Last Saturday, I gave a talk on romance writing. Not romantic suspense. Not paranormal romantic suspense. Straight romance.
Of course, every time I prepare a workshop, it reminds me of what to look for in my own writing. As I went over my notes, I considered the essentials that make up a romance novel.
A basic requirement is, of course, conflict. But all conflicts are not created equal. The strongest books have a gut-wrenching conflict keeping the hero and heroine apart. Something so fraught with emotional depth that the reader can’t imagine these two people ending up together.
Paranormal romance is the perfect venue for this type of clash. Imagine falling in love with a man–then finding out he’s a monster of the night. A werewolf. Or imagine the conflict that a werewolf must go through in his life. He lives among humanity, but he’s always an outsider, doomed to walk alone. In my first werewolf book, KILLING MOON, Ross Marshall had vowed never to marry because he hates the idea of perpetuating his savage heritage. Five years before the book began, he ripped out the throat of a serial killer–because the police wouldn’t go after the man. Then he told himself that taking out the killer dragged him down to the man’s level. He vowed never to kill a human again–until he was forced to do it to save the woman he loved.
Which brings me to another key concept. The overriding theme of a romance is the healing power of love. A werewolf is fundamentally damaged, so far as humanity is concerned. But if the right woman can give him her love, everything will change for him.
And the reader will get the payoff she longs for–the happy ending. In my books, I put my characters through hell, but I feel okay about it, because they are going to survive, and they are going to get the biggest reward they can imagine–the joy of walking off together into a wonderful life of love and sharing.
I just read a very compelling mainstream suspense novel, TRUE EVIL, by Greg Iles. It had some really disturbing aspects, and it wasn’t a romance. So I couldn’t quite trust the author. I had to peek at the ending to make sure he didn’t kill the hero.
How do you respond to the books you read? Do you want that safety net–the knowledge that the writer can put the characters through the wringer, but it’s all going to work out in the end? Can you live with the uncertainty of not knowing? Can you wrap your head around an unhappy ending? Or do you want to strangle the novelist who takes you on a wild ride with her characters, then turns away from the redeeming power of love?