Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Romance Template?

AH asked a good question in the comments, and I'll answer it for this week's post:

"Jennifer, I have a question about writing Romance. Is there a general template? For example, I know there needs to be a Black Moment just before the end, but is there a general pattern to follow such as Chapter 1 "this happens", Chapter 2 "this happens" and so on? Thanks, AH"

Jennifer says: Let me preface my answer by saying that I write single-title romance, and not category/series (e.g., the line romances published by Harlequin/Silhouette). Series romance has it's own "rules," and while I don't think there's anything as hard and fast as "Chapter 1 has X," "Chapter 2 has Y," editors do like to see certain things fall in certain places. See HQ's guidelines or better still, read a gob of HQ/Sil books of a certain line to fine the rhythms and patterns.

Ok, back to single title. Single Title romance, btw, if you don't know the term, refers to most mass market paperback books on the shelves that are not line romances by HQ/Sil. I'm talking about the thick paperbacks with the glossy covers and raised, shiny letters, many by blockbuster bestsellers. Single Title publishers are Berkley, Bantam, NAL, Leisure, Kensington/Zebra, Avon, and so forth. (All right HQN, which is by Harlequin, are also single title romances, just to confuse you.)

And the answer is: No, there is no template, no rules about what's in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 etc. Anything goes!

Well, within reason. You do need to get in a couple things right up front in your romance. Those are:

Introduction of the hero, his goal, and what keeps him from it.
Introduction of the heroine, her goal, and what keeps her from it
Introduction of the villain (if you have one), his/her goal, and what keeps him/her from it

Once these characters are introduced, the main plot problem of the story will be (should be, anyway) in place, because the main plot arises from the goals/hindrances of the h/h and villain.

Whether you do Chapter 1--hero, Chapter 2--heroine, or two scenes in one chapter introducing them both, or hero, heroine, and villain all appearing on the first few pages doesn't really matter.

A Note: In single-title romance, your h/h do NOT have to meet on the first page. They should meet when the story naturally brings them together. The reader should meet them and anticipate these two meeting, but you don't have to shove them together in Chapter 1. (I personally like the h/h together as early and as often as possible, but I've read terrific books when they don't meet until page 75.)

The rest of the story: The remainder of your book follows from what your h/h are trying to or need to do and what's stopping them.

I'm obviously being very simplistic here, but I've learned one important lesson from writing nearly twenty-three books for publication: Keep it Simple!

New writers have the tendency to shove everything they possibly can into one 450 page manuscript, but resist the temptation. Put in only what is necessary, save your other brilliant ideas for your next book. Few of us any more are going to write one masterpiece and live off its royalties for the rest of our lives, so count on writing a lot if you truly want to be a writer.

To recap:

Begin your romance novel by introducing the readers to the hero, the heroine, and the villain (if you have a villain). By now the readers know the main problem your characters must overcome.

The middle of the story consists of incidents (not many, stick to three or four) that move your plot forward--things the h/h try to solve their problem(s) but which don't work, miring them in deeper.

The Black Moment, when your hero and heroine decide to risk everything even though they are certain they are in a no-win situation. (A classic example is the hero decides to let the heroine go, because he knows that as much as he needs her, he'll make her miserable if he keeps her with him. He risks his own happiness to ensure hers.)

The Reward: After the h/h risk everything, they are rewarded by gaining everything. (The heroine returns to the hero on her own, because she loves him enough to stay with him and bring happiness into his life.)

I confess I'm a "pantser," which means I don't draw out my plot in detail before I begin. I have an idea of my characters, and then I just start off and see what happens. I don't like to know how books turn out before I read them, and I don't like to know when I write them, either! :-)

So that was the long answer to "Is there a romance template?" The short answer is: "Not really."

Take care,


Jen said...

That was a good question, and thanks for the great answer!

Tina Gerow said...

Great answer, Jennifer.

Merla Byrd said...

Thank you for this article. I've been toying with the idea of writing a romance novel or short story for years now but I got lost in the scenery at the expense of plot and character development. Your advice makes sense, especially the Keep It Simple part.

Unknown said...

Very helpful and interesting!