Friday, 30 January 2015

11 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Writing A Traditional Romance

The next few articles are part of a magazine series, called Love Craft, that sadly never came to fruition.

I've probably given a lot of the same information in previous articles, but this was a simpler way of presenting it. And lists are very popular on the internet!

11 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Writing Traditional Romance

There are many different types of romance out there, from historical to contemporary, from normal everyday life to paranormal. However, many of them have something in common. They are traditional romances. The styles may vary, along with the storylines, but as traditional romances they will all have conventions and the readership have certain expectations when they open up the books to read them.

There is always a hero and a heroine

Traditional romances are always about a hero and a heroine. Please don’t shout at me about this. As I said in last month’s column, there is a growing market for GBLT (Gay, Bisexual, Lesbian and Transgender) romances. But if you see a market asking for traditional romances, then publishers want a girl-meets-boy romance. That doesn’t mean that all the other characters in your novel have to be straight. But the hero and heroine must be heterosexual.

Much of the advice given next also works for less conventional romances, including GBLT. However, for the sake of keeping things simple, I will continue to refer to the two main characters as the hero and heroine.

The romance is central

Whilst there may be a sub-plot, either a romantic intrigue or a family saga, in most traditional romances, the romance between the hero and heroine is the main topic of the story. It varies from publisher to publisher. The DC Thomson pocket novels are quite happy with a 70/30 split in favour of the romance, whereas Mills and Boon romances are as much as 95% romance, with very little sub-plot. They do allow a little more leeway in their historical and intrigue lines, which is evident in the longer word counts of 70k, whereas most of their predominantly romance lines are only 50k.

The hero and heroine are morally sound

Both hero and heroine should be ‘nice’ people. Neither should act unkindly to others, and they should always be nice to children and small fluffy animals. That does not mean that they’re perfect. They’re allowed to have faults. But the faults must be forgivable and/or have a good reason. For example, Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre is ready to commit bigamy. As he is bound to an insane and violent wife at a time when he would not have been allowed to divorce her, the readers are ready to forgive him and permit him his eventual happiness with Jane.

The hero and heroine should not be involved, sexually or otherwise, with anyone else in the course of the story

The lovers in a traditional romance must be the centre of each other’s universe. They are the love of each other’s lives, and the story needs to reflect that. There may be an ex hanging around adding to the conflict, but before your hero and heroine can consummate their relationship; the ex must be dispensed with. And the hero or heroine should never, ever, commit adultery with each other.  I was asked recently whether it was permissible, for a certain line of romances, for the hero to sleep with the heroine when he was engaged to someone else. My answer was a resounding ‘No!’ In the real world, such things happen, and there may be mitigating circumstances, but when you write a romance you are writing a fantasy for a mainly female readership. In most women’s fantasy, the hero is not the sort of man who would cheat on any woman.

Sex scenes can be of varying degrees of heat.

It’s always wise to read several books from a publisher’s range to find out what they’ll take regarding sex scenes. Some of the Mills and Boon Modern range are very sexy indeed, whereas People’s Friend Pocket Novels leave sex at the bedroom door (or even avoid it completely).

But in most traditional romances, as the previous section suggests, the sex scenes, whether it’s tame or involves jumping from the top of the wardrobe in a Tarzan outfit, are only between the hero and heroine.

It needs a conflict

All romances, whether traditional or otherwise, require a conflict that keeps the lovers apart until the end. This conflict can be internal or external, but is more often a bit of both. An internal conflict, as the name suggests, comes from within. It is something that the characters have in their psyche, either a flaw in their character, or fear because a previous experience has left them unsure of relationships. The external conflict comes from other people or situations. It could be the mad wife hidden in the attic, or a crime in which either the hero or heroine could be implicated.

Many writers make the mistake of thinking that conflict consists of the hero and heroine at each other’s throats in a slap-slap-kiss relationship. This isn’t the case, and is actually frowned upon. After all, few people fall in love with someone they’ve spent most of the past few weeks or months arguing with.  In which case…

It needs ‘getting to know you’ scenes

All romances need getting to know you scenes. If your hero and heroine are arguing all the time, you need to think about how they’re going to overcome this. The conflict may still be there in the background, but for the moment it’s put aside as the characters work together, either to solve the crime or sort out a family problem. In my novel, Sunlit Secrets, I had the hero and heroine bond over the care of an orphan child.

There is a pivotal moment

At some point in the story there will be a pivotal moment. This is when the heroine might realise she loves the hero or vice versa. It may be their first kiss, or some tragedy that has made them realise they cannot live without each other. They may not be ready to tell each other this yet, but it is there and the reader will know that things have changed.

There is a black moment

After the pivotal moment, sometimes straight after, there is a black moment when the two main characters think they can never be together. It may be that she thinks he does not love her, or, for those who watch Downton Abbey, he may be dragged off to prison accused of killing his first wife.

There is ALWAYS a happy ever after

Traditional romances always have a Happy Ever After (HEA). The hero and heroine sort out their differences, clear up any misunderstandings and declare their love for each other. If you’re scoffing at this, then maybe writing romance is not for you. But an HEA is what the readers expect when they pick up a traditional romance.

Who publishes Traditional Romances?

The list is endless, so these are just a few publishers of traditional romance. Check out the Writers & Artists’ Yearbook for more. Please note that some are ebook publishers and some are based in America. Always read several from a line of romances to get an idea of what the publisher is looking for.

Mills and Boon

DC Thomson (The People’s Friend Pocket Novels and My Weekly Pocket Novels)

Avon Romance

Robert Hale

Carina Press


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