October 02, 2009

Popular Article on How to Write a Successful Chinese Romance Novel, Part 1

(Book Cover of One Romance Novel...are both of them guys?)

More accurately, the original full title is "Fast-Track Course on Writing of High Click-Through Rate, Psycholagnic Fiction" (Chinese: 高点击率的意淫小说之写作速成)

For anyone--man, woman, it doesn't matter--who is aspiring to become a profitable Romance novel writer in China. Or anywhere.

Note: What is happening now in the Chinese light novel publishing business is that most plots follow certain patterns, and this is probably true in other countries too. There are a few templates targeting female readership, and a few targeting the male readership. Not only are these high repetitive novels hugely popular, but such genres also have higher chances of being selected for publication. To date, the industry has already catapulted several post-70 and post-80 writers to millionaire levels (70 and 80 refer to the birth year)

Author: Knight (Chinese: 骑士), "I" in the article
Translator: PH

The term "high click-through rate" refers to the wildly popular, frequently lauded, and often re-posted books one reads on websites like Sina, Tianya, or Jinjiang. The term "Psycholagny" (Chinese: 意淫, Yi Yin, or YY) refers to a special type of novel, often written by female authors, in which the entire story revolves around the emotional entanglements between 1 female and more than 2 male characters. I do not dislike these novels, which make the readers drool, the blood boil, and allow readers to gain certain gratifications vicariously. They add some rose-colored romance to people's mundane daily lives.

The ancestor of YY novels is Qiong Yao (Chinese: 琼瑶, Bio here). But Xi Juan (Chinese: 席绢, Chinese Bio here) is the person that can claim the most profound impact on this genre and the most significant contribution to the development of YY stories in China mainland. Two of Xi Juan's books, Climbed the Wrong Sedan Chair, Married the Wrong Guy and Love Across Time and Space, are veritable classics. And I am sure every single one of the girls here have read them (Boys, I am not referring to you)

To write a successful, psycholagnic fiction that enjoys high readership, one essentially needs to possess two personality traits. The first is imagination in abundance, and also the courage to turn these fantasies into words, no matter how ludicrous and farcical. The Key Word is COURAGE. I wrote countless stories about love between myself and Richard Clayderman at the age of 14, but because I lost courage and felt embarrassed about these fantasies, I can only stand by now as others publish their stories one by one and collect profit. The second important trait that the writer must have is the tendency to abuse the girl character--the heroine by definition revels in pain and perseveres. This virtuous quality is not to be scoffed at, because it is same in nature as the those shining characteristics observed on the persons of Yue Fei and other national heroes [and will naturally attract readers].

Yesterday, I read the novel Dream of Going Back to the Qing Dynasty (Chinese: 梦回大清), and loved it! Since I derived the idea of writing this crash course from the very same book, I shall use it as an example to explain how a female literary intellectual should go about generating a successful YY novel.

Book synopsis first: The book Dream of Going Back to the Qing Dynasty has as its backdrop the brutal fights for rights of succession among the many sons of Kang Xi, fourth emperor of Qing Dynasty. Those who read Er Yue He's (Chinese:二月河) Kang Xi Emperor will be no stranger to this period in history. The crown prince was Kang Xi's second son, but there are others who aspire to take the throne, notably the fourth and the eight sons. Each of them has his own supporters. #13 supports #4; #9, #10, and #14 all support #8 (PH: Yes, Kang Xi was a stud). The story is about a 25 year-old woman from modern China whose soul mysteriously traveled back to the Qing Dynasty and took possession of a Manchurian girl's body. She was so lovely that #4, #8, #13, and #14 all became madly infatuated after meeting her. After much internal turmoil the girl accepted the love of #13, who was motherless and much neglected when he was young and continued to be unlucky after he reached adulthood.

Now that the synopsis is out of the way. I will talk about character building in a YY novel.

1. The Heroine.
An heroine in the YY novels will typically be described as "not very pretty, but very special/unique". I can tell you straight up that this description is bullshit. The baseline trait for any heroine is that she must be pretty. By pretty I don't mean you and me pretty, but rather, stardom pretty. Authors like to use the particular phrase "清秀佳人" (good-looking lady), because it emphasizes both a pleasing countenance and a pleasant temperament. It also implies that the main character is not a bimbo, but has big breasts as well as a large brain. Or as the current fashion trend dictates, tiny breasts but a lot of brain matter, because camisoles and big chests do not go well together.

At this point the reader might ask, "why not just say she is beautiful?" The answer is: don't be such a stickler to details. What you need to learn is this type of highly advanced writing technique. What you don't want to do is madden the readers, who in the end are all ordinary, "not very pretty but very unique". So by using the same description for the female protagonist, we remove potential feelings of jealousy that readers might have towards the characters, as well as any obstacles that might be present when the readers try to identify themselves with the heroines. From the point of view of the writers, this is an classic move, because it greatly enhances the readers' vicarious experiences and hence enjoyment of the stories.

A second necessary trait for the female protagonist is that she must be spirited and lively, but she cannot be fat or muscular. The number I set down for weight is 50kg. If the heroine exceeds it, she is considered a pitiful fat girl, even if her body is well proportioned. Girls who weigh more than 50kg cannot survive in China. They can, however, immigrate to the U.S., where they will be considered petite and sweet. Their dresses there will all be size 0 or generally tiny, and everybody will praise their physiques...great for boosting one's self-esteem. So if you truly love a >50kg girl, send her to U.S. That's a paradise.

The third trait is the ability to endure both mental and/or physical abuses. We describe the two kinds separately.

