Following on from last week's C is for Category Romance, Kate gives her five C is for ... listings, along with a few extra bits of advice beginning with C!
Kate says: Five things about writing romance beginning with the letter C
That’s what I’ve been asked for . . . Hmmm . . .let’s see
Well, the first one is easy. It’s important – vital in fact to writing any romance – really, and sort of popular fiction. So my first C is CHARACTER
I can’t start writing any story until I’ve got to know my characters. It’s obvious really, isn’t it? The characters, especially your hero and heroine, are the ones whose story is being told in the novel. It’s their love story, their emotional journey, so you have to know them well. You need to know who they are, what their story is before they reached this point, where they’ve met and started the story in your novel. What is in their past, what are their dreams and disappointments? The stories I tell are relationship stories. They start off with two people and a ‘what if’? And then I write.
What I need before I can start writing are two interesting characters – my hero and my heroine. Sometimes I have a plan for a plot, sometimes I have a lot of detail of the plot already in my head – sometimes I just have those two people. But when I have two people who intrigue and fascinate me then I really want to tell their story – in fact, I don’t really ‘write’ their story – it’s more like they come into the room and sit there, telling me their story and I write it down as they tell me!
Without those two characters, I can’t get started, but when I know who my characters are and what they’re really like and what’s in their minds, then I can write their story. If I know them well enough then I rarely get stuck in telling their story. I know what they are likely to do, how they will react to the situations I put them in. Without characters I just don't have a story – it’s really that simple.
Personally, I find that if I know my characters I can then start to tell their stories but when I first started out I used to plan a novel much more. That’s why I have put a detailed Character Questionnaire into my 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance.
Most people, when they hear about 'conflict' in a book, think of fights and arguments and battles. I prefer to call conflict the problem that stops your hero and heroine getting together.
Conflict is important – without it, you wouldn't have a plot – nothing to keep your characters apart – no story to tell. The conflict, the reasons why your hero and heroine don’t just fall into each other’s arms in the moment they first meet, or very soon after it, are what keeps the reader turning the page, wondering if it really is possible that these two will have a happy ever after ending – or will it all go wrong and end in disaster this time? Moments of conflict and their resolution bring about that emotion a romance needs.
But conflict has to be worthwhile– it has to be something that would really matter, something worth arguing over. It should not be just petty difference or a big misunderstanding that could be sorted out if they sat down and talked about things properly for once! The conflict that keeps your characters apart needs to be something worth taking the risk of losing the love of your life for.
3. CYNICISM - the fact that there’s no place for it when writing romance.
Treat the romance genre with respect and don’t see it as silly books written by silly women for other silly women to read. The romance market is huge – huge numbers of readers, potentially huge numbers of sales. They love what they read – they read it for enjoyment and they can be highly critical of what they read. If you can love what you write and write it for enjoyment – yours and theirs – you’ll have a chance of winning them over to your books. Cynicism, or the fact that a book is just ‘dashed off’ or ‘churned’ out’ to make a fast buck shows and turns the readers away. The best way to win readers’ hearts is to write with heart.
The novels I write for Harlequin Mills & Boon belong in the Modern Romance line – a line that when I first started writing was called Contemporary Romance.
Learn what is currently being written not what used to be written in 1994 or 1974 or 1964 – romance is a growing, changing genre, not something that is ‘all the same’. I’m often asked how writing romance has changed since I was first published - In one sense you might as well ask how has society changed since I started writing. Romance fiction – like any form of popular fiction - is a growing, developing thing. As an example, when I first started out, it was much more unlikely that my characters would go to bed together on the page – now it’s much more unlikely that they would not!
I’m writing heroines who are in their twenties or thirties now. They are contemporary young woman. So they should behave as young women do today. These are not soppy stories, with chocolate box worlds . They might have fantasy settings – international affairs, sheikhs, billionaires, but the situations the characters face, the conflicts that come between them, need to be believable in the contemporary world. The sexual decisions they make need to mirror the behaviour of young men and women in 2014 –or whatever. So heroines can have a chequered sexual history, broken marriages – and they should be able to work at any sort of job, live any lifestyle available.
As I said, writing romance is not a static form of fiction – it is constantly developing and changing – so there’s another ‘C’ word for this blog!
5. DON’T try to COPY
Too many people believe that romance can be written to a ‘formula’ – that there is a simple equation - hero plus heroine etc – that creates a romance novel. There is a basic format, because, let’s face it, boy meets girl; there are problems that come between them; they resolve these and discover that they both feel love, for each other, leading to a happy ending are the bare bones of what makes a romance story. It is the writer’s own individual voice, her style, that takes a well-known, often repeated trope and turns it into something new and different. Remember that the romance novel world is full of stories that are the same or very similar, the Cinderella story or Sleeping Beauty - or classics like Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre - are reworked again and again with – well, with different Characters, in a contemporary setting and different conflicts. You’ll never get anywhere by taking something written by any of the established stars by rehashing their plots and just changing the names, settings etc – the editors are looking for new, original voice, not pale copies of established stars. When writing romance it isn’t easy – probably not really possible at all - to be startlingly original but you can be authentic – to yourself.
Many thanks Kate for giving us this fantastic list of the C's of writing romance. If anyone would like to learn from Kate, she does regular residential romance writing courses and day workshops. Details can be found on her blog. The workshops are often oversubscribed, so early booking is essential.
I'll leave you now with my personal favourite Kate Walker book, featuring one of my favourite heroes of all time.