Only five? I better make it the five things I need to remember when writing a romance. Maybe I need to start with – what is a romance? The story of two (or more) people (or vampires, shifters, angels, faeries, bookends etc) who meet, fall apart and then come back together for the happy ever after – or the happy for now at the very least.
1. The first meeting of the hero and heroine has to be something that resonates with the reader. It has to grip by the heart, by the lungs, by the--every bit of them you can get at. It has to make them gasp or laugh or sigh. If they don’t see that the characters are meant to be together from the start– even if you later drive them apart moments later-- then they won’t fall in love with them and carry on reading. One of my books starts with the hero pulling a splinter out of the heroine’s backside. Another has a werewolf falling down a hole and landing on a starving vampire. One of my favorite starts is in a book by Susan Elizabeth Phillips where the bride is getting married and forgets the groom’s name.
2. Make the hero and the heroine flawed. We all love bad boys and most heroes have a dark side but I like my heroines to have faults too. I’m sorry – but I just don’t get the kickass, I’m better than you heroines who waltz through stories with their sassy attitude and perfect everything. I probably make my characters too flawed but I like my heroine to NEED the hero. Doesn’t mean she has to be subservient, just that she’s someone the reader will identify with. And the guys? They have to be larger than life, good-looking (even with that odd scar or too), strong alpha males. The head turning sort, the ones that we all go – yum – to. I don’t mind if they’re nasty tempered, sulky, silent or sarcastic, so long as there is something about them that makes them vulnerable and capable of love with the right woman. I know a lot of writers plot out the characters carefully before starting to write. I don’t. I let the characters develop with the story. It works better for me that way but its just personal preference.
3. Plot matters too! Since I outlined above the basics of a romance as-- two meet, fall in love, fall apart and then come back together – what plot is needed other than that, you might cry. There’s not much that hasn’t been done in romance so you have to make your characters interesting enough and different enough to carry the basic plot. Which is why having them flawed helps. Conflict comes into this. I absolutely believe you have to create a strong reason for them to be kept apart – either through their own mistakes or failings, or through the actions of others. Strong conflict keeps readers turning pages and drives the story forward.
4. Humor. I want to read it and I want to write it. I love snappy dialogue. I love men who’re funny and women who give back as good as they get. I want readers to want the hero for themselves and to see themselves as the heroine. I hope readers laugh out loud at some parts of my books. This links to the desire to be entertaining. The whole point of reading anything fictional, let alone romance, is that it takes you away from your ordinary life. It lets you forget for a while that dishes need to be washed, ironing needs to be done, dog needs to be let out – excuse me a minute…so the stories and characters have to transport the reader to another world where everything will – see the next point…..
5. end Happy Ever After. All my stories are HEA. Not for me, the happy for now. I want my hero and heroine together and looking forward to what life is going to bring them. I want their lives to be happy because I want readers to believe that can happen for them too. I know plenty of great love stories end with hero or heroine or both dead – not mine. Ever.
6. Yes, I know I said five but how can I miss out –SEX. The level of sex in a romance can vary from sweet to full on erotic. I’ve noticed a tendency for ALL romances to have more detailed sex in them these days, just less than in an erotic romance and not so varied. Even thrillers and suspense novels seem to insert the obligatory scene or two. It’s hard to please all tastes over the amount of sex in a book. Too much for some, not enough for others. But the golden rule for me is that the story must stand without the sex, that the plot is complex enough, the characters interesting enough to carry the story and make people sigh when it ends.