Sunday, 26 January 2014

Guest Post - Terri Nixon - B is For...


Thanks, Sally, for giving me the letter ‘B’ (and a sleepless night!) with which to contribute to your A-Z of romance writing.


These, then, are my 5 ‘B’s, and I’ll start with what is probably the most obvious, and finish with the one I tend to think one of the most important, of any letter in fact.

‘B’ is for beauty. By which I don’t mean every character involved in a romantic situation must be artistically/classically beautiful, but I do believe we must see beauty in one person through eyes of the other. It might be a physical thing, or a natural grace of movement, it might simply be that they possess a beauty of spirit that draws our MC to them. Beauty can also be a factor in the surroundings about which you’re writing; it’s easy to fall into a different state of mind, a susceptible one perhaps, when you’re in lovely place. By contrast, there is something appealing about two people being somewhere so awful, so ugly, so stark and devoid of beauty, that their attention is forced instead on one another, and they find things to admire that they might otherwise not have noticed.

‘B’ is for Boldness. In the writing itself. I think it’s important, particularly when you’re writing about the emotions of other people, to let go of your own perceptions and not be held back by what you yourself believe to be right. If your MC believes something that goes completely against your own better judgement, so what? Go with it, explore it, don’t be afraid to talk it up; it’ll make your character more believable and far more rounded. If you then feel the need to prove them completely wrong by way of an intervention of a (more sensible!) character, whose opinion they value, that’s obviously fine too. But I think you need to be bold, to not be afraid to give your characters a different dimension and a different viewpoint, and best of all, to enjoy the ride through your own ideals!

‘B’ is for Banter. A personal thing, and not always appropriate, but I do think a little bit of teasing in a relationship gives it a natural feel. Who among us hasn’t made a little joke at the expense of someone with whom we feel totally at ease and comfortable? I don’t write comedy. I enjoy it immensely, but I can’t write anything longer than a short story in it, I’ve tried. However, my characters – situation permitting – are often relaxed enough in each other’s company to make dry, humorous comments that elicit little slaps or arm-punches, and it serves to illustrate, (good old ‘show, not tell!’) that they’re comfortable and confident with each other. It doesn’t have to be hilarious, in fact it’s often better if it’s not, but it does have to be personal to them, and consistent with their character.

‘B’ is for Bite. The other side of the coin. I’m not talking about vampires (sparkly or otherwise!) I’m talking instead, about the snap and bite of a relationship with realistic conflict. No relationship is always going to be about walking in the park and wafting roses under each other’s noses; it’s important that, even if that happens on 80% of the pages or scenes, (oh, please not!)  The other 20% needs some kind of conflict, and that should be reflected in the way they react to one another. If something’s happened to make one mistrust the other, that’s a fairly obvious one and it will be easy to write the reactions, but even if they’re still madly in the first heady flush of love, a dark situation in which they find themselves is going to be mirrored in the way they feel, and in the way they talk. They will be short, irritable, impatient … it’s important to reflect that.

‘B’ is for breath. I saved this one for last. So much is felt and observed through breath, or lack of it: Karen glances up during an evening class and sees Will for the first time – her breath shortens; later he approaches her while she’s packing up her laptop – her breath catches in her throat; he passes by without speaking – she lets out the breath, and it’s shaky. In intimate moments, perhaps as Will holds Karen for the first time (after they’ve been stuck somewhere awful, and she yells at him, of course!) he might whisper her name and his breath stirs her hair … you just know she’s going to feel that right through her body. Later, that breath might scorch her skin as he moves his lips over her with only the lightest of touches, it would mingle with hers as they kiss ... and so on. Providing the whole thing isn’t over-done, and the mentions of it are far enough apart, the use of a character’s breath is something we can all relate to – we know that if the breath catches in Karen’s throat it’s because she’s both terrified and hopeful that Will is going to stop and talk to her, and that shaky sigh is part disappointment, part relief.

So there we have it, my 5 ‘B’s for romance-writing. Thank you for reading.

If you’re interested in seeing any of my work, Maid of Oaklands Manor – (historical mystery/drama, published by Piatkus Entice and shortlisted for the Readers’ Choice award 2013) is available from Amazon.



Sunday, 19 January 2014

B is for ... Beta Males, Beta Couples and Barbara Cartland

B is for Beta Male

The beta male in any romance is a little less … shall we say thrusting … than the alpha male. He is the boy next door, or the best friend you’ve known all your life but hadn’t noticed till now; the single dad you see at the school, or the nice guy who works as a vet.  He’s gentler and more apologetic than the alpha male. Think of any Hugh Grant character, before he played Daniel Cleaver, and there you have your beta male. Another example of the beta male is Edward Ferrars in Sense & Sensibility (coincidentally played by Hugh Grant in the Emma Thomson version).

