Thursday, February 12, 2009

Things A Romance Needs

posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy

My local branch of the California Writers' Club (an organization founded in 1909 by Jack London) has asked me to speak at their February meeting. My topic? Why, writing a romance novel, of course!

So as I was working on my presentation, I knew I'd need to distill a lot of information into a short timeframe for this group who write non-fiction and fiction in all lengths and genres. They want me to give them guidelines or a recipe for what to include in a romance novel. So here is my list of ingredients, things a romance novel needs:

  • Three dimensional characters with believable goals and motivations. Not everyone has to be beautiful/handsome (in spite of what most covers show). Many romance novels have a less-than-perfect hero or heroine with any number of “undesirable” traits, and this can actually be a good thing. The reader needs to identify with the characters, feel sympathy/empathy for them, which might not be so easy for someone who appears perfect.
  • Conflict, again believable within the context of the story. Conflict can be internal, external or a combination of both. But the stakes need to be high and they need to escalate as the story progresses.
  • Accuracy. This doesn’t just apply to historical romances. It is crucial to get facts correct. For example, my heroine in The Wild Sight doesn’t need to worry about running into a snake in the fens because there are no snakes in Ireland, or alligators, or wolves. Even in a fantasy setting, things that happen must make sense within the context of the world created. So if there’s been no previous mention of flying horses, one better not swoop in and save our hero and heroine during the black moment!
  • Compelling or unique plot or storyline. ‘Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back’ is not going to cut it. This is where our editor's favorite subject, "the hook" comes into play. If the boy or girl is a shape-shifter, a psychic, or an alien, lots of unique storylines present themselves. Just about anything goes in current romance novels, so don't suppress your imagination!
  • Love, hope, and the promise of happiness. Don’t we all need and want those?

Do you have any 'needs' to add to my list? What are some of your favorite ingredients in romance novels? And don't forget to check back here on Saturday when we announce the WINNERS of our pitch contest!

EXCITING P.S. I just found out that my debut The Wild Sight is the 3rd place winner in the Houston RWA "Judge A Book By Its Cover" contest! THANK YOU, Sourcebooks Art Department for creating my beautiful cover!

26 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree with you more, sometime it's the less than perfect that makes it all the more perfect.

    I'm a reader, reviewer and all my abandoned books are the books that character seem all too perfect with too much of a predictable plot or scenario.

    Thanks for this post - brilliant

    Hope all goes well with your talk.


    E.H.

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  2. Whether I'm reading it or writing it, the story has to have characters who are compatible with one another. It doesn't matter if they're on People's Most Beautiful list or are so average they blend into the background, if they don't have chemistry, the story won't, either. I don't ever want to read something (or have someone read something of mine) and think, Why are these people together? I want (people) to think, When the heck are they getting together? Because, you know, they're burning up the pages with their foreplay and you know the book is going to explode when they...well, I'll leave that to your imagination.

    Margay

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  3. What can I say, AC? You've covered it all. Have fun with your presentation!

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  4. Great post, Aunty. The only thing I can think to add is that the heroine has to be smart and capable--no TSTL heroines in romance! (Too Stupid to Live)

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  5. I'm going to add a personal "must have." Touches of humor.

    I didn't become a romance fan until I discovered that in addition to including all the components you have detailed for us, romance novels were leavened with a good bit of humor.

    Humor in all its forms is notoriously difficult to define, and yet, like art, we know it when we see it. Most romances aren't comedy and romance humor can range from dry wit to zany characters to wry comments on the human condition. Whatever form it comes in, I believe it's inclusion in romance novels is so much a given, that we don't think to list it.

    SEALed With a Kiss garnered some raves but only a few reviewers mentioned my use of humor. And yet, the first comment my non-romance-reading friends made about it was, "This book is funny!"

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  6. This may be implied in your other requirements but I thought I'd spell it out. RESOLUTION. I want all the threads tied up. If there's a mystery or suspense component, I want it solved and solved well. No pat, one-liners. If an author intentionally leaves a thread dangling, I want to know it's because there will be a sequel and the matter will be addressed. The HEA or the promise of an HEA is a given, but there are many other components to the plot. They're like dangling participles if there's no resolution.

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  7. Great post, Aunty! I was going to say humor, but someone beat me to it.

    Robin :)

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  8. Ooh! I want a flying horse!! Think one could have plausibly existed in the Regency?

    I suppose my formula has been different since I am writing a sequel. But now I am working on a more 'traditional' romance, set in the Regency and still involving a Darcy, but I am looking at all these tricks that were not a part of my series. It is fun! And I have all of you and your novels to give me clues. So thanks! Very good blog essay for today.

    And I agree about the humor. I have given most of my characters varying degrees of humor, some who are downright crazy and eccentric, and adding the humor of life as well. Best way to write, IMHO.

