By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund
I'm a romance novelist. Yes, I also write historical fiction. But I consider myself a romance novelist first and a historical writer second.
Well first, I love reading romances of any genre. This past summer I went on a binge and read dystopian and fantasy YA romances (books like The Selection by Kiera Kass, Beastly by Alex Finn, Delirium by Lauren Oliver). Partly I wanted to be aware of what my teen daughters are reading. And partly I like reading sweet (clean) romances and know I can usually get that in a YA book .
Second, I consider myself a romance novelist (versus historical novelist) because when I dabble with writing in other genres, my stories always end up with a romance element. It seems to come out whether I'm writing contemporary or YA or historical.
Most of the time readers appreciate the romance aspects of my books. Occasionally I get complaints like: "for a historical it was too romance-y." But overall I've gotten a positive response to the sizzle of the romance in my books. My characters aren't pulling one another's clothes off, but the romantic tension is there nonetheless.
Any time I finish reading a romance novel, I sit back and muse over elements I liked or didn't like. And if I move the book to my favorite's shelf, I ask myself what was it about the romance that hooked me?
A romance novel usually has to have several key elements to make it to my "keeper" shelf. These elements might cause some readers or writers to classify romances as "formulaic." But essentially, those tried-and-true elements are the building blocks for penning a winning romance. They're the things romance readers expect, love, and essentially why they pick up a romance in the first place.
The 5 elements sigh-worthy romance novels must have:
1. Both the hero and heroine must be likeable. The reader must be able to fall in love with the hero right along with the heroine. He has to be the kind of guy that melts readers' hearts. Sure he has to be flawed, but in such a way that readers still love him.
And the reader must also be able to cheer for the heroine. She can be many things, even a feisty tomboy. Certainly not perfect. But she has to be the type of woman our readers would aspire to be.
2. The hero and heroine must meet early in the story. It's best if our two main characters meet within the first chapter or two. Even if we have a love triangle, readers still like to know which man they're rooting for.
This goes back to the above point. Readers want to fall in love with the hero. And if they don't know who he is, then it's harder for them to relate to the romance.
3. A barrier must keep the hero and heroine from finding true love together until the end. In fact, there could be many barriers standing between the two keeping them physically, emotionally, and relationally apart.
Readers have told me one they're usually disappointed when all those barriers fall away and the hero and heroine "get together" too soon in the novel. It lets down the tension and doesn't give the reader a reason to keep flipping pages, no matter how strong the rest of the plot might be.
|Drawing by Amy Blake|
I also intentionally find ways to put my characters into romantic situations that fit with each unique story.
For example, in Rebellious Heart, the hero Ben is the son of a shoemaker. At one point early in the story, I have him take the heroine's foot measurements. I shaped the scene to show the growing attraction between the two as she exposes her ankle and he touches her foot. With each scene after that, I keep putting them together in situations where that attraction has the chance to continue growing and deepening.
5. The romance must come to a satisfying conclusion (aka happily-ever-after). The couple must get together by the end of the book. They must overcome all the barriers that have kept them apart. They have to fall in love. And they have to want to be together forever. Period.
In fact, the ending really should be sigh-worthy. When the reader closes the book, we want them smiling in ultimate satisfaction because they're happy the hero and heroine overcame great obstacles, defeated the antagonist, grew in character as a result, and in the end found true love.
Is there anything you'd add to my list of must-haves for a romance? Do you think romance novels have become too formulaic?
*A BIG thank you to Catherine Johnson for hosting a Rebellious Heart Art show! Several artists drew likenesses of the cover like the one above. To see more, head over to Catherine's Rebellious Heart Art board on Pinterest or my Rebellious Heart novel board.