Can I wrench your guts?

September 11, 2008 at 2:25 am (General)

KILLING MOON, Berkley Sensation, by Rebecca York

KILLING MOON, Berkley Sensation, by Rebecca York

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?




  1. Cait London said,

    I do need a satisfying ending, something that won’t let me agonize over what happened later. I read a lot of romantic suspense, not the slasher/forensic/gritty kind, but more uncovering of secrets, and I want all those exposed. I think if the characters are content, if not happy, then I am, too.

  2. Rebecca York said,

    Cait, thanks for stopping buy. The older I get, the more I want “happy,” not just “content.”

  3. Colleen said,

    It bugs me when the author leaves the charcters hanging… I love happy endings, it makes all the pain they went through worth it! When I read a book that leaves everything up in the air, I walk away with such disappointment… and tell myself to never read it again! Who wants to read about pain over and over if there is no light at the end!!!

  4. Rebecca York said,

    Colleen, I agree. And it makes me crazy when a writer is doing a series and leaves too much up in the air–which the reader won’t find out about until the next book. I think you’ve got to tie up enough to make it satisfying.

  5. Savanna Kougar said,

    Real simple, I don’t want to read it unless there is a happy ending. Now, if it’s an ongoing series which will have a happy ending, I’m good with that too.
    Truthfully, I really don’t give a darn about stories that don’t have a happy ending. Life is like that. Why suffer through a story as well?

  6. Cathy said,

    That is the reason I don’t do much “Urban Fantasy/Paranormal”. Where is my Happy Ending!! I live with separations, divorce, wife beating, cancer, in family and friends. When I pick up a book an author is supposed to take me to a HEA when I spend my time with them. If I wanted a soap opera that never ends I watch the neighbors. We all have conflict that we want to end HEA and know won’t. Even if I read mega series I want a love story that ends happy in each book. Since I read a couple hundred each year to take me away from the pain of real life, I want to see at least one couple in my books over come their problems and stand by each other.

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