So I released another romance novella, From the Boots Up, on March 8 on Kindle.
I’ve gotten quite a few nice comments about it, including a few that want more of the main characters. Well, have no fear. I do have something else in mind. 😀
Anyway, that got me thinking. I don’t really have a reputation as a romance writer. I do put romance in the mysteries and sci fi that I write, but I haven’t published a full-length novel that’s romance. The freebie short stories on my site here are romance (with the exception of one much racier one), and the two novellas I’ve indie published are romance.
So…what gives? Should I consider myself a romance writer, too? Or a writer who occasionally does some romance? I’m not entirely sure, since I’m never sure I’m writing to the formula that people want to read in a romance. Yeah, that’s right. Like space opera and mystery, romance has formulas, too. Actually, a lot of writing venues argue that there’s one predominant formula. I think that could be true in some circumstances, but things have certainly expanded over the years.
Where am I going with this? Click on!
Specifically, Leigh Michaels wrote in Writer’s Digest in 2008:
What romance novels have in common is this: A romance novel is the story of a man and a woman who, while they’re solving a problem that threatens to keep them apart, discover that the love they feel for each other is the sort that comes along only once in a lifetime; this discovery leads to a permanent commitment and a happy ending.
That’s it. That’s the formula.
And even then, there are exceptions. For instance, there are gay romances, and there are romances that don’t include a permanent commitment as part of the ending.
So basically, there is sort of a formulaic canon to writing romance. But what’s neat is how different writers use it, and how they interpret it. That’s why there are so many subgenres now within romance.
[source: Leigh Michaels, “Studying the Romance Novel,” Writers Digest online (July 9, 2008)]
So how about F/F romance? Which is what I write when I do romance. I’d propose that the formula(s) go kind of like this:
1. Girl meets girl
2. Something interferes with the attraction, like
a. the two can’t stand each other, but there’re sparks underneath it all
b. one is involved or is perceived to be involved
c. one is ostensibly straight
d. one is kind of a “player” and the other is not
e. one (or both) have some kind of issue from the past
f. one has a secret but doesn’t tell the other
g. one has some kind of issue, period, with hooking up
3. So the reader wonders: will these two hook up? Will it work?
4. They live happily ever after, or the reader thinks they could.
What’s cool is there are any number of twists you can put on those aspects of the formula. Suppose, for example, you’re writing some awesome historical romance and you’ve got one of your love interest characters masquerading as a man in 18th century France. She falls for the noblewoman, who is attracted to her, as well, BUT doesn’t realize that the man of her dreams is actually a woman. Any number of things could be done to unravel that puppy.
Don’t let that formula fool you, though. I think writing a good romance is really difficult, because you need to write engaging characters and strong dialogue. That’s going to be a large part of their interaction at first, after all. Talking. Back-and-forth with quips or barbs or whatever type of dialogue it needs to evoke the particular chemistry they have. And a writer needs to effectively capture the evolution of this attraction through the characters and dialogue, and convince a reader that these two have something between them, that there are some fireworks here, and that these characters are interesting enough that you want to follow them and find out if they do, in fact, get together.
I approach writing romance like I do writing mystery. Getting a couple of characters to act on their attraction to each other is sort of like solving a mystery. How is it going to happen? What are the characters going to do or not do? How are they going to interact? What clues will they leave for the reader to determine what direction this is going to go? And is this scenario believable? Are the characters believable?
And, most importantly, is it a story that a reader will want to read again? Will they like those characters enough to want to go through it again with them? That, to me, means a romance has done its job, if a reader misses the characters when it’s over.
So. Am I a romance writer? Hell, I don’t know. I’m a writer who does, on occasion, write romance. Maybe that’s the best way to put it. Regardless, it’s been a great experience for me, to expand my chops a bit writing longer romance stories. I’m finding that I rather enjoy it. So I guess I’ll see where this takes me.
And may your own journeys be groovy, too.
Happy reading, happy writing!