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 better saved for last. After all, there’s no sense in worrying about agents before the manuscript is written.
Part 2 focuses on helpful 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 genres, 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?