Romance makes the promise that no matter how bleak things sometimes look,
in the end everything will turn out right and true love will triumph — and in
an uncertain world, that’s very comforting.
We’re just a few days away from Valentine’s Day, so it’s only fitting we talk about romance. What makes a romance story a good romance story? Is it the flirting? The first kiss? The tension? The sex? The constant fear it might end?
Yep. It’s all of that.
Today I’d like to examine what might make a successful fictitious romance, and what might make a not-so-successful one. Also, peppered throughout the post you’ll find tips from fellow writers, and even a couple of excerpts from their work. Feel free to click on the images, they’ll take you directly to the author’s Twitter page.
Where should we start first? I vote tropes.
Is there any other story line as bloated with tropes as a good old-fashioned romance? I struggle to think of one. Let’s have a look at five common tropes.
1.| Billionaires. Someone rich falls in love with someone poor, but they struggle to woo their intended because they rely on their money to do so—effectively offending them.
In a certain trilogy-turned-major-motion-picture-trilogy, however, we see a Billionaire who most definitely flaunts his wealth on every page. Occasionally it amuses his love interest, but often it just offends her. He still manages to get her in his red room, though, because…well…reasons full of clichés. More on that in a few.
2.| Forbidden Romance. Your two lovebirds’ passions are flamed by the fact something, or someone, wants to keep them apart. The most infamous example of this is Romeo and Juliet. They loved one another dearly, but their families were long-standing enemies.
3.| Love Triangle. Three hearts, two loves. Usually this pits two men against one another as they vie for the affections of a lovesick, indecisive woman…or sometimes a woman torn between a vampire and a werewolf.
4.| Reformed Playboy. The hero in the story is known for his roguish ways. He’s had many lovers, he doesn’t play by the rules, he’s tatted up and drives fast cars…until the day he meets her, that is. I don’t know why, but when trying to think of an example of this, I instantly thought of Uncle Jesse and Rebecca Donaldson’s budding courtship in Full House. Have mercy.
5.| Scars. Be them physical or mental, one person cannot fully give themselves to the one they love until they overcome the anguish of their scars. The movie Pay It Forward comes to mind.
My least-favorite tropes:
Instant-Love: Instant attraction is one thing, but if two people go on a date and at the end of the night they’ve already said they love one another? Yeah, I’m probably going to pass.
On again/Off again/On again/Off again: I am all for a break up. Have the fictional couple argue and dissolve their love, and then have them fight to repair it. Just…don’t make it happen in every chapter. More than two (maybe three) break-ups in a novel would be hard to keep my interest.
Wimpy Woman: This might be a case of lacking character growth, but I’ve found more than one book where the woman is abused, whether physically or emotionally, and she just accepts it. I often write about abuse, but I hate when the abused doesn’t do anything to change their circumstance. I haven’t come across a book where the abuse happens to a man, but I’m sure it exists and it’d be just as wrong. Let your characters grow and evolve.
Tropes vs. Clichés
Tropes are bad, yes?
Tropes are common plot devices, like the ones we just discussed. They’re familiar and grant your readers an idea of what they might expect. You can turn a trope around and make it your own. It isn’t always easy, but it can be done. (Boy meets girl is a trope, perhaps the oldest trope, but you can expand upon it and make it unique.)
Clichés are what readers usually find annoying: The virgin who is suddenly a sex kitten. The hero who can fight in epic battles and then make love to a duchess, despite having a slew of new wounds he should probably have seen. The woman who runs off at every misunderstanding. Avoid clichés at all costs. Readers have seen them more times than they’d wish to count.
Keep it real.
Just like last week when we discussed Sex Scenes, your love scenes and romances should usually be realistic. That isn’t to say you can’t have aliens who are in love with warlocks, but there are certain things to keep in mind when attempting to make the heart sing.
1. | Keep Your Characters In Mind. This may sound like duh advice, but how many books have you read where the heroine does something wildly out of character, and for no apparent reason? If your characters are straight-laced, would they really jump in the sack after just meeting each other?
2.| Don’t Forget It Needs a Purpose. If you’re writing a romance novel, then the romance is definitely the point of the story. If you’re writing a paranormal thriller with a romantic subplot…that subplot needs to do something. Everything, including your romance, should further your plot. If it’s just tossed in, it’ll read that way.
3.| Keep your purple prose in check.
I am all for a bit of flower in my descriptions from time-to-time, but if your love scenes are overstuffed with long sections sugary-sweet prose, the effect you’re going for is ruined. It probably shouldn’t take four paragraphs to describe the fleck of gold in the lover’s eyes.
4.| Milk the tension. Don’t underestimate the enormous power of milking both romantic tension and sexual tension. The will they/won’t they trope is one with the capacity to keep your readers turning the page…and it also prevents the Insta-Romance. Love at first sight isn’t really a thing. Lust at first sight is. Know which one you’re writing, if you must.
5.| Don’t forget about chemistry. Your characters need it. Opposites might attract, but it has to make sense. A billionaire isn’t likely to fall in love with someone who is homeless. If they do, then there needs to be a solid reason, otherwise no one is going to believe it.
6.| Each of your lovebirds should have their own issues. If Partner A is always the one who has problems to work through that put a strain on the relationship…your readers are going to wonder why Partner B is even sticking around. Let there be some back and forth, for tension’s sake!
7.| Keep it age appropriate. I’ve seen way too many young couples written as if they’re in a mature relationship like middle aged married people. This just isn’t realistic at all and may contribute to unhealthy relationship goals for younger people. If you’re writing for young people, it doesn’t mean you can’t tackle difficult subjects, just do so for them.
8.| Don’t forget your research. Love is love, right? Maybe, but it was handled differently throughout time. If you’re writing about a romance in 1545, it’d behoove you to research what the dynamics were between men and women during that time. Don’t forget about age of consent when writing historical romances…it might be younger than you’re comfortable writing.
9.| Are your characters flawed? (They should be.) So should their romance. I’ve read one or two books in the last two years where the author attempted to write the perfect romance. Meaning the couple always stood by one another, never argued, had a string of tender moments, and nothing ever threatened their happiness. This isn’t only unrealistic, it’s also boring. Bring on the tension, baby!
That’s all today! Please give my contributors a click and check out their social media pages and websites. They are dear, sweet people and I couldn’t be more thrilled they were willing to participate.
I had dozens of submissions and couldn’t use them all, so if you don’t see yours today, I apologize. I appreciate so much your time and effort, and I promise I will keep you in mind for the next blog post like this one.
Until next time, I hope you have a lovely, romance-filled Valentine’s Day!