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  9. Have fun with your presentation! No wolves in Ireland??? Okay, got to do something about that. :) You've heard of Werewolves of London, right? Well, seems that we could have Werewolves of Londonderry! :) That's where some of my ancestors were from. :)

    Great post and you'll do a super job on your presentation!!

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  10. Thanx EH,
    As all who know me can testify, I LURVE to talk! Yes, I'm one of those weird people who actually thinks public speaking is lots of fun, WHEN I know my subject. That's definitely the case here.

    Don't know if you like historical romance, but our own Michele Ann Young has two wonderful Regencies from Casablanca that feature "less-than-perfect" and therefore PERFECT characters.

    Appreciate your comments and support,
    AC

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  11. Hey Margay!

    You are sooo right about the "chemistry" factor. I can't tell you how many movies I've watched with two big name stars and they fell FLAT because there was NO SPARK between them. "Chemistry" is one of those things so hard to define, but if it's not there, you immediately know it!

    And OOO HOO! We all have very good imaginations around here, so thanx for the morning FUN! ;-)

    AC

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  12. Hey Cheryl,
    You need to enter your books in JABBIC contest next year. They have a category for sexiest, and Rogue certainly qualifies IMO!

    AC

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  13. You are SOOO RIGHT, Marie!
    Nothing will make me put down a book faster than a TSTL character (Usually the heroine but I've even seen a few heroes who qualify).

    I think I've mentioned that the DH and I watch a lot of movies on DVD. Now even he will mutter, "TSTL" when that happens on screen. :-)

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  14. MM and Robin,
    Humor IS a very important ingredient and thank you for mentioning it! While I definitely don't write comedy of feel that I have a comedic voice (I'll leave that difficult stuff to YOU, Robin. You do it so well!), I do give my characters a sense of humor. It usually shows up in their dialogue or mannerism, and more often than not tends to be on the dry/snarky side. Hmmmm, wonder where that came from?!?! ;-)

    AC

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  15. Silver,
    Thanx for bringing up a RESOLUTION. I bring up HEA early on in my presentation, but you're right, that is not necessarily the same as resolving the plot. Appreciate your input.

    Lucky for me, my CP is a former English teacher so she never lets me dangle a participle or misplace any of my modifiers. :-)

    AC

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  16. Hey Sharon,
    If you wanna put a flying horse in your book that is A-OKAY with me! And we have all our lovely Casa paranormal authors (hmmm, I guess technically I'm one of those!) to give your advice and feedback on writing paranormal elements.

    Our EDITOR, however, may have a different opinion. LOL!

    I love eccentric characters, as long as they aren't so far out there that I can't "buy" their behavior. And let's face it, I'm pretty far "out there" myself so it would take a lot to reach my limit of disbelief. ;-)

    AC

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  17. Terry,
    Thanx for the vote of confidence!

    And just because there are no wolves in present day Ireland does NOT mean there aren't shapeshifters bounding all over the countryside, or even the city. LOL!

    WATCH OUT FOR FLYING HORSES!

    AC

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  18. I love this post - wish you guys would do a feature post ...

    All the points are spot on and it gives me a fresh eyes to look at books when I review them.

    I have just read Sealed With A Kiss and humour plays such a great part in a book.

    Going to hunt down all the books recommended here.

    Thanks - great blog

    E.H.

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  19. Popping in from Sydney Australia, just to say Hi and add an ingredient to the pot - a sizzling romance!
    Great question and some really amazing answers.

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  20. I agree this advice sounds like a wonderful book to read for me.

    I really enjoy reading a book where the hero or heroine are not perfect and I loved both of Michele's books and yours of course.

    Have FUn
    Helen

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  21. EH,
    Thanx again for your comments and appreciate your compliments! We have such a wonderful variety of books from Casa, I'm sure you'll find many more to your liking. Do check back in and let us know! Or you can always email us. :-)

    AC

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  22. Hey Michele!
    GREAT to hear from you and hope you are having a WONDERFUL time DownUnder! Give us all the details when you get back.

    AC

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  23. Hey Helen,
    Can't thank you enough for being such a wonderful FAN of TWS and the other Casa books! Readers like you make it all worthwhile!

    HUGS!!!
    AC

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  24. I like characters that are believable, a good storyline and a snappy dialogue is always good for me.

    I am reading a new release by a fav author of mine and very disappointed as the hero is not likeable at all and I can't say much for the heroine as she puts up with his behavior.

    Pat L.

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  25. I need strong believable characters with a snappy dialogue and a good storyline.

    I am reading a book now by a fav author of mine and I am not liking it all - the hero is not likable at all and I heroine is putting up with too much garbage from the hero.

    Happy Valentine's Day to All.

    Pat L.

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