Post by Jenny
The flowers have wilted, the chocolates are gone (hey, it was a small box), and Valentine’s Day is but a memory for most of us. But for the people who read and write romance novels, love is always in the air. Hence, February’s Last Monday Book: Writing Romances, A Handbook by the Romance Writers of America. I don’t read romances, and we’re probably all glad I haven’t tried to write one. It seems like it’s one of those things that’s difficult to do well—and, conversely, easy to do poorly. But in the spirit of February, I figured a crash course in what makes a good romance wouldn’t kill me.
Since its charter in 1981, Romance Writers of America has grown to more than 10,000 members. RWA throws a big conference every year and sponsors the RITA and Golden Heart awards. Many stories have at least a thread of a romance woven through, but to be considered a romance, the book must have a “central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending.” But the many subgenres—at least nine of them—give romance writers plenty of room to work.
The book’s chapter arrangement threw me for a loop, with Chapter 1 being Who Needs an Agent, Anyway? Kind of a cart-before-the-horse thing. Most of Part 1, The Business of Romance, is helpful but better saved for last. After all, there’s no sense in worrying about agents before the manuscript is written.
Part 2 focuses on General Information, including what constitutes a romance novel, the role of a romance novel, and writing with passion. But I found Part 3, The Craft, to be the most enlightening, especially for someone (me) who doesn’t have the first idea of how to bring a regency heroine or a medieval maiden to life, or what exactly is the difference between contemporary and mainstream romances.
As with any genre, a successful romance avoids the common pitfalls of clichés, stilted dialogue, and unoriginal plotting. Stereotyped characters—the brooding hero, the naïve heroine—are particularly to be avoided. I can imagine that keeping the casting fresh is a huge challenge.
RWA is a venerable group that continues to educate and encourage droves of writers, and The Handbook is a helpful look at the genre for anyone starting out. But, in all honesty, I’m still not a convert. How about you? Do you read or write romances?