Hi everyone, Audra here. How about that Seekerville birthday month? We had a great time, didn't we? Coffee, cake and all sorts of goodies, compliments of Yankee-Belle Cafe. Watch out Starbucks, you've got competition! Okay back to today's post. Y'all know our guest for today (hee, my Southern is peeking through), she's been sprinkling fairytale dust over us and keeping us sighing over the tales of the Medieval kingdom for quite a while now. Today, Melanie Dickerson has romance in store for us. Isn't this a great way to usher in November??
Thanks so much, Audra, for inviting me to be here! I love Seekerville and all the Seekers and Seeker friends. What a birthday bash you guys had here this past month! Thanks for letting us all celebrate with you, and for giving US the gifts. But we can keep celebrating, since they don’t announce the last of the winners until Saturday!
On that note, let’s discuss how to heighten the romance in our romance novels.
I don’t know about you, but I want to make my readers sigh with happiness and satisfaction at the end of my romance novels. Have you ever gotten to the end of a romance novel and said, “Where was the romance? When did they fall in love? Because I think I missed it.”
This is not what I want. For me, it’s all about the romance. I want my reader to get to the end and say, “That was the most romantic story I’ve ever read.”
So, let’s talk about what romance is—and what it isn’t. Romance is not sex, and romance is not kissing. (Sorry, Julie!) I love Julie Lessman’s kissing scenes. They are very romantic, but as much as I love her Kissology courses, I think the reason her kissing scenes are romantic is because of the situation Julie has put the characters in, the prelude to the kiss, and not so much the kiss itself. Kissing is physical, but romance is emotional. The reader feels something because of the emotional factor in the kissing scene, because of the way Julie has set it up and brought her characters to that point.
And what is the goal of any novel? To make the reader feel something.
The two novels that I think are the most romantic and most satisfying of all time are Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, which does not have a single kiss or kissing scene in the entire book, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, which does have a few kisses, but they aren’t described in any detail. What makes these novels so romantic?
I believe what makes them so romantic are: 1) The situations that the characters find themselves in, or the premise of the novel, 2) The heroic and yet realistic ways they act in these situations, sacrificing for the person they love and overcoming great obstacles to get to their happily-ever-after, and 3) Having these actions reflect their character, their past, and their feelings for each other.
The romance battle is two-thirds won if you have a premise that has great potential for romance. In other words, you should come up with a premise, or story situation, that lends itself well to including the three things listed above. And you will need to make sure you put the hero and heroine into a situation where they’ll be forced to interact with each other often.
Which brings me to three mistakes we must avoid. 1) Not letting the characters interact enough, 2) Letting them move too fast instead of letting the romantic tension build, and 3) So many terrible things happening, or so many subplots, or too much of anything else, that it overshadows the romance.
I hope you don’t mind if I use my book, The Fairest Beauty, to be released in December, as an example of a romantic premise. The basic premise is that the hero, Gabe, wants to prove himself by rescuing his older brother’s betrothed, Sophie, from her evil stepmother. His brother has always overshadowed him with his overachieving, so this is his chance. The heroine has always longed for belonging and a happy family. So she is excited at the thought of being betrothed, even if it is to someone she doesn’t even know. So when she and the hero make their escape from her murderous stepmother, they find themselves on a trek across country, being pursued, with no one to rely on but each other.
So here I have the hero and heroine in close proximity, forced to interact, and also in a situation where they “can’t” fall in love. Lots of potential for conflict and romance. And conflict is essential to a romance story, because you have character arcs, but you also have a romance arc, a progression of the romance. Conflict is what keeps the romance from going from 0 to 60 in the first three chapters.
Another example … in The Merchant’s Daughter, Lord Ranulf has been scarred inside and out by life, and especially by women. At first we see him as a gruff, angry, harsh person. But as we get to know him, we realize that he is actually very gentle and sensitive. Annabel, his new servant, is the most educated person in the entire village, and also the kindest and gentlest. He is drawn to her, but believes a romance with her is hopeless. At the same time, romance is the farthest thing from Annabel’s mind. Lord Ranulf truly has no hope in winning her if he was to pursue her—he would only push her away.
So in this situation, you have lots of conflict—a lot of inner conflict but also outer conflict, which I haven’t mentioned—and conflict is completely necessary in any novel, including a romance novel. There must be obstacles to overcome or there’s no satisfaction in the happy ending.
However, there is a danger for romance novelists in thrusting in tons of conflict but leaving out the romance.
Everybody preaches conflict, right? You’ve heard, “Think of the worst thing that could possibly happen and make it happen.” That’s good for a thriller or a speculative novel or a family drama, but not a romance. Don’t get me wrong; you must put obstacles in the way of love. Something must come between the hero and heroine that seems almost insurmountable. But for a romance novel, you have to put extra thought into your conflict and not beat your characters up TOO much, because you don’t want the conflict to overpower the romance and keep them too far apart. After all, they need to fall in love. If you have one devastating catastrophe after another, and they’re constantly dealing with those, they don’t get a chance to interact romantically.
You’ve all heard that plotting is just asking the question, What if? Well, creating wonderfully romantic situations and scenes involves asking certain questions too, basically all of them variations of, “What would be the most romantic thing that could happen in this situation?”
In The Merchant’s Daughter, I’ve set up this difficult situation that I explained earlier, but I’ve also come up with a way to get the hero and heroine together and make sure they interact quite often. She is his servant, she