Writer Wednesday: What's in a Romance?
Hello authors and welcome to another writer Wednesday. We've made it to the middle of another week, a new month in a new year. As we roll into a frosty February up here in New England, we have entered a month famous for many things; romance, history, and groundhogs. In honor of the romantic spirit that is Valentine's day, we are featuring some posts about the genre of love. That's right, we are doing some delving into that genre that defies all odds, Romance.
Romance novels are a banging business, and they've been around for centuries, bringing the swoons and flutters long before you or I were born. Romance has seen many scoffs and shakedowns but has remained one of the biggest selling genres in fiction for most of the 20th century and continues to dominate in the here and now. Readers are drawn to the escapism, to the hope that no matter the odds, the hero and heroine will find their happily ever after, or at least a happy for now. Well there are a multitude of subgenres now present in the Romance genre, there are some basic elements every romance needs.
What's in a Romance?
A Sympathetic Protagonist
You want a main character the audience can root for, someone attempting to over come trials and problems set in their path. Often a main character becomes an avatar for your reader to insert themselves into the story or easily fall into their headspace. Now, your protagonist might not start of as wholly likeable, but it is the job of the writer to create a character the reader can understand the reasons behind their flaws, their personality, and so on. Ultimately, if you present a character who is sympathetic and interesting even if they are not wholly likeable at first, it gives your reader a chance to fall in love with them as the romantic lead does.
A Interesting & Irresistible Romantic Lead
Unlike the sympathetic protagonist, the romantic lead has a bit of wiggle room when it comes to perception through the eyes of the reader and the protagonist. They could be arrogant and cold, someone the protagonist originally can't stand, ala Mr. Darcy. They could be a womanizing drake with a penchant for gambling. No matter how flawed your romantic lead, you need to make sure there is also a path of redemption, and more importantly, evidence of qualities that will forge the initial attraction between the two main characters. And you want a romantic lead to root for, no matter their flaws. Which brings us to the next necessary piece of romance.
At its core, romance requires at least two characters to tango (or more if you are writing a harem). No matter the setting, no matter how wacky and fantastical the world building in play, if the characters fail to create romantic tension, the romance falls flat. The physical and emotional chemistry is central to romance, the push and pull of will they or won't they. Whether its a witty feud that ends with the characters toe to toe, tension crackling between them as they breathe heavily, tasting one another air, so close they can feel one another's body heat, or a physical altercation that ends in a compromising position, the contact wondrous and confusing, their lips hovering close enough to kiss....well, you get the idea. Chemistry is equal parts emotional, mental, and physical. It has to go beyond a pretty face to where two characters play well off each other in a scene either through dialogue or how they move around each other.
The HEA or Happily Ever After
Listen, if you don't have a HEA ending, it's not a romance. This is a required staple of the genre. Now, that's not to say you can't stretch out a romantic story over several installments for an epic slow burn, or have great drama thrown in to heighten the tension, but ultimately, at the end of the story, whether its one book or five, in a romance, your characters will find their happily ever after.
Despite knowing where your characters will ultimately end up, there are all sorts of tangents and trials you can hurl your protagonists through to spice up the read. Just because they WILL end up together, doesn't mean you can't take a few creative privileges to tug on the heart strings of your readers. Because when the odds are insurmountable, doesn't that make the win even sweeter?
Over the next few weeks, we shall explore other elements of this incredible multi-faceted genre and how romance can be used to enhance other genres in different ways. Until then, I highly suggest snagging a romance novel or two to read, for research purposes of course.
Resources & Further Reading