New author giddiness–opening up the box and finding my copies in there!!! It’s hard to believe that a year ago, this idea barely existed. Now it’s here. These babies are going to disappear fast, which means, well, I’ll have to buy more…or I could cut out the middleman and just write myself a check….
Wanting heroes and heroines to get together is part of my DNA. At least it seems that way. For as long as I can remember, I’ve looked for romances everywhere.
–When I first watched Peter Pan, I was sure he and Wendy were meant for each other. Tinkerbell was just getting in the way.
–During elementary school, my bus dropped me off at my house at 3:50 pm every afternoon—just in time for the last 10 minutes of Guiding Light, which I watched religiously. (Lujack, I still love you, and so does Beth.)
–I watched Jem and the Holograms not because it was a cool cartoon but because of the love triangle.
–I snuck out of bed and hid under the piano in the living room so I could watch Rhett Butler—oh, I mean Gone with the Wind, back when it played on network TV once a year.
Yep, I’m a die-hard romantic. If a story doesn’t have a romance, I’ll add one in my mind. Someone please tell me you do this too. I can’t be the only one who was born a romantic!
First I’ll put out the disclaimer that I love drek, as well as the classics, and you can’t help what touches you emotionally. Without shame (maybe a little), I will list some of the movies that hit me hard and showed me the power of love.
Notting Hill: I’m not sure why I love this one because Julia is consistently mean to Hugh and he keeps caving to her. Maybe it was the awkwardness between them or the loveable insane roommate Spike. All I know is that when she says “indefinitely” at the end, my eyes fill with giant Julia tears.
Frankie and Johnny: This flick got panned but I watched it over and over for about two years. I totally identified with the depressing Michelle Pfeiffer role and it seemed so lovely to me that such a sad-sack could find true love. How can you not adore Al Pacino?
Deja Vu blew me away and I was in dreamland for weeks over this indie. A couple, both with other spouses, fall in love and find themselves constantly reunited through a long string of coincidences. Each time I watch it, I blubber like a baby–though after the 107th viewing, the heroine seems pretty whiny. Proceed with caution…and abandon!
Love Affair was deemed a mistake of a remake of An Affair to Remember. But I love it! Annette Bening is endlessly gorgeous and fun to watch. She and Warren Beatty have this warm chemistry, so much so that even Katharine Hepburn agreed to be in it.
P.S. I Love You: I’ll confess, I’m not a big Hilary Swank fan, in that I don’t need to watch all her movies. But she is adorable here as a shoe-obsessed widow trying to find her way. Plus, she and Gerard Butler generate brilliant fireworks together. Kathy Bates is responsible for bringing on my torrent of sobbing toward the end–you’ll know where. You’ll see here how the human spirit is endlessly searching and finding connections.
How could I not include a classic? Notorious: Cary Grant is deadly sexy, the all-knowing hero who helps guide a drunken Audrey Hepburn toward a more virtuous path. Great on-screen sparks in the scandalous kiss of its time.
1. The literal running-into-him introduction to the hero: The heroine—let’s call her Sally–is so adorable but she’s really clumsy. She opens a door and whoosh, she finds herself looking at the hero’s rock-hard chest. He stares down at her, his eyes dancing with amusement over her klutziness. Chemistry ensues. We editors see this “meet cute” all the time and we’re tired of it.
2. Starting a novel with someone driving: If I had a penny for how many manuscripts begin with the hero/heroine in a car, I’d be rich! It seems logical, doesn’t it? You begin with the character’s arrival Somewhere Important. This can work, but it’s a big cliché. Can’t you start with the knock on the door or a more active opening?
3. The first chapter info dump: Sally is brushing her hair in front of the mirror. She’s thinking about the boy who dumped her. Gosh, she’s been through so much. There was her parents’ divorce, the time she broke every bone in her body trying to save a daredevil child, the death of her cat and her grandmother’s fight with leukemia. Sally may have had a hard life but you can sprinkle in her tragedies throughout the manuscript and not just in the first chapter.
If you can avoid these three, you’re on your way to writing an original first chapter. Good luck!
What do young people read these days? Unless it has to do with Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Vampire Diaries or Twilight, teens seem more immersed in texting, their iPhones, Facebook, TV and reading from technology. When I was a teen, television marathons often kept me from reading, but there were some classics back in the 70s and 80s that I devoured. Thank goodness, my father was clueless when I handed him Judy Blume’s Forever and Wifey to buy for me when I was 13. I read the supremely racy Princess Daisy five minutes later. Evolving into a Romance reader, I turned to those little books at age 14 and spent long hours in my dorm room reading Penny Jordan and ignoring my World Civ homework.
Years later, I now have two nieces by marriage: one is 16, one 18. Both want to read more adult books, but I wouldn’t dare send sexy Romances. They told me not to. These girls have seen all kinds of violence/sex on TV and love Desperate Housewives, Cougartown and Gossip Girl–interestingly, female focused shows. The 18-year-old said I could send her “anything” so I found her historical, chick lit and romantic suspense novels that seemed tame. She wouldn’t have wanted family-oriented romances (she has enough family in her life) and I’m sure her mother would have killed me if I’d sent her anything with sex in it. Those books, a girl has to get on her own and usually through covert means. If she’d been Christian, I would have sent her some Inspirational romance novels, which are great for young girls. I’d love to encourage these girls to read for pleasure (romance!) as much as they can since they’ll become busy enough once they hit college and those terrible 20s when women spend every last second setting up their support systems, professional lives, and dating not necessarily to get married.