 He’s the guy who loves unrequitedly and it’s unlikely he’d whisk the heroine off to a desert island. He’s more likely to take her for tea at The Ritz or ice skating in the park.

That does not mean that the beta male is weak. He is honest, noble and sticks to his principles, even if it causes him pain. But like the alpha he will protect the woman he loves and all his family. Occasionally he will start off as a beta, but end up with alpha traits, when he realises he has to fight for the woman he loves. So expect the last minute dash to the airport, or the declaration in front of everyone that he loves the heroine and has done forever.

B is also for Beta Couple

The beta couple in a romance is a trope very often used in Regency Romances, but can also happen in modern romances. They’re the secondary couple and very often the alpha couple will be brought together by the Beta Couple or the Alpha Couple (that is the main hero and heroine) could be the ones trying to bring the betas together.

They’re generally either related to one of the alpha couple or are their best friends. In When Harry Met Sally, Harry and Sally tried to set up each other on a date with their respective best friends, only for the best friends to fall in love and get married (and they then became ‘shippers’ for Harry and Sally, and are thrilled when Harry and Sally finally get together).

Another example of a Beta Couple is Jane Bennett and Mr Bingley in Pride & Prejudice. Their relationship is a major plot point for Lizzie and Darcy.

B is for BarbaraCartland

It has become fashionable to mock Barbara Cartland, and to be fair she made it very easy to do that, with her eccentrically thick make up and her pink gowns.  But it’s easy to forget that her novels were very popular at one time, and that she had an incredible work ethic. She wrote over 700 novels, which is no mean feat. 23 of those novels were written in one year (1983), earning her a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

Cartland’s novels were characterised by her virginal heroines, which made her particularly popular in Arab states, so it might be a surprise to learn that her earlier novels were considered quite racy. (I still have to track those down…) For the most part, her heroes were decidedly alpha, and her heroines of the breathless variety, though occasionally they showed some spirit and backbone.

But if you like clean romance, Cartland’s novels are a delight to read, and a real ‘guilty pleasure’. At least for me.  They are pure fantasies and everyone needs a bit of fantasy in their lives sometimes.

Many of her books are now on Kindle, including the Pink Collection, which are books that were not published in  her lifetime, and The Eternal Collection, which were. The Introduction to the Eternal Collection, and The Introduction to the Pink Collection at the time of writing, are just 77p each.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Guest Post: Sue Barnard - A is for ...

One of the things I want to do with this blog is invite other writers to tell me their own A-Z writing tips. With that in mind, today I am delighted to welcome Sue Barnard onto the blog. Sue's first novel, The Ghostly Father, is due out in February, from Crooked Cat Publishing, and she went above and beyond the call of duty and has shared 7 things beginning with A.

Seven  things beginning with A by Sue Barnard

© Antony Rufus | Dreamstime Stock Photos

That's you. Sorry to state the obvious, but every novel needs at least one author. You might find that your characters can start to take over (I once had one who completely surprised me by saying something which went on to change the entire course of the sub-plot!), but they still need you to get them on to the page!


This is the person you love to hate. One of the principal sources of conflict throughout the novel, the antagonist is the person who seems hell-bent on spoiling everything for the hero and/or heroine. The antagonist can be male or female, young or old; a selfish, cantankerous old biddy, a grasping old miser, a sullen teenager or a six-year-old school bully. But (particularly) in romance novels, as part of the Happy Ever After ending, the antagonist must always get some kind of come-uppance. This doesn't necessarily have to take the form of a punishment - if the antagonist can be made to see the error of his or her ways, have a change of heart and become a reformed character, this makes for a much more satisfactory outcome. For a fine example of how this works, look no further than the archetypal miser-turned-philanthropist: Ebenezer Scrooge. 


Just because your novel is a romance doesn't mean it can't have action, drama or excitement. This is where your sub-plot comes into play. Your hero and heroine can work together to solve a crime, find a missing child, investigate a family mystery or even foil a terrorist plot, whilst falling in love along the way. 


These are the writer's tools of description. Adjectives describe people or things (eg a tall man, a black dog), whilst adverbs describe actions. Adverbs can be either single words (which usually end -ly) or phrases. They're useful if you need to get your word-count up, but if you're working to a tight word-count, or need to speed up your narrative, it's often better to dispense with the adverb and use a stronger verb instead. 

For example:

Mary looked at John with a conspiratorial glint in her eye (eleven words)

Mary winked at John (four words)


© Ridvan Sekercioglu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

One of the best pieces of writing advice I was ever given was: You have five senses. Use them all.   What do your characters see, hear, taste, smell or feel? Use these sensations to bring your characters to life and carry your reader along with them. 

A strong sense of place can add immeasurably to a novel, particularly if the action takes place in a romantic setting such as Paris or Venice. Obviously it helps if you've visited the place yourself, but if not, take a look on YouTube; you can get a really good feel for a place by looking at it through someone else's eyes. Google is also your friend, but you do need to be selective with your descriptions if you don't want to end up sounding like a guide book, an instruction manual or a telephone directory. 


