Whenever I speak about romance to the media, give an interview or a workshop, I’m asked about the formula for writing romance. Aren’t they all the same? Don’t you have a computer program where you change the names of the characters and the computer does the rest? To all these questions my answer is, I wish. How much easier would it be to press a few keys and out comes a finished book? Instead of, as someone once put it, sitting down at a keyboard and opening a vein.
There is a formula, but not like any of the above. It’s simply that two people meet and are instantly, strongly attracted. If they are ever to give in to the attraction, they must first solve a huge problem coming between them. This problem – also called the conflict – is so big that we readers think they will never be able to resolve it and earn their happy ending. Every keen romance reader knows they will eventually walk off into the sunset together, just as the detective in a mystery will solve the crime, the monster will be defeated in a fantasy, or the superhero will save the world. The fun lies in making readers worry that the problem will win this time around, and there will be no happy ending.
If anyone knows of a computer program capable of delivering all that, please share the details with me right away. It would save me hours of working out who my hero and heroine are, their history and emotional make-up. What is their greatest fear, and how can I put them up against a character who fulfills all their emotional fantasies while triggering their fear bigtime?
One of my favorite questions to ask couples is how they met, what brought them together, what keeps them together? Apart from being great dinner party conversation, the variety of answers is amazing. My neighbors met while sheltering from a hurricane on a South Pacific island. Two of my relatives from England met in Australia when they found themselves on the same bus tour. An elderly friend was given a cruise ticket as a thank-you for a good deed and fell in love with a wealthy man she met on board. Truth really can be stranger than fiction.
All fiction has its conventions, like the mysteries and fantasy novels already mentioned. But formula? Hardly. Not when people and their stories are so varied. I seriously doubt that I’d have written as many romance novels as I have (over 50 at last count) with the same level of excitement if all I had to do was press keys on a computer. But wait a second…I do press keys on a computer. I just don’t have the magic program to go with it. Guess I’ll have to keep doing it all the hard way.
How did you and your partner meet? What’s your favorite fictional couple? What don’t you like to see in a romance novel? I’d love to know your answers, all in the name of research.
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