What makes a romance novel enticing? That is the million-dollar question.
Is it sexual tension, the act of love, the battle of the sexes, or the sweet tingle of attraction that draws your attention? The answer, of course, is as varied as the people who buy romance novels.
So how do you write a story that will appeal to the widest audience possible without leaving some readers wanting more, yet offending others? The answer is simple. You can’t.
Writing romance is all about finding a balance of passion and tension, and for most of us that means writing what we’d like to read. My first few novels were much steamier than they are now days, and I’ve wondered why that is. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and most of the heat I feel these days is hot flashes. Or maybe it’s because I know my mother will read my books. Either way, I’ve toned down the sex to focus more on why the characters are feeling attracted, charmed, or conflicted.
Let’s talk about those three issues, attracted, charmed, and conflicted. Of course most romantic relationships contain all three, but let’s break it down.
We all understand attraction. We feel it in the bakery at the grocery store and watching a commercial on TV. What is different about romantic attraction? First there’s the whole instinctual need for sex. That topic is universal and well documented. Some romance writers simply go with that. It’s real. It’s easy to tap into and describe. Some readers thrive on reading about it over and over. But there are other, deeper, reasons people are attracted to each other.
Having a basic understanding of human psychology helps nail down why one person may be attracted to another. I enjoy visiting my elderly neighbor because she reminds me of my mother. Is that attraction? Yes, but it’s not romantic attraction. It has been documented over and over that women may be attracted to a man because he either reminds her of her father and she misses that stability and love, or on the flipside, she is looking for the father figure she never had. This type of romantic relationship is fraught with turmoil because it’s unlikely that a woman will find the unconditional love and support of a father, from a lover.
Sometimes people are attracted to another person because they feel comfortable with them. This one idea alone can be a big enough conflict for a whole novel, because what is considered “normal” by some, may actually be violent, or neglectful to others. The relationship may not feel good, but it does feel like the relationships they are used to, and trying something different feels awkward. I personally like to write about overcoming that discomfort and finding a healthy connection, but many popular and angsty books have been written about unhealthy love affairs.
So what about charmed? This is also one of my favorite topics in romance. Charmed is fun, inspiring, and different for everyone. Some folks are charmed by humor, some by thoughtfulness, others by verbal communication. The book The five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, gave me inspiration for about a million love stories. For example, what happens when two people are attracted, but one is charmed by considerate actions like loading the dishwasher after dinner without being asked, but the other is fulfilled and delighted by lengthy deep discussions. Both are healthy desires in a relationship, but how do your characters find balance? One is busy in the kitchen to show their affection while the other feels neglected and bereft back at the table. Another example: A man spends an hour at the flower shop selecting the perfect mix of flowers to show his devotion, but when he comes home late, his lover is displeased that he was too inconsiderate to call and let her know. These healthy conflicts that are centered around the actions that delight and charm a character, to me, are perfect fodder for a great romance.
Last but not least is conflict. As discussed, both attraction and charm cause conflict, but some writers choose conflict alone as the basis for a love story. In some classic love stories the relationship is perfect, but the lovers are kept apart because of war, financial status, or family disapproval.
I chose to write about couples who are kept apart because of emotional reasons that they must find, confront, and alter. The realization and practice involved in this type of conflict is fun for me to twist and mold. I know from personal experience that realizing you have an issue, doesn’t fix it. You have to alter your thought processes and actions and work through changing in order to find a solution. The discomfort and confusion involved with altering your life is conflict enough for me.
To review, what do you find enticing about a love story? Is it the attraction of the characters to each other, the flutter of emotion and charm they find in the company of another person, or the conflict keeping them apart? Or like me, do you love all three?
I’m excited to announce that all of my books, The Shabby Chic Trilogy, and Love on the Line, are all available as audible books! In celebration lets talk about where we listen to audio books.
A quick Google search showed that since 2011, audio book sales have nearly doubled each year. I’m fairly certain this is because we’ve become so busy we need to find a way to read while we are doing something else. Sadly, multitasking has become mainstream, but fitting in a great book is always a plus.
I asked friends where they listen to audio books and I loved their answers. Read on and get some great ideas of how to squeeze a book into your busy day.
