Sunday, July 22, 2012

It’s Not Shake and Bake

Writing romance or any genre fiction isn’t like putting chicken parts into a paper bag and shaking to coat them with a seasoning packet you grabbed off the grocery shelf. You’ve got to carefully consider the type of mixture you’re using–including which spices and flavor ingredients will work best for you.

Although a lot of people who view the genre from the outside think “romances are all the same,” we know better. There are many different sub-genres, each with a devoted following. The one you choose to write in should reflect your own reading tastes.

Do you gravitate toward short contemporary romances, where the man-woman story is central? Do you like longer reads with a lot of subplots and secondary characters woven into the hero and heroine’s story?

 Do you want a sexy romance? A frankly erotic romance? Or a sweet romance with only a kiss at the end of the book? There are books for every taste.

Writing a romance is usually a balance of following your heart and figuring out how your novel will fit into the market. In today’s publishing world, there’s also the option of writing to please yourself and going indie.

 But there’s one unbreakable rule. In a romance, whatever other elements are included, the relationship is always the main focus of the story and is integrated into the incidents of the plot. Suppose the story starts with an emotionally devastated heroine who finds she’s pregnant by her boyfriend who was recently killed in Afghanistan? She may have financial problems. She may be at odds with her parents or her boss, but the plot must quickly introduce a new man into her life or focus on a man she already knows in a non-romantic context. They are drawn to each other, but it must seem impossible for them to work out their relationship; and the internal conflicts between them will be the focus of the story.

Whatever your target, read tons of books in the subgenre you like best. If you want to write for Harlequin Desire, READ scores of them, and think about what makes them work. What kinds of heroes are featured in Desires? What kinds of heroines? What are typical plots? Typical conflicts? Analyze the books, then come up with your unique take on the line.

To illustrate that romances are not “all the same,” here’s a very detailed analysis of how straight romance and romantic suspense differ.

      THE PLOT:
      ROMANCE
The plot focuses on two people meeting, falling in love, working out their internal and external conflicts, and making a commitment to each other by the end of the book.

     ROMANTIC SUSPENSE
The plot focuses on two people meeting, falling in love, and working out their conflicts against a backdrop of danger and suspense. External forces threaten to destroy these people; but by the end of the book, they triumph over the danger and make a commitment to each other.

     THE TENSION OF THE STORY:
     ROMANCE
Sexual tension and internal conflicts drive the romance. These two people are falling in love and desperate to explore the physical aspects of their relationship, yet fundamental differences keep them from making a commitment to each other. Even after they finally make love, the conflicts between them must keep their future together in doubt until the end of the story.

     ROMANTIC SUSPENSE
In addition to the sexual tension and internal conflicts, “danger tension” drives the story. These people are pursued relentlessly by sinister forces determined to destroy them. The tension of fighting to stay alive increases the level of their sexual awareness.

     THE EMOTIONS OF THE STORY: 
     ROMANCE
The writer must make the reader feel the emotions of the h/h as they fall in love by using her skill at evocative language and describing the physical manifestations of love and sexual desire. (His touch set her on fire. Joy awakened inside her like a flower bud unfurling.)

     ROMANTIC SUSPENSE
The writer must make the reader feel the fear and terror of the h/h with evocative language and description that shows us their physical reactions to fear and danger. (In the darkness, she felt as if a thousand insect feet were crawling over her. Icy terror gripped her.)

     THE ENDING: 
     ROMANCE      
The writer must bring the conflict between the h/h to a warm and satisfying resolution so that the reader knows these two people will walk off happily into the sunset together.

     ROMANTIC SUSPENSE
Before the h/h can walk off into the sunset, they must confront and defeat the malevolent forces bent on wiping them from the face of the earth. Clearly, romances are not “all the same.” More on the subtle and not so subtle differences next time.

 What kind of romance do you like best and what do you write? One commenter will receive an autographed copy of GUARDING GRACE. But please, if you want to be eligible for a book, include an e-mail address or your Twitter handle so I can contact you easily. If you’d prefer not to make your e-mail address public, send it to rebecca@rebeccayork.com with Subject: “It’s Not Shake and Bake” Blog.

Copyright © 2012 Ruth Glick

20 comments:

  1. Interesting post, Rebecca. Thanks for making the differences so easy to understand. I write mysteries with romance as the secondary plot, but the same guidelines apply...only with an added twist.

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  2. Now those comparisons were really useful -- and coming from such a pro, they can be taken to heart by those of us who want to write romantic suspense. I'm one of those. Having published four thrillers, now I'd like to experiment with a romantic suspense - question: do you think it's OK to "branch out" with another genre? ... Karna

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  3. LJ, Thanks. I'm glad you like the comparison.

