Romantically inclined

My first one and a half novels were love stories. The plots were rather convoluted, and they strayed from the acceptable norm of romantic novels in lots of ways, but basically, they followed the traditional rules of romantic fiction. Even though the storylines featured fraud, death and dishonesty the stories were, at their hearts, romances.

The new novel, however, features much unpleasantness and a lot of humour, but I’m struggling to identify the romantic thread. With this in mind, I revisited the accumulated advice on writing romantic fiction to decide, once and for all, if what I was writing could be considered a romance.

A romantic novel should include all the usual must-haves that make a successful novel:

  • Strong characters. A romance is about a relationship between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, so a hero and a heroine are pretty basic requirements. To make things more interesting, their relationship will be fraught with:-
  • Conflict. This is not about physical aggression; it’s more about a situation that keeps, or threatens to keep, the hero and heroine apart. How they resolve the conflict is the crux of the story, so it needs to be introduced early on. We, the readers, learn about this conflict through:-
  • Dialogue. As a rule of thumb, a good, pacy novel should be 60% dialogue and 40% narrative. Dialogue brings your characters to life and allows your readers to feel they are part of the story as it unfolds. It creates dramatic tension by introducing misunderstandings, and by showing the moods and anxieties of the characters, it reveals their:-
  • Passion and sensuality. Not necessarily sex scenes; these certainly have their place, though only if you’re confident you can write them well. I’m hopeless at them, so I avoid them, and leave my characters at the bedroom door, so to speak. Passion is about strength of feeling and you need to employ all your senses to write about it. Sensuality starts with a spark of interest. How this builds, and to what level it develops, is up to you, but keep it appropriate to the story. You’re aiming to create a believable atmosphere full of texture.
  • Imperfections. No one is perfect, least of all your hero or heroine, and to portray them as such will not result in a satisfying read. Your characters need to be sympathetic and believable, so they will necessarily have failings and vulnerabilities, which will add to the conflict and introduce the:-
  • Black Moment. Most romances have happy endings and it’s useless to buck the trend. But before then, there needs to be some doubt. The reader needs to have a few misgivings that things may not work out. Cleverly laid red herrings, misunderstandings and confusion create suspense. They put our heroes in situations that could have several outcomes, not all of them good, and keep the reader guessing.
  • Happy Ending. In all good romances, the ending is satisfying and above all, credible. It must fit the story and be the best result for the characters that your readers have got to know. It will not do to present your readers with a finale that is so utterly unbelievable that she throws the books across the room in disgust.

Actually, I don’t think I’m writing a romance at all.


8 thoughts on “Romantically inclined

  1. I can’t say either of my works fall in the romance category, either—not even as a cross genre. The main characters do have significant others/spouses, but their relationships aren’t the main focus of the story. But the elements you describe are, indeed, all critical to any good book. 🙂

  2. From what I have seen, many people misunderstand the difference between ‘love’ and ‘lust’ to the point that while reading a romance novels, it suddenly (and awkwardly, at times) feels like it went from romance straight to erotica, without warning.

    Of course, there are times when love and lust and romance and erotica hold hands and cuddle one another, but the difference between them should also be understood before a writer attempts such a piece, of either combination.

    It seems you have the decision to make, of whether you will weave in some moments of romance, or simply let it be what it has become.

    • Some writers, particularly of womens fiction, think they have to include erotic passages to keep their readers interested, but they don’t always ring true or even sit comfortably with the rest of the story. I’ve recently abandoned an early crime novel by a well-thought of English author because the blatant sexual descriptions got in the way of the story. They were there to illustrate what drove one of the main characters but they just went too far. I’m not a prude (but maybe saying that makes me one!).

      I’m no better at writing erotica than I am at romance – even reading stuff like ’50 Shades of Grey’ makes me cringe (for all sorts of reasons, and most of these have nothing to do with the excess of sexual imagery!) So much badly written stuff sells because of its purient nature.

      • Practice makes perfect. It makes sense to write and practice what interests you, though; that’s usually how the game is played.

        I guess, in some cases with writing, it’s more often the thought that counts, rather than the way the message is conveyed.

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