Monday, February 24, 2014

Last Monday Book Rerun: Writing Romances

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?


Patricia Stoltey said...

God review, Jenny. They may be stereotypes, but I always liked the brooding hero (or the bad boy) back when I read a lot of romances.

I've never tried to write one either. It was hard enough just trying to put a little subtle romance into my mysteries.

Sarah Reichert said...

I think the trick with writing a good romance is to have it grounded in reality so your characters are flawed enough to relate to your readers. The second part should be that its just a shade more beautiful than real life. Because lets face it, romance novels are a means of escaping the real world for something just a bit more romantic. I'm certainly no expert, of course, and its been years since I've read a run-of-the-mill romance. Great post, thanks for the review of the book as well.

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