    Karna,I think it's hard to keep writing the same thing WITHOUT branching out. Or, at least it's true for me. But is the question--will you lose readers who aren't interested in the the romance aspects of the story? That could be true. On the other hand,you could gain new readers who want a romance along with their mystery and suspense.

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  4. Wonderfully instructive post. I love reading and writing gothic romance. I love the brooding gothic hero whose secrets and flaws reflect the fallen atmosphere the heroine is called to challenge.

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  5. Great summation, Ruth. It's nice to have the comparison boiled right down to the nitty gritty. I prefer to read romantic suspense but there are times I get tired of all the danger and "cheat" by reading a romance. I'm enjoying Karna's question as well. I feel like many romantic suspense novels these days border on thrillers because there is so much high energy action. Seems to me like the lines between genres are blurring.

    I'm also seeing folks inching toward the shorter novellas, particularly the e-reader crowd. Something quick and snappy for the doctor's office visit or commute to work.

    I think with so many choices out there for writers, its hard not to be writing all over the place. It takes a disciplined writer to keep turning out books in one genre and build an audience.

    Enjoyed your post. Maggie

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    1. Thanks, Anna. I also like gothics. I took all the gothic tropes and put them into PHANTOM LOVER.

      Thanks,Maggie. My personal feeling is that "thriller" is the new sexy word for "suspense." I don't see much difference between THOSE genres. Yes, I am tending toward writing shorter. I love writing novellas. I've always tended to put a lot of danger elements into my work when I do "suspense." or "thrillers."

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  6. I like both Rom and RS, just depends on the mood. But you've really broken it down for me, so thank you. I think it's important to know what the reader's expectations are with each genre.

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  7. How difficult is it to create a series when writing either romance or romantic suspense? In both cases, the main characters resolve the tension that's kept them apart and so ends their story. If you're looking to establish a series, I'm not sure I understand where you go for a second book, a third, etc. I know in series like Virgin River, continuity is in the setting and the focus can shift to other characters in the vicinity. But I'm not sure how it works otherwise.

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    1. Thanks, Terri. Yes, you do need to know what readers expect.

      Toby, I think that if you are writing romantic suspense or writing in the romance genre, the reader does expect you to resolve the romance at the end of the book. Or you might get away w/ stringing it out for maybe three books, as in Amanda Stevens Graveyard Queen series. (And if you read her, note how well she blends her research into her story.) Yes, in many romantic suspense series, the setting is the glue that holds the series together. Or--in my case--a detective agency like my 43 Light Street books or my new Decorah Security books. One thing I do is try to introduce a character in one book who will have a lead role in the next. Then older characters come back in secondary roles in later books. In the book I'm writing now, one of the villains of Dark Moon is the hero of Dark Powers. And the hero of Dark Moon comes to help him solve the case he's working on.

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    2. TOBY--I SHOULD HAVE ADDED--It's very easy for me to deal with a series where the stories basically stand alone. It's much harder for me to do a series where a mystery runs through several books.

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    3. REBECCA
      I JUST LOVE THE WAY YOU WRITE HAVE BEEN A FAN FOR A LONG TIME YOUR BOOKS ONCE STARTED SO HARD TO BUT DOWN YOU HAVE A WRITING STYLE THAT STANDS OUT LIKE NO OTHER
      THANKS FOR THE CHANCE
      TAMMYJACKSON75@YAHOO.COM

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  8. Thanks for breaking down the various main differences between a straight romance and romantic suspense novel in a very easy to understand and straight forward way.

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  9. I like your explanations. Thanks for being so thorough. Your years of experience show.

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    1. Thanks. As I've said before, writing this out reminds me of what I'm supposed to be doing. I got about 70 pages edited on the plane to San Antonio. In a few minutes, we're getting on the next plane to L.A.

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  10. I've just started a shift toward writing romantic suspense, so this is interesting and helpful!

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  11. Funny, no matter what kind of writing you do, a valuable, even vital piece of advice is to read widely in that genre. Thanks for the reminder. Also, your comparison of genres was very interesting

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  12. Elizabeth and Nancy, glad the post is helpful.

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  13. Does every romance or romantic suspense novel end with the the hero and heroine walking off into the sunset, together for life? Or can the ending be that they might have a wonderful affair but are not committed to each other forever? I guess I'm asking whether any ambivalence is allowed or is it necessary to end with a "happily ever after"?

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  14. Paloma, thanks for stopping by. That's a good question. If a writer is doing a RS series, she might keep the ending of the relationship in doubt until the last book of the series. In general, you need to think about your audience. Most romance readers want a HEA ending, but they might settle for less if they love your book.

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