Just a quick announcement – the winner of the drawing for the online course at Lawson Writer’s Academy is . . . Jamie Beck!
Writers in the Storm welcomes Shannon Donnelly to clarify what a book needs to land on the romance shelf. If your WIP a genre “fence-sitter” or if your romance could be shelved in another area, Shannon has answers and help.
by Shannon Donnelly
This recently came up on a message thread. A writer had her manuscript kicked back for not being a romance. I also just read a book recently that billed itself as paranormal romance, and while it was paranormal, it wasn’t a romance. Just what makes novel a romance?
The confusion comes in that you can have sex in your story, you can have a relationship in your story, but you still might not really have a romance novel. Why is this?
1-The most important factor is that the romance has to be the main plot line—all conflict and all tension need to come from “will they or won’t they make it as a couple.” This means if you have two characters having sex, but the real conflict comes from the world ending, or werewolves taking over the world, or spies out to bring down the country, you don’t have a romance. You have an action story with some sex in it. Same goes for having a relationship between two characters, but having all the conflict exist outside that relationship. So if you have a pair of vampire hunters in a relationship, or a pair of cops, or a married couple solving mysteries in Victorian London, chances are you have an Urban Fantasy, or a police procedural or a mystery with some romantic elements—but it’s not a romance. And if you have a couple in a relationship, but lots of stuff going on around them, you might have Women’s Fiction, but not a romance.
Just remember—the romance, the notion of “will they or won’t they make it as a couple” must be the core, main plot line. If your two main characters are not struggling to figure out how to make a relationship work between them, it’s not a romance.
2-Now what about married couples—can you have a romance there? Sure. Think of all the marriage of convenience stories or the second chance at love stories with a couple who has divorced. Those stories work as a romance because the core plot line is “will they or won’t they make it as a couple.” Other subplots can exist, but they serve to support or weave into that main romance plot line. The romance is always about a character that may not be able to fall in love and be happy with his or her partner.
3-In a romance the conflict for “will they or won’t they make it as a couple” needs to focus on one protagonist. Why? Because this makes for a stronger romance. In any romance, the main character needs to be unable to have a happy relationship at the start of the story and needs to change enough that the reader believes that character can now stay with his or her partner and be happy. That is the core story arc for a romance. This is why you have so many rake reformed stories—it’s a redemption story within the romance. This is also why you have so many stories of a woman’s emotional awakening—it’s a redemption story again. If your protagonist does not change enough, the reader will not believe the romance.
4-In a romance, the main protagonist needs to have internal issues that cause the romantic conflict of “will they or won’t they make it as a couple.” This is where you get the damaged hero who cannot commit, or the starchy heroine who doesn’t know how to connect to her own emotions. Without internal conflicts, it’s too easy to fall back onto external action only—and all of a sudden the story becomes about the aliens taking over the world, or the murderer, or the battle between good and evil and the romance is no longer the main focus of the story. This is why you have to be very sure your internal conflicts are stronger than all the external conflicts—you want that core question to always remain “will they or won’t they make it as a couple” and for this to focus on that main character who needs to overcome his or her internal issues in order to have that great relationship.
5-The best romances manage to have external and internal conflicts peak at the same time. Read the best romantic suspense authors and you’ll see this happen over and over. The suspense story never overwhelms the romance, but instead the suspense and the romantic conflicts both come to a crisis at the same moment. This is very, very hard to pull off—and if in doubt and you’re writing a romance, stick to the romance first.
6-Romances are about characters. They are about our little quirks of personalities—and how do we make them mesh with another person’s quirks. How does the logical person fit with an emotional person? How does the messy person fit with a neat freak? It’s not just opposites attract—it’s about how do personalities work together. Think of the “bromances” you see so often in stories. The reason these get called that is because you see a relationship building on personality differences that happen to click and work. This is fun stuff—and you want this in your romances. The reader wants to see personality clashes and how these become something that works for the better of all. (I love the Hepburn/Tracey romantic comedies because they illustrate not just great, snappy dialogue, but romances where you see all the clashes of personality, internal issues, and external conflicts.)
7-Use your external conflicts to force your characters together. External conflicts work best to drive a couple who would never get together into spending time together. Don’t think about external conflicts as pulling the couple apart—or testing their relationship to make it stronger. Think about external conflicts as the engine that sets the stage for making two people come together and be forced into asking that question of “will they or won’t they make it as a couple.” If you use your external conflict to force togetherness, then you can use all the internal issues to drive the couple apart. This push/pull will give you a romance that sparks—because the main focus will be on your characters and if they can make it as a couple.
How do you know a book is a romance? Which of Shannon’s tips makes a romance a keeper?
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the “Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer” contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA’s Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: “simply superb”…”wonderfully uplifting”….and “beautifully written.”
She’s at work on her next Regency romance, a sequel to Lady Scandal, and will be bringing out the next book in the Mackenzie Solomon Demons & Warders Series, following up on Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire.