Oh. No. What have we done?
Find shoes, find bra, run. Run like the wind that whirlwind lied to us about.
A book, I have found, can be a similar experience, especially a romance novel and all the delicious secrets those pages hold. Also, the ink smells great. (Yes, I am that weird person in Barnes & Noble sniffing the books, and I am not ashamed.)
But here's the question: How do we know the difference between a good romance novel (ya know, the ones that curl our toes, make us squee, and send us into fits of fantasy that may or may not include werewolves, vampires . . . maybe both) and the bad romance novel (ya know, the one we're embarrassed to be reading, but darn it, there's so much fan service, we do it anyway)?
Now don't get me wrong, the supposed "bad" romance novels still have their area of fun, and I'm not saying they should go away. Ever heard of Bad Book Friday? It's when the bad starts to outweigh the good that the writers of the world must unite and start saying something about it.
I know. Novel concept. Never would have thought of that!
*Squints at above sarcasm*
Just hear me out.
How many times have we seen this type of romance story? Boy meets girl, girl thinks boy is hot, shenanigans ensue, friends are met, misunderstanding triggers drama, cue currently famous pop song number, realization of stupidity, kiss at the end, happily ever after.
I say, it's time for a new twist.
I just mean, let's make romance fresh again. Even though I am not a romance author (I write in the fantasy-genre, and I am far too in love with dragons to switch genres now), romance is a part of almost every story we know and love, even the shoot-em-up actions, and therefore, I believe it's necessary to know the basics whether people write about dinosaurs, spaceships, or the weird kid next door who just bought a pair of unnerving binoculars.
So, without further ado, here are some of my golden rules/suggestions for writing romance.
The Fleshy Lover
A great way I use to test this is the book question: Can this character, by himself/herself, hold their own in their very own book without their love interest present? And, as an addition, if they can hold their own, ask the following question: Should they?
Are they interesting on their own? Would we want to read about them by themselves? If the answer to any of these questions is no, I suggest going back and working on this character alone. Who are they? What do they like to do? What is their background? What are their hobbies, hopes, and dreams? Answer all these questions individually and you will have a worthy character deserving of someone special. Then do the same thing for the other love interest.
The Chatty Lover
Often the great things about a romance are the everyday details about the person you're in love with. Characters should have those little details to love, too, right?
The Realistic Man
*Peers at above image* You're not real, so stop it. Don't you dare smirk at me, you hunky thing, you.
Here is probably going to strike a nerve, and I want to begin by saying, I have been there. I know it is unbelievably nice to have a Fabio-esque guy to read about, great to fantasize about the guy that can . . . make us enjoy ourselves . . . five times in a single hour. I get it. But this post is aimed at writing good romance, good chemistry, and all around creating a good read.
So . . . get ready and heave a huge sigh . . . the guy, in my opinion, should strive to be a little more realistic than the Fabio. I'm not saying make him boring, I'm just saying make him a man. A real man. Have him say the wrong thing once in a while. Maybe have him be short for once and give those short guys a chance. I've known quite a few short men in real life who were wonderful people.
In the bedroom, maybe have something go wrong, just for the laughs. Maybe his, uh, mini-him isn't all he promised it was, and that can be a plot point. Maybe someone wants to try something new, only to hear from the other lover, "Um, what are you doing?" Maybe someone's head bumps the headboard and the whole thing unravels into giggles.
I know, romance is about the fantasy, but that's where my expertise comes in. I am a fantasy author, and one of the first things I learned was fantasy does not mean I have a free pass to do whatever I want. I can't have someone leap over the Grand Canyon just because I'm writing a fantasy. I have to have a reason within the established universe for why leaping over the Grand Canyon may be possible.
The same is true for romance. Now, it is possible to have a Fabio sort of guy if he's a supernatural something or other, but a random human? Nope, not happening. Sex is messy, sex is dirty, and it isn't the romanticized dream we see in entertainment all the time.
But, in my opinion, that's the fun part.
