Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Conventions of Traditional Romance

Originally posted 24th October 2012

So what are the conventions of writing a traditional romance? Below is the handout that I give to my pocket novel workshop participants, but I've added a few clarifications here as normally these are covered by the discussions in the workshop.

The Conventions of writing a Traditional Romance

* Hero and heroine are morally sound, 'nice' people, even if they have flaws. This is particularly important. When I submitted my novella Let Me Be Your Hero for Siren's mainstream romance, I was told that as my heroine, Georgia, is a compulsive liar, it would not fit under that imprint. Whilst I believed (and still do) that Georgia is noble, despite her tendency to lie, I had to respect their judgement. So it was 'sexed up' and turned into erotica - hence my other pseudonym, Elise Hart!)

* Traditional romances are always about heterosexual relationships between a man and a woman. (Please don't shout at me, I don't make these rules!)

* Hero and heroine do not have sexual and/or romantic relationship with anyone else during course of the story. Adultery or cheating on another partner is a complete no-no, even if the hero and heroine are clearly meant to be together. This is not to say they can't be at the end of a romance when the story begins, and you can get away with a lot with careful writing. For example, in one of my novels, the hero is engaged to someone else. But I made sure never to show her, and then I had the hero explain (truthfully) to the heroine that the engagement was one of convenience, not love. In another story, I had the heroine 'promised' to someone else, but found a deft way at the end to make sure that when she had fallen in love with the hero, she had, in fact, been free to do so (for reasons I don't want to give away!). In the past there was a bit of a double standard about this though. I love reading Barbara Cartland and I'm not ashamed to say so. However, I noticed that she often had the hero sleeping with another woman at the beginning of the novel, and sometimes even after he had met the heroine, presumably in an attempt to prove his virility to the readership. By today's standards, the hero in that case often looks quite shallow, as he's shown as unable to resist the lure of a naked woman wearing pearls.

* Traditional romance can include sex scenes, or be sweet and cosy. The heat rating varies. People's Friend romances are always of the sweet and cosy variety. At the moment it is uncertain if the Easy Reads Caress line will follow that route, but all signs point to it being that way. Mills and Boon modern romances are hot hot hot. However, the language used in sex scenes is always tasteful, and whilst many of the sex scenes are erotic, they're more soft erotica by today's standards. I'm guessing (though I don't know for sure yet) that the Liaison imprint for Easy Reads is along the same lines.

* Story concentrates predominantly on the relationship between the hero and heroine. A rough guide would be 70% romance to 30% sub-plot. However, Mills and Boon novels are more like 95% romance to 5% plot.

* There is a conflict which keeps hero and heroine apart until the end. Can be internal or external. Please see my post on the Pocketeers' blog about conflict for information on internal and external conflict . This is hard to get right, and I've often had my hero and heroine declaring their feelings much too soon. Heck in The Thirteenth Passenger , they're in love after knowing each other only a few hours (then again I do explain why that might be later in the story).
* There is a pivotal moment when all changes between them. (could be the first kiss or the moment they realise they're in love)
* There is a 'black moment' when all seems lost and it looks as though they can never be together. This does not have to be as dark as it sounds, particularly in a light-hearted romance.
* There is always a Happy Ever After (HEA) between the hero and heroine, with the promise of a firm commitment (such as marriage). So no Romeo and Juliet type scenes of them dying in each other's arms or the hero floating off to sea to drown near the sinking Titanic because the heroine is too selfish to budge up on the raft.

A lot of people have insisted that all of the above implies a formula, but the truth is that knowing what needs to go into a traditional romance does not mean that it has to follow a formula. It is simply a guide to let you know what readers expect. How you interpret each part of the guidelines is up to you.

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