First, mental abuse. When attending parties in the mansions of rich aristocratic ladies, the heroine will undoubtedly receive malicious and cold words. The right way to act in these situations is to be cool and uncaring, retaliating only when the verbal abuses go overboard. The retaliation must be swift and so well constructed that it cannot be rebutted in any way. I emphasize: the key difference between a female protagonist and a female antagonist is her caution, her ability to keep cool, because a good heroine knows how gossipy and maligning servants can be behind her backs.

Second, physical abuse. We are not talking about the basic "heroine getting beat up by female antagonist", but something much deeper. For example: in the Dream, when #4 is giving the girl a strangle hold on her wrist, the correct way to respond is to softly say "Please, let go. You are hurting me." This is one typical way to tide over the storyline. Another great one is the male protagonist "gripping my jaw", so that "I am forced to look up to his dark pupils." And due to all these "physical attacks," the heroin usually has many bruises, with neck, wrist, fingers, jaw, and other exposed areas wearing most of the damages. By the way, the girl must have a dainty wrist, because a dainty wrist excites powerful feelings in males.

In this aspect, Xi Juan did far better than most modern writers, despite of the fact she is one of the earliest players in the romance novel scene. Her characters always have hickies over their entire bodies, and the stock exclamation goes like this: "How can I walk out of this door tomorrow? It is so embarrassing". The tone here is also crucial, resignation warring with satisfaction. To prevent such embarrassment, Xi Juan later invented a clear, fragrant ointment as special treatment for hickies. Note: Tiger Balm is not okay in romance novels, because it stinks!

Fourth, although heroines possess admirable wisdom, their cerebellum should be extremely underdeveloped, even atrophied, so that they have a lamentable sense of balance. This is to ensure that in YY novels, the heroine becomes involved in all sorts of accidents--falling into a pond, stepping on other people's toes--thereby giving the males more than enough opportunities to save and hold her (remember, these accidents serve as preludes to sexier episodes). Beware, however, that the first time the woman is being held, the man must pause out of surprise (怔了一怔), and the woman will struggle to escape the embrace (挣扎着起来). When she turns her head to look at the man behind her, she will see him looking at her with great interest (充满了兴趣的凝视着我) . At this point, all experienced romance novel readers will realize that the heroine have captivated yet another male creature.

Finally, the most important trait of all: the heroine must be an innocent, also known as virgin. Why? Jia Baoyu summarized very well in the famous Dream of the Red Chamber, girls are pearls prior to marriage and fish eyes after. My understanding of this greatly deepened after reading Dream of Going Back to the Qing Dynasty. Before that girl married #13, I read very carefully. Once they married, I started skimming. The moral is, my dear students, if you want to maintain a high readership number, delay weddings till the very end! Dream of Going Back to the Qing Dynasty has provided us with an example of what not to do. Don't repeat it!

Last word of caution. Sex scenes must not be vulgar or graphic, because we are after all female literary intellectuals. What we can write about is "roughness" (not "rudeness"), "perspiration", and "pain". Take care to emphasize this masculine strength, because it contrasts nicely with the feminine willowy gentleness.

2. Male Protagonists
Usually these novels will have male character #1, male character #2, and male character #3. Whereas we can never say the heroine is beautiful, male characters have to be as handsome as humanly possible. In addition, male character #1 and male character #2 must be the opposite of each other. Here are some combination for thought: if one is playful, the other must be mature; if one is young, the other must be experienced; if one is full of enthusiasm, the other must be glacial; if one is direct, the other must be roundabout; when one "has my wrist in a viselike grip" in full view of everyone, the other must have "my wrist in a viselike grip" while no one is looking; when one claims loud and clear "I must have you", the other will say in a low husky voice "I want whatever he wants", and the list goes on. (The truth is, translating this ultra-long list is too exhausting= =||).

Faced with so many excellent catches, the heroine will sincerely agonize over the choice she must make, instead of gloating like the rest of us shallow creatures.

When I was reading the Dream of Going Back to the Qing Dynasty, I did not care so much for the status of the male main characters, who are sons of an emperor, nor did I did feel overjoyed at "being loved by such an important man". But, then, I started associating the characters with grandsons of Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong. Wah, I thought, Chiang Kai-shek's grandson is so handsome (interested persons can google his photos). Mao's grandson...ha...ha...ha...you know the weather is so nice today.

Imagine, my dear students, that there are at least 4 men like Chiang's grandson who are smitten with you and promised to cherish you. Readers with less self-control will probably drift to the sky. The substitution/association effect is that powerful.

Now back to the male main character. Because his lover is accident-prone, he must be very sturdy, as not to suffer any deformation when he gets squashed by, sat on, stepped on by the heroine, or when trying to rescue her. He must have dark arresting eyes, so that he may gaze meltingly at her for prolonged periods of time. Although he loves her to the exclusion of all else, he must have personal ambitions or be accomplished professionally, and his life before she came along should be full of hardships and difficulties, in order to draw out her motherly instincts. He should maintain the same level of enthusiasm throughout their lives together, because it is not right for the heroine to be bored to death just because they married. He also has to be strong; this is the only way to make so many "marks" on her body and to "lie atop of her like some mountain" (一座无形的山一样压下来). Mostly importantly, the male main character must acquire disease or injury at least once in the book, only to be faithfully nursed back to health by the heroine. All of these are indispensable elements of a YY novels, and students should definitely commit all to heart if they don't want to waste their tuition.


The main content ends here. Next will be a short quiz (plus solutions).

Popular Article on How to Write a Successful Chinese Romance Novel, Part 2

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