This is another fine source of conflict - who knows what skeletons lie lurking in family closets, waiting to jump out and reveal guilty secrets? And there's plenty of scope for happy reunions as families are reunited after years of separation. Just one word of warning here though: don't, whatever you do, have your hero and heroine meet, fall in love, and then find out that they're long-lost siblings.  That way lies heartache. 


Don't be afraid to push the boundaries. Mix genres if you want; there's nothing wrong with adding a touch of the paranormal to your romance. Vampires, werewolves and ghosts don't necessarily have to be baddies!  And feel free to take an existing story and adapt it, or even give it an alternative ending if you don't like the original. This is exactly what I did for those most famous of lovers Romeo and Juliet, in my novel "The Ghostly Father" (Crooked Cat Publishing, February 2014) which tells what might have happened if things had worked out differently for them.

Sue Barnard - Blog

Sunday, 5 January 2014

A is for Alpha Male and Austen, Jane

Here it is! The first official post in The A-Z of Writing Romance. Over the coming months I will be working my way through the alphabet, and then go around again, ably abetted by some of my fellow romance writers.

Conventions of Romance

A is for … Alpha Male

Since Mr Darcy and Mr Rochester, the alpha male hero has enthralled romance readers, and writers, for many years. He is drop dead gorgeous and can be very charming. He is a man at the top of his game and is usually very rich and very powerful (but not always). He is the head of a great company or a high-ranking member of the nobility. Maybe he’s even a prince or an Arab Sheik. He knows what he wants and he’s not afraid to go out and get it. And when he wants the heroine, nothing and nobody stands in his way. The alpha male has the heady scent of testosterone that leaves a lot of heroines (and readers!) panting.

The alpha male is also flawed, with his very alpha-ness sometimes being his biggest fault. His pride often gets the better of him, and whilst he is never intentionally unkind, he does make mistakes. Think of Rochester, keeping the secret of the mad wife in the attic, and hoping for happiness with Jane Eyre. Yes it’s selfish of him, but to understand why he did it, you would have to understand the laws of the time. A man, or woman, could not divorce a spouse who was insane. Rochester thinks he can get away with it, and is willing to risk it to be with Jane, but he doesn’t reckon on Jane’s stronger moral code. He loses a lot, including his sight and the use of one hand (a very Biblical punishment) before he is free to be happy with his Jane.

Alpha males have changed a lot over the years. A modern audience will not forgive a hero who indulges in a bit of correctional and/or spousal rape. Nor will a modern reader put up with a hero who is physically abusive to the heroine, whereas in at least two books I’ve read from the past, the hero threatened to beat the heroine ‘black and blue’ if she so much as looked at another man. I think we were supposed to think ‘Aw, he must really love her’, but now it comes across as controlling and abusive.

So how do you, the romance novelist, write the alpha male? The important thing to remember is that alpha does not mean cruel either to the heroine or to anyone else and sadly this is a mistake many newer writers make. They make their alphas all bossy and dominating and forget that alphas must also be charming. No one likes a hero who spends his time berating the heroine for not living up to his expectations. He may have the wrong impression of her, for some reason, and that’s where the conflict comes in, but he will still be protective of her.

Your alpha hero will always be noble, even if he makes mistakes. In fact, his nobility may cause him problems, if he has a strongly defined sense of loyalty or duty.

In a novel by one of my favourite writers, the heroine is due to marry a relative of the hero in an arranged marriage, making the hero very angry indeed. Yet when there is violent upheaval in the country to which she has travelled for the wedding, it’s the hero who takes her to safety and keeps her there until the danger has passed. Of course this gives them time to work on their relationship and it all works out in the end, but the point is that as upset as he is about her maybe marrying someone else, he still cares enough about her to keep her safe.

Please do share your own favourite alpha males with me in the comments section below.

Notable Names

A is for …Austen, Jane Jane Austen might not have written the first romantic novel, but I think it’s fair to say that she has had an awful lot to do with popularising the genre we all know and love. Her influence is not just evident in Regency novels, which still use many of the tropes she popularised, but also in modern chick-lit, particularly with the now legendary Bridget Jones. Austen’s Darcy was also one of the first brooding alpha males to excite female readers. Or was that Colin Firth? I get (happily) confused…

Television and film adaptations (did I mention Colin Firth?) have ensured her enduring legacy and there has also been some more outlandish treatments of her work, including Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Welcome and Happy New Year!

Welcome to The A-Z of Writing Romance. This blog will be pretty much what it says on the tin. It will be a lexicon of lurve. Starting from A-Z and then all the way back around again, until the subject is exhausted, the blog will tell you all you need to know about writing romance.

I hope to also bring you author interviews and guest posts from time to time!