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.