It would not have occurred to me to write a list of writing tips, but as an author of a couple of published books that some people seem to like, I’m already often asked by bloggers and friends about my advice on various aspects of writing anyway.
We’ve reached November, that wonderful month when writers try their hands at finishing a novel in a month. No, I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo myself; I’ll be doing is another high speed project, trying to bring my work in progress from first draft to something readable.
But as this is a month when many first time or near first time novelists come out to play, I’ve gathered a selection of the advice I’ve found myself offering, some previously published, some not.
May it be of use.
Click here for tips on writing action.
Click here for tips on writing to scare.
On Writing Romance
Boy meets girl. He’s handsome, she’s beautiful, they fall in love, they conquer some obstacles and they live happily ever after (or not). We all know the story, right?
Therein lies the difficulty.
I have an odd relationship with fictional romance. I’d have to call myself a romantic, in that I love a good love story following a good couple. Romance is a part of just about everything I write, often my favorite part.
That said, the operative word is part. Most of my favorite romances in fiction would be classified as subplots. The favorites I have that are most central to the stories (Hazel and Augustus of The Fault in Our Stars, R and Julie of Warm Bodies, Lena and Alex of Delirium) still have major plot elements outside of the relationships (terminal cancer, the zombie apocalypse, and a dystopia threatening them with routine lobotomies respectively).
Why is that? Because we know the constants of romance. It’s the variations that allow us to feel it all over again. There are only so many times we (or at least I) can reread two people going through the dating dance, focusing on its moves as if they’re the most important thing in the world. But when those two people’s lives are going through the wringer of another story in its own right, and what they feel for each other can realistically stand up against everything that should eclipse it and keep on mattering just the same, that’s when I believe it. That’s when I care.
So the first ingredient in my personal recipe for romance is a premise that doesn’t start with boy meets girl.
As romance-centric as YA often is, the basic nature of the format actually helps with this, because all teenagers are living a story that’s more than a romance. There’s a coming-of-age element built in. The Prospero Chronicles of course also has the alien invasion that Ben and Mina come together to fight.
Then, with premise in place, our couple does have to meet, and the next two ingredients are the two characters. Sounds obvious, but this is where I see a lot of fictional romances fall short. For a great romance, you need two characters, with their own histories, desires, agendas, strengths and flaws, ways they fit each other and ways they don’t, not one character and a half-character constructed to fit the first one’s romantic needs.
Next, the two characters need something to bind them together. An instant spark between them can be nice, but a situational reason they have to keep seeing each other goes a long way toward giving them time to bond believably in spite of the next ingredient: something the push them apart.
The happy ending can’t be too much of a foregone conclusion, or why bother sticking around to read it? Their personal differences, their circumstances, or both can work for this.
Last but not least, to reach to the heartstrings, I believe a great romance needs at least a sprinkling of anti-romance, like adding a pinch of salt to cookie dough to intensify the sweetness. Love isn’t all poetry and candlelit dinners. The parts we remember aren’t all poetry and candlelit dinners. We remember blistered feet and carrying the uncomfortable shoes that seemed like a good idea for that candlelit dinner. We remember holding each other’s hair while accidentally sharing a stomach flu. We remember laughing at each other’s bad jokes.
When your characters start to love each other at their worst as well as their best, when they love each other for who they are and how hard they try, not how well they succeed at the superficial details of the repetitive romance game we play, that’s when we feel for them. That’s when we love them too.
Agree? Disagree? Comments are always welcome! Or keep up with my fictional musings by joining me on Facebook, on Twitter, or by signing up for email updates in the panel on the right!