In any case, having two nieces gets me a little nostalgic for my teens when I discovered the Romance genre. How strange to be an adult where I secretly want them to read Romances, but have to be protective, too.
You can save the candlelight dinner with chocolate cake and chilled wine for when you’ve completed your romance novel. For now, you have a book to write/finish/edit so it’s time to focus on the basics. Here are ten items for you to check before you submit your manuscript to a publisher:
1. Are your characters complex and interesting? We editors have seen it all. What we love is when your hero, heroine and secondary characters seem like real people. Everyone is different, right? So make sure your “people” unique.
2. Does the conflict/romantic tension carry through the entire story? In real life, you meet someone special and you live happily ever after (maybe not always, but let’s hope) without that grinding conflict one reads in stories. In a romance novel, the tension needs to last, make your readers stay up until 3am. If your hero and heroine have picnics every day, your reader will fall asleep.
3. Do you appeal to all five senses? This may sound cliché but the reader wants a tantalizing experience. Close your eyes and envision your scene: how it looks, tastes, smells, etc… Write it all down. Without going overboard, make sure your major scenes come alive.
4. Is your romance emotional and intense? There’s nothing worse than tepid tea. Well, there’s a tepid romance where the hero and heroine don’t feel anything or say interesting things. It’s like they’re made of cardboard. Give them some angst.
5. Does your story have a strong sense of setting? Some of us have no sense of direction. We need traffic cops to show us the way. Be sure to show your reader the sights and sounds of your setting, even if it’s Anywhere, The World. Setting adds richness.
6. Is your manuscript professional? Here’s a pet peeve of most editors: We hate typos. One here or there is fine, but a manuscript riddled with errors shows us that the writer doesn’t take his/her work seriously. To be a professional, one must present one’s best work, even if one is a bad speller.
7. How’s the pacing? Do you keep the reader’s attention from beginning to end? Do you have that dreaded sagging middle? Can you pick up the story in the middle and still love it? That’s another editor’s secret: Sometimes, we’ll skip a few chapters and read in the middle to see if the writing is as zippy as at the beginning.
8. Do you have exciting chapter beginnings and endings? Each chapter should be a gem. Begin and end with a bang.
9. How’s the sex? Even if you write sweeter romances, there should be some kind of sensual awareness between the hero and heroine. Make your readers ache for more.
10. Do you have a happy ending? This should be obvious with romance, though here’s one additional note: Because readers expect the happy ending, can you bringing something unexpected to this ending? Is there an element of surprise to wow the reader even more? Go for it!
Once you’ve gone through this checklist and are confident with your work, you are on your way. Okay, now you can splurge on that the romantic candlelight dinner.
It happens to every romance writer. You have a polished piece of work in front of you, but you feel something isn’t quite right. Maybe you should go over it one more time. Maybe the editor will love it even though you kind of don’t. Does love matter if your book has great potential to sell? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. Maybe you love your book but can’t let go of it. There are so many maybes, so many unknowns in this precarious world of writing Romance. Half the fun is the process, right?
Chances are, if you aren’t wild about your story, an editor won’t be either. Here are a few red flags you should address immediately.
You get bored while proofreading.
You’ve read this story a million times but your attention starts to drift around Chapter 4 and so you skip a few pages to get to the juicy part. Warning sign! Your reader will want to skip as well. Do something radical and cut those skippable pages. Think of an even more fantastic event to occur to keep the reader’s attention. Throw a monkey wrench into those wonderful plans you had for your story.
You don’t care that much about your hero and heroine.
Sally Smith and Matt Steel are nice people but you’re not wild about them. You might snicker behind their backs about how perfect they are. If your characters feel flat and uninteresting, we won’t like them either and will feel they are mannequins brushing up against each other for 250 pages. Consider what makes a person so fascinating. Who captures your interest in a powerful way? What are the qualities that you admire most? Or meditate more on those characters speaking in your head.
You beat around the bush.
Does the heroine really have to learn a new baby blanket pattern before she joins forces with the detective assigned to find her missing child? Do they have to make love before embarking on a mission to foil an arms deal? Some novelists can weave in those details seamlessly. If you want your characters to dine on a sumptuous dinner of mushroom risotto and duck confit salad, be sure that the meal adds to the story instead of delaying it.
Your characters are Chatty Cathys.
Matt and Sally just go on and on because writing dialogue is easy. It fills up pages. You watch a lot of movies and you just know dialogue. Witty banter can make a romance. Look at Hugh Grant–so good with the wit in Romance, but it only is fun on screen. In a novel, make your conversation count.
Your eyes hurt and you have “screen nausea” from staring at the computer.
It won’t help your book if you feel like you’re going to throw up on your computer. You need a break. You have a hundred pages to proof, are on a deadline but, you know, nothing is so important that you can’t take a day away from your work. Go for a walk. Eat chocolate and indulge in a guilty pleasure. Do something that has nothing to do with your manuscript. You’ll come back fresher and ready to tackle that last bit.
So your story has a few problems. Whose doesn’t? As cliché as it may sound, it’s important for you to trust your instincts. If you didn’t trust them, you wouldn’t write. You write because you know you have a story and now it’s time for you to communicate it in the best possible way. Trust your gut, keep writing, tackle what you know deep down doesn’t work, take a break, and think about the joy a reader will get from reading your work. If you keep these tips in mind, you are well on your way. Happy writing!