So what comes to mind when you hear or think about Romance? Do you immediately reach for the chocolate and roses? Or conduct an on-line search for an exotic location at a beach full of bronze bodies in
speedo's and golden haired beauties wearing barely a string bikini? (I'm not showing my age here, am I?) Or perhaps you're one of those unbelievers that run screaming from the concept of romance with a declaration you're the most un-romantic person ever to exist? I used to be the last one. I read some Harlequin Romance when I was a teen, and after a few books – like three or four at best - I gave
up on romance and Valentines Day, and I decided the version of Cupid I liked best is that he is a spoiled little sprite and not a cherubic entity from Heaven.In fact, that image of Cupid as a trickster was so ingrained in my mind that when the opportunity presented to write a twisted fairy tale for a long past blogfest, Cupid was top on my hit list for a personal
prank. I used the mythological tale of Cupid and Psyche to create my own version of how and why Cupid fell victim to his own leaded arrow, and to show him as a trickster instead of the agent of love and desire. After many critiques and revisions, this darkly romantic story was accepted in An Honest Lie, Vol 4; Petulant Parables (coming soon).
I have read a few romance novels that I liked, and the memory of the happily ever after sticks so fleeting in my mind I cannot readily recall the titles. I assure you Danielle Steel is not a writer I enjoy. All that extravagance and cast of beautiful people stops my heart in a “OMG I think I'm gonna puke” manner. A romance novel focuses on the love relationship between the two main characters. Secondary character and story plots are acceptable, but the developing romance – and subsequent happily ever after (HEA) ending - is essential. Even the subgenre's such as historical, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal and YA have to follow this basic formula to retain the categorical definitions. (Erotica is in a category of its own, as the story focus is on the sexual relationship, not the emotional bonding.)
For me, what's the point of reading the story if the end is already assured? The two meet, have conflict, but ultimately overcome all the forces pulling them apart and they are in love, and get married and have perfect children, and . . yada yada; love conquers all obstacles. Despite my dislike for the genre, my first novel was written as a contemporary romance. My reasoning was that I was breaking ground with a whole new concept, taking subject matter normally covered in non-fiction (substance abuse and domestic violence) and creating sympathetic, fictional characters whom anyone can relate to as a brother, sister, parent, best friend, co-worker, etc. After (rightly) being rejected by Harlequin as “too dark and gritty” for any of their publication lines, I did some extensive research on what romance is, and discovered the alternative of women's fiction.
When my blogger friend Denise Covey (L'Aussie Denise) invited me to post excerpts to the challenges (prompts) at Romantic Friday Writers (RFW), I initially sent an incredulous response that amounted to “Are you serious? I'm not a romance writer!” Somewhere in the emptiness of my soul, I am a hopeless romantic of the Jodi Picoult, Sandra Brown and occasionally Nora Roberts style. A story without a love interest, no matter how exciting the plot or how well developed the characters, can get pretty boring. As a romantic however, the love interest is not the focus of the story; it is a secondary plot, and the potential lovers may not end up together (no matter how well built the romance/attraction). The ending is satisfactory, as opposed to happy, and the reader has the
opportunity to imagine the story continues; the reader writes their own ending based on their own life experiences and biases whether or not the lovers connect.
What I have learned from writing for RFW – and eventually becoming a co-host – is that any story can have a romantic scene or theme without being termed a romance. And any author can write
romantically. Borrowing a few lines from The Editor's post titled "help unromantic me: "Put the flowers down. Back away from that box of chocolates. This isn’t about you, it’s about the characters. A great romantic other across all preceding scenes.” In other words, one scene does not make a romance story. In real life, would you offer your diabetic partner a box of See's candies if she/he is diabetic? Would you jet them off to Paris or Venice if they had a fear of flying? Would you buy her a Victoria's Secret baby doll outfit if she was ashamed of her weight? Unlikely. You would find some other way to show your love, your romantic side. Especially on Valentine's Day.
I think The Editor's advise works even if you are writing the traditional romance. Think about what is romantic to your specific characters. Build on that over a series of scenes. Is there a reason to give her flowers and chocolates? Or is she more impressed with an unexpected text that says simply “hows your day going?”
The point is to think outside the traditional/cliched romance elements, and write to your couple's personality and back story. Valentines Day is about showing your love, not about adhering to traditional formulas. Be spontaneous, be creative, and listen to the desires of your characters (or real life partners) to dictate what constitutes romance. Eventually, romance and romantic amount to the
same concept, different focuses. Thanks Gossip Girl for allowing me to guest on your blog on the most romantic day of the year. It has been my pleasure to collaborate with you.
I am the hopeless romantic type and it has been a real honor to have Donna stop by. I hope you will stop by and visit her blog, Donna Hole and if you're not doing anything special on Fridays, stop by and visit the Romantic Friday Writers and if interested in writing romance, sign up. Thank you Donna for stopping by with this special posting!