Basically, my advice is to be unique. Have a unique man in your story with thoughts, feelings, actual opinions he gets to share, and all of that great stuff that makes us fall in love with them. Make him flawed in more ways than he's a bit of a brute, an emotionally closed-off macho man, or a potentially abusive whats-it. Take the time to get to know who he is as a person, not just who he is in the bedroom. Spend just as much time on him as the presumably female protagonist.
Make him have depth. Brain is the new sexy, they say. It certainly is for me. ;)
The Triangle Lovers
Sometimes it gets to the point where I start wondering, "You know, she's doing this on purpose. She likes the attention. She's just stringing both these guys along because . . ."
It could be interesting to have her purposely not choosing be an aspect of the plot. This can point to many aspects of her character, and maybe it could turn into an interesting narrative. But love triangles as they typically stand today? Avoid like the plague.
However, that's not to say all love triangles are bad. The Hunger Games is the rare, yet fascinating example, of a love triangle that works and one that, at least I, am totally invested in.
The reason for this is the choice makes sense. Katniss's indecision makes sense. At home, she has Gale. In the Games, she has Peeta. These two places may as well be two different worlds. Both are extremely different from one another, each guy belongs to a different one, and Katniss is stuck in the middle. She can choose Gale, but Gale will never be able to fully understand what she went through in the Games. Or, she can choose Peeta, who is perhaps the only person who could understand everything she went through. At the same time, Katniss herself is two different people. She is Home Katniss, and she is Game Katniss. In order to choose a love interest, Katniss must first choose who she wants to be. That is an incredibly hard question, and one that every character on the hero's journey eventually asks.
As an added bonus, I can't think of a time when Peeta and Gale have ever been in the same room. Because of this, we get zero posturing, zero arguments between the two, and we avoid the jealous macho measuring contests completely. Yes. Thank you. Thank you, thank you. More please! :D
(And, all this being said, I admit I enjoy The Vampire Diaries. Sssh, don't tell anyone. I'm allowed to have one guilty pleasure.)
The Memorized Lover
Now, this isn't always true, but I believe it should be kept in mind, and it is especially important if our stereotypical "good" character ends up falling for our stereotypical "bad" character if the intention is for this romance to be truly romantic and not . . . unhealthy.
A good/bad character going off the deep end and saying the L word requires something vital from the good character. They have to know beyond a shadow of a doubt they are in love with someone evil.
Buffy and Spike did this beautifully in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Spike came to the conclusion it would be a great idea to sell some demon eggs bent on destroying Sunnydale. (*Cough* Not your best idea, there, buddy, but it's better than the kitten-munching, I s'pose). Buffy, upon discovering this, wasn't necessarily mad at him. Well, she was, but she didn't go off. Why? Because she wasn't surprised. Spike was evil. Of course he would pull something like that.
A different example is Rumpelstiltskin and Belle from Once Upon a Time. Unlike Buffy and Spike, Belle and Rumple don't seem to be aware of each other's true natures. Belle passionately believes Rumple would never lie to her, as clearly demonstrated through most of Season 4, yet even when she says this to his face, Rumple proceeds to lie in her face. Now, this sounds like Rumple is the bad guy, but at least for me, I wasn't even mad at Rumple. Rumple has always been like this, so, in a way, it's like getting mad at fire. It's fire. It's always going to burn us every time. We were the idiot for touching it. So this places Belle in the role of the idiot, and if she's not the idiot, then she is at least dangerously naive and at the mercy of a man she believes to be reformed.
This sort of situation can be done, and it can be a fascinating narrative, but only if it is presented with a certain level of self-awareness. There should be a nod to the fact the couple is unbalanced and are not equals, or otherwise, I find it to be a case of mistaken romance that can lead into uncomfortable territory. If the reader/audience begins to question whether two people should be together, but the author keeps insisting they should, a dissonance begins to occur that, in time, may damage the novel beyond repair.
And Finally . . .
So, "Aloha, auf Wiedersehen, bon soir, sayonara, and all those goodbye things, baby," and I will see you all next time with Random Rant Sunday where I get to talk about whatever the monkey feathers I want. ;) It will most likely involve personified Death this time around . . .