young man--whose already chosen another option anyway--and she returns to nursing wondering how she could ever have...etc. [My readers fly up in arms.]
I've been lurking in this thread, too. I really like the premise, @TellMeAStory.

After I read the OP, my kneejerk reaction was "there's something about the way Lily's situation is written that's giving off not-quite-right (for your story intention) vibes." Of course, mine is a completely UNinformed reaction, but I do know that a large chunk of non-romance readers say they don't want to be sucked into a romance subplot. People get Very Upset if they think someone is sneaking romance into their [Preferred Genre]. So the fact that Lily is eliciting these strong reader reactions--that they are invested in her romances--implies it's something about the writing.

Your description of the proposal-by-the-intern revolt seems to point to the issue. Just reading the brief description of that one, and knowing what your story is about, I can completely understand her insult. He, of all people, knows marrying him would mean losing her career, and yet he proposes. That your readers really didn't like the outcome there implies either they don't fully understand Lily, or they are willing to ignore the story setting, and/or they like the intern so much they want him to win her, regardless of her feelings. Their loyalties seem to be slipping to the love interests, not Lily.

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.

I agree with this, except I'm not convinced it does need to be invisible. There are plenty of history-set stories of women who are both interested in exploring their sexual desires (or not, maybe they just want to go about their lives unbothered by that aspect of their lives) while also demanding their careers and independence. Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series, and Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell Mysteries come immediately to mind. In both of those series, the FMC's bottom line on marriage and relationships is reinforced regularly throughout each of the stories. As a frequent reminder to the reader not to raise our expectations, and as a way of not losing the reader to unmet expectations.

I don't know if you are or are not fine with the responses you're getting, but if you do want to avoid them, it could be as simple as doing the "hit the reader over the head" thing. Repeatedly.
 

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</snip>

I agree with this, except I'm not convinced it does need to be invisible. There are plenty of history-set stories of women who are both interested in exploring their sexual desires (or not, maybe they just want to go about their lives unbothered by that aspect of their lives) while also demanding their careers and independence. Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series, and Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell Mysteries come immediately to mind. In both of those series, the FMC's bottom line on marriage and relationships is reinforced regularly throughout each of the stories. As a frequent reminder to the reader not to raise our expectations, and as a way of not losing the reader to unmet expectations.

I don't know if you are or are not fine with the responses you're getting, but if you do want to avoid them, it could be as simple as doing the "hit the reader over the head" thing. Repeatedly.

Oh, boy. Exploring a physical relationship in the 1930's? It seems like the most likely outcome is pregnancy. Which might have been more problematic than getting married for a 1930's era career woman. Which often ended up with a woman in the 1930's getting married. There was the knowledge to end a pregnancy, but often resulted in complications ranging from infections to death in some cases.

I am only aware of three methods of birth control in the 1930's, though there might have been others. The man involved would likely refuse to use a condom, the rhythm method is far from foolproof. As for the third method, it also relies on trusting the man and it is so unreliable that there is a joke that couples who rely in that method of birth control are called parents.

I could imagine her quitting, moving across country and raising a child as a "widowed wife". I can also imagine the father being the intern turned doctor as the newest hire at the hospital and counting the months/years of the child's age and coming to the correct conclusion based on the math.

I can also imagine her giving the newborn up for adoption, then moving across the country to a hospital where no one knew she had ever been an unwed mother.

Now, if it was set fifty years later, in the 1980's? No problem, not an issue whether she wanted to marry, be a single mother or just use various safe methods to prevent pregnancy while still keeping her nursing career.

Just ignore that elephant in the room, he's cleaning up the peanuts I spilled. Yes, in the 1980's that would also be a safe and effective option. In the 1930's it would probably not be safe, assuming she knew where to go or who to ask.
 
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Oh, boy. Exploring a physical relationship in the 1930's? It seems like the most likely outcome is pregnancy. Which might have been more problematic than getting married for a 1930's era career woman. Which often ended up with a woman in the 1930's getting married. There was the knowledge to end a pregnancy, but often resulted in complications ranging from infections to death in some cases.
Yanno, Brightly, it's possible to have a physical relationship with plenty of whoopee that doesn't actually entail tab A being inserted into slot B..... :D
 

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Some women are also sterile, as are some men.
 

CMBright

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Yanno, Brightly, it's possible to have a physical relationship with plenty of whoopee that doesn't actually entail tab A being inserted into slot B..... :D

A good point. But would men in the 1930's know that? Of course if the relationship happens to be sufficiently discreet between two her and another female nurse, that eliminates that one potential complication. And opens up others, if the secret gets out. Even between the character and a man, just the rumor could potentially end a career depending on the powers that be in that day and age.

If the "tadpoles" get close enough to swim for it, tab a doesn't even have to go into slot b for that rather visible complication to occur. D*** abstinence only education.

As for whether one partner is fertile or sterile, would the character be willing to bet a career on that? Trusting one is sterile sounds a lot like a character acting on the assumption she has plot armor.

Wasn't the question originally about romance vs. historic novel? We seem to have what if-ed awfully close to flat out erotica territory.
 

Woollybear

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And that could be another reason that health care appeals to her as a career.
 

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A good point. But would men in the 1930's know that? Of course if the relationship happens to be sufficiently discreet between two her and another female nurse, that eliminates that one potential complication. And opens up others, if the secret gets out. Even between the character and a man, just the rumor could potentially end a career depending on the powers that be in that day and age.

If the "tadpoles" get close enough to swim for it, tab a doesn't even have to go into slot b for that rather visible complication to occur. D*** abstinence only education.

As for whether one partner is fertile or sterile, would the character be willing to bet a career on that? Trusting one is sterile sounds a lot like a character acting on the assumption she has plot armor.

Wasn't the question originally about romance vs. historic novel? We seem to have what if-ed awfully close to flat out erotica territory.
I am pretty sure that in the 1930's, men knew:
How pregnancy occurs.
How things can be done orally.
How things can be done via the back door, shall we say.
 

ElaineA

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There are plenty of history-set stories of women who are both interested in exploring their sexual desires (or not, maybe they just want to go about their lives unbothered by that aspect of their lives) while also demanding their careers and independence. Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series, and Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell Mysteries come immediately to mind.
Um, this is all quite far afield from the OP, and since it seems to have sprung from my post, I feel obliged to point out that I wasn't suggesting Lily explore her sexual desires (although the OP does acknowledge that aspect of her character). I was mentioning two other historical series that do this (and how they accomplish confronting the expectation of romance) as support for the "bashing the reader over the head with Lily's primary motive" option. 🤷‍♀️
 

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Ooopsie. Sorry for the derail, OP!

But regardless, it sounds like a book I wanna read ;) So if you're looking for more beta readers to get additional feedback on the career/romance conundrum, please PM me.
 

WriteMinded

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How about this: She goes back to school, becomes a doctor and can then do whatever she likes.

Sorry, just kidding, but it is a possibility. It doesn't seem at all fair that nurses are prevented from having well-rounded lives, while doctors - in those times almost all men - are able to live however they pleas.e
 

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