It appears that the first place many of us think of listening to an audio book is when we’re driving. We spend hours stuck in traffic each day, why not make those hours worth while? I know that back when I was working long days, if I had a great book to listen to I actually looked forward to the commute. And road trips? Nothing makes long hours stuck in the car pass quicker than a great story.
Eating lunch every day by yourself? Why not spend it with a sappy love story? Do you craft? I like to crochet, but it’s hard to watch what I’m doing and the TV at the same time. Perfect audio book multitask time! What about card making and scrapbooking? If you need your hands and eyes, your ears are still free to soak up a great story.
One friend told me she loves to escape in the evenings to a hot bath with a good book. She turns out the lights, burns a few candles, and floats away with a great story. What a wonderful idea! I never liked to read in the tub because I was always afraid I’d drop the book in the water. No more worries!
Some folks I spoke with like to listen to books while they run or work out. One friend said she absolutely hates getting on the treadmill, but with a good book the time passes much quicker. I’m all for finding a great way to bribe myself to work out!
So what do you think, could you squeeze some romance or mystery into your day? Tell me, where do you like to listen to books?
Have you ever wondered how an author could contrive the colorful characters that draw you into a novel? How do these imaginary people, so full of life and personality, spring from nothing but an imagination? Sometimes characters aren’t even people, but beings from a realm you’d never imagined. How does one mind come up with such individuals? Although there are steps I take to create characters, the process can be both puzzling and surprising.
Some authors feel that their gift of creation is precarious, and if they rock the boat their ability to contrive characters will vanish. They think a jolt of any kind could shake loose their talent and leave them bereft. They carefully walk through life on eggshells, cautious not to alter their lifestyle for fear of losing their unique power. Other authors feel that their creativity springs from living a colorful and varied life; an existence filled with ever shifting perceptions and insights. I take a more middle of the road approach. My life of traveling in our RV is varied and colorful, yet each day I tend to have a similar routine. I certainly gear up to write in a comparable way each day. So what is the secret to unlocking the imagination doors of character development?
I’ve heard of authors who conceive a story in a flash, then closet themselves away for days or weeks, typing furiously until the whole thing is out. But I believe that far more of us agonize over our characters, some for months or years. We turn them this way and that in our mind, considering how they would respond to specific stimuli. What would they notice? How would they feel? Would they have a knee jerk reaction, then change their mind after a few moment of reflection, or hold stubbornly to their first impression? Would this character be a compilation of their experiences, always looking back for answers on how to move forward. Or is the character motivated by the need to feel free, resolute to never alter their course, because everything happens for a reason. Is my character motivated by guilt, or pleasure, or the need to please others? Is she closed off due to a past trauma, or motivated by a single goal. All these questions sound like a phycology class more so than a novel, but motivation is the driving force behind a character’s actions. Once you know the motivation behind a character you can begin to conceive how they respond.
Now you have a few character’s motivations established in your mind you can place them in a setting, confident that they won’t run-a-muck. Or better yet, maybe they will, to the delight and shock of the author. If you are lucky enough to contrive two characters with personalities that play off one another, you are in for a treat. With conflicting motivation running wild, anything can happen. These are the moments I love as an author. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been surprised and delighted by things my characters do or say.
Of course there are other things to consider when creating a character. What do they look like? Where do they live? How old are they? What language do they speak? And again, do these things effect their motivation?
I always ask myself “How can I create a three dimensional character that takes multiple factors into account for their day to day motivation.” I believe the fuller a character has been developed; the more readers will empathize and be drawn into the story. After all, humans are quite complicated creatures. Next I think “What would happen if this character is confront with their worst fear, or situations completely out of their control and comfort zone?” That’s right, what if I contrived scenarios to throw at the character knowing they will struggle to figure it out? Therein lies the best idea for a story.
Next time you pick up a novel, watch as the author develops the character. How do you learn what their motivation may be? Does it become clear through memories or conversation? Are you dropped into a scene where the character is thinking or acting a specific way? Are you clued in by their mannerisms or speech patterns? Sometimes you find out about a character by the way other characters respond to them. The best thing about writing and reading is that the possibilities for character development are pretty much endless…