As I write this, I’m wearing my Judgy McJudgeface while reading the short listed entries in Romance Writers of Australia’s Valerie Parv Award. Once I choose the winner and rank the finalists, I write each one some feedback, figuring if you’ve reached the finals, you’ve earned the attention.
The Covid-19 Pandemic has changed the entries I’m seeing which include more cynical, snarky stories to out-and-out escapism. Neither is right or wrong. As Leslie Wainger, one of my American editors said, it’s all in the execution. In other words you can get away with a great deal, as long as you do it well.
Some things are still needed – strong characters with goals they’re desperate to reach, and a compelling story we want to invest time in reading.
The old tropes are welcome but need – as it’s put now – to pivot with the times. The crisis has swept away a whole strata of stories that would have been fine not so long ago. As my agent, Linda Tate says, it’s no longer enough to write a “good” story, you need to write something really special.
If you story involves a “marriage of convenience” (where the characters agree to marry for reasons other than love) it must give readers something they haven’t seen before. What does a marriage of convenience look like in a Covid-19 world?
How will social distancing change your characters? On social media, discussion is raging as to whether contemporary stories should reference the pandemic at all. As they’re written in the “eternal present” this is your decision. Some writers have already changed works-in-progress, setting them a year or two before the crisis. Others choose worlds we can escape into.
Society has changed drastically in the last few months and until a vaccine is available, the changes are likely to be permanent. Watching older shows online, even if set only months ago, I find myself yelling at the screen, “Get away from them.”
There’s much talk of a “new normal.” What does this look like for your characters? Even if you don’t mention Covid-19 it will likely cast a shadow over personal interactions. Some changes are less physical than they are states of mind. What will international travel and world cruises be like in future? How will characters relate to each other?
Readers still want larger-than-life characters, not fragile creatures wrapped in bubble wrap. But they are changing, sometimes in unexpected ways. Rumour has it that the ultimate spy, James Bond, gets a toddler daughter in his next movie. Stay tuned.
As the world changes around us, our stories need to change, too. As I noticed reading for the Valerie Parv Award, romantic comedies are having a resurgence, along with cosy mysteries, fantasies and fairy tales, all re-imagined for the new normal.
Apocalyptic fiction is having a moment, but needs to end on a hopeful note. That, at least, stays the same. As the indomitable Kathryn Falk, publisher of Romantic Times, said long before Covid-19, “There are no Mr. Rights, but there are Mr. Trainables.” The phrase seems to predict the new normal. Then again, Kathryn is known for setting trends, rather than following them.
Look at the different romance tropes, a trope being a recurring theme. How could you reinvent them for this strange new world? Some readers collect books that use their favourite tropes and they still resonate, provided they feel fresh and exciting.
Here are some favourite tropes:
Amnesia, Friends/enemies into lovers,
Second chance at love, Royalty & billionaires,
Fake relationship/ engagement/marriage of convenience,
Wounded hero or heroine, Unexpected baby,
Stranded, forced to rely on each other.
Sub-genres include military, sports heroes, rock stars and rural settings
Can you create a romance story that will become a future trope? Somebody had to write the first marriage-of-convenience story. This is a time to be daring, to push the boundaries. As long as you have two individuals who fall in love against impossible odds, the sky’s the limit.
What would you love to read next? Is that the story you need to write? Share your thoughts in the comment panel below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but comments can appear immediately if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
Valerie is a Member of the Order of Australia
Author of 90 books in 29 languages
Australia Day Ambassador
Life Member, Romance Writers of Australia
Australian Society of Authors’ medal recipient
Represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd, Sydney