When I was younger, I used to borrow books from the library. No, no — I don’t mean check them out with my library card. I mean borrow them. You know: stuff one inside my book bag before anyone noticed, smuggle it out of the library and into my house then read it underneath the privacy of my covers by the dim yellow glow of a flashlight swiped from my father’s work bench. When I put the book up for the night, I’d carefully conceal it underneath my mattress where my parents would never find it. And when I finally finished it, I’d return it to its rightful place on the library shelf and find another.
Borrow, read, return, and repeat.
What genre was I so secretive about? Romance, of course. Something eleven-year-old me wasn’t allowed to read, and something adult me still can’t get enough of.
On January 31st, 2017, my very own romance novel will be sitting on book store shelves. True story! But between you and me, I never intended to publish. Not that I didn’t want to. It had always been something I’d fantasized about, even as a child. I just didn’t think something like that could ever happen to someone like me. So when I wrote Strawberry Wine, I wrote it for me. I wrote it for the story that played over and over inside my head every time I heard the song by the same name on the radio, performed by country singer Deana Carter. I never actually thought anyone would read it! And now, as I contemplate my second published novel, I’m left to wonder: what makes a great romance? Here are my thoughts:
- The main ingredient is … you guessed it. Romance. Romance has to be the main plot. Not just sex. I mean, sex is good. Very good. But I want the whole will they or won’t they end up together? I want the slow burn of infatuation that inevitably builds into a raging inferno of love (so cheesy, I know!).
- I want meaningful connections with secondary characters. They help make the story more believable. And above all else, authenticity is a must. Secondary characters give the story depth and can be an excellent way to introduce a bit of contrast or comedy. Even tragedy, if you must.
- I want conflict. Not in real life, of course, but in books. The best way to do this is to make sure at least one of your main characters is fighting the relationship. Do they have a history of failed affairs? Are they damaged in some way? Suffering from a horrific loss? Is the romance forbidden? Internal conflict is more important than external conflict (and yes, you need both) because the reader needs to be left wondering will they or won’t they end up together? It’s especially successful if the internal conflict and the external conflict come into play simultaneously. It gets me every single time!
- Perfection is for chumps! I don’t want perfect characters, I want them to be flawed. I want them to be human; to be real. I want them to make mistakes and I want consequences to their actions. Imperfect characters make for better storytelling, and writers want readers to experience emotions through the characters they’ve created. Not only that, but by the end of the story, your characters need to have grown. They can’t grow if they have no weakness.
- I, myself, want that happy ending. At least in a romance. It’s a must! By the end of the book, I want to have fallen in love with the couple and their journey, and I want them to end up together. But this isn’t always the case. A happy ending isn’t guaranteed, and some readers are okay with that. It’s all a matter of personal preference. Happy endings are mine. What’s yours?
These are what make a good romance for me, but what makes a good romance for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!