WHAT IS A ROMANCE?
So you want to write a romance novel? In these articles, I will attempt to give you the practical tools to construct a romance novel, including creating characters, coming up with conflict, forming a plot, and selling the book after it’s finished. What I can’t do is write the book for you, but that’s a good thing because only YOU can write a story from your point of view with your experiences.
Part of the beginner’s problem is feeling that they can’t come up with an original idea as everything seems to have been done—well, it has! Forget about being original – every plot has already been thought of and every story has already been written. But don’t let that depress you! Take heart from that and realize that you are a unique individual with a unique way of telling your particular story. And writing romance is fun, fulfilling and relatively easy once you understand how to break down the process.
It’s a bit like baking a cake—looking at an iced masterpiece in a cookery book can be daunting, but you find a recipe, buy the ingredients, measure them out and follow the instructions, and hey presto! You’ve baked a cake! Well hopefully these articles will give you the recipe and tell you what ingredients you need and how you need to mix them together. What the finished result looks like is up to you.
First of all, let’s talk romance. When I began writing, I was puzzled when someone told me Romeo and Juliet is not a romance. What? That made no sense to me. In many ways, it is one of the most romantic stories of love and loss, and it never fails to make me cry. How can it not be a romance? Well, that is because I was confusing “romance” with a story that has “romantic” elements.
A romance is a story that focuses on the growing relationship between the main characters—be that a man and a woman, two people of the same sex, more than two, or even a vampire and a werewolf! The story can have other sub-plots, but the focus is always on the central relationship, and it always--always—has what we in the business call a HEA—a Happily Ever After. (The exception is pure erotica, which doesn’t necessarily have to have a HEA as it focuses purely on the sexual side of the relationship rather than on the emotional side. But this is the exception. With all other romance, the emotion MUST come first, and therefore the characters have to have their HEA.) Romeo and Juliet has romantic elements—it focuses on the relationship of the hero and heroine—but it does not have the obligatory HEA so therefore, technically speaking, it is not a romance.
What you must understand is when you write genre fiction, you enter into an agreement with the reader that you are going to provide the certain elements the genre requires. Genre fiction came into being to make it easier for readers to find the kind of books they like. I also write epic fantasy, and there are certain aspects of this genre a reader expects, such as a large cast of characters, a vaguely medieval setting, and heroes going on an adventure in a fantasy world. Some people say keeping to these elements means a genre stagnates, and it is important to challenge and change these aspects to keep a genre fresh. However, if I write an epic fantasy that isn’t set in a medieval-style period, that features one main character, and that deals with low stakes and realistic problems, is it still epic fantasy? I would argue it isn’t, and readers come to the genre because they want to see these elements.
And it’s the same with romance. Readers want to follow the growing relationship between two main characters, and if they invest time and emotion in your book and get to the end only to find Mr. Right dumps the girl and runs off with his secretary, they’re not going to be very happy! The best-case scenario is they won’t buy any more of your books; the worst-case scenario is they’ll write a horrible one star review and tell all of their friends not to touch your stories. If you want to write a romantic tale that doesn’t have a predictable happy ending, you’ll need to make it clear in the title and cover and blurb of your book that it’s not a romance but has romantic elements, otherwise your readers will be disappointed.
Because of this, romance has often been accused of being formulaic, especially what is called category romance (more of this later). To a certain extent, this accusation is valid. Here’s the formula: Hero and Heroine meet, enter into relationship, gradually fall in love, hit big problem and break up, realize they can’t live without each other, and get back together again, this time forever. Boiled down to its bare essentials, that’s basically the plot of nearly every romance novel. What’s the point in writing a story where the reader already knows what the end will be when they begin reading? Because, like sex, it’s not all about the end result. It’s about the journey. A romance novel is basically fifty thousand words or more of foreplay (now we’re talking!) It’s about tempting and teasing the reader, and about exploring the growing emotional (and often sexual) relationship of the main characters. But yes, ultimately it is formulaic.
However, this relationship can be explored in a huge amount of ways, in a vast variety of settings, in different time periods, with an emphasis on suspense or paranormal elements, and from a very sweet way (with no physical contact or only kissing, and concentrating on the emotional aspect of the developing relationship) to full erotica, and every shade of grey in between.
Tip 1: Make sure it's definitely a romance
If you want to write a romance, make sure you’re focusing your story on the developing relationship between your hero and heroine. And don’t forget it has to have a Happily Ever After!
So now we’ve discussed what a romance actually is, next time I’ll talk about romance as a genre. We love it. Our readers love it. But not everyone holds it in such high regard. How is that going to affect what you write?
Go to The Magic Button 2: Why write romance?
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