Thursday, December 8

On Writing Romance

Romance is a formula genre. That is to say, generally speaking romance novels follow a pattern. Everybody knows it, and the genders of the players doesn't really matter.

Person A meets Person B. Their eyes lock across a crowded room... or some friend introduces them... or one they reach of the last box of Oreo cookies on the store shelf at the same time, and before you know it, sparks are flying. Of course, if that's all there was, it would be a pretty short story. No. Something has to get in between them. It can be an ex or even current lover/spouse, a Big Problem, like drug addiction or some friend who keeps interfering, or whatever. But there is always An Obstacle to overcome.

And they do.

And live Happily Ever After.

(There are some exceptions to the HEA rule, but I don't read those.)

So everyone knows several things going into a romance: the characters WILL fall in love and they WILL overcome whatever the writer throws in their way.

The challenge then for the writer becomes to make the ride interesting enough for the reader to keep reading even though she (or he) knows how the book is going to end. There have to be twists and turns along the way that surprise--but not shock--the reader. Most romance readers, at least I presume, don't read to be shocked. We (because I'm as much a reader as I am a writer) want a certain level of "predictable". I crave Happily Ever after. I simply do not read bittersweet. If I want a book with an ending I can't even begin to guess at, I read some other genre, or pick up a literary novel.

The challenge to the writer (in every genre) is also to make characters that the reader cares about. In romance, I want characters I can connect to and fall in love with. I want to be drawn into the story, so I'm crying and laughing and feeling that fluttery feeling in my stomach as the characters progress from that first meeting to that eventual white picket fence.

Which isn't to say characters are perfect. Just like real people, they leave their dirty coffee cups all over the house and don't have the faintest idea what a coaster is for. They're fully rounded. Human.

Even if he happens to be a werewolf or an alien.

So, when somebody tells me that writing romance is "easy", I just smile and nod. If they only knew... my job is to follow the formula that readers expect and STILL make it fresh and entertaining.

On the suggestion of another writer, I just picked up Amy Lane's Living Promises, and I've gotta say that so far I'm loving it. (Of course I think I'd do better if I'd read Promise Rock first. There are a lot of secondary characters that I don't know as well as I might like. I'm going to have to go back and pick up Promise Rock, which I'd glossed over but not put on my wish list.

But Living Promises is a good example of what makes a romance a great read. I know there will be a happy ending. I know that Jeff will get over his emotional baggage and let Collin into his heart. I don't know how, but I know the end will make me happy because within two chapters, I'm in love with both boys and I *want* them to have a happy ending.

Oh, and I love Jeff's kitties.  ;-) 

Sigh. And now I'm off to work.

This weekend is going to be spent working on the ghost book... it's seriously feeling like a "real" job!


Anonymous said...

Writing romance may not be easy, but you make it look that way!

H.B. Pattskyn said...

Thanks, Christine!! Let's hope you say that after you see next week's submission. I started the story literally a week ago (and it's already taken a twisty-turn that I wasn't expecting. Dratted characters. Always zigging when I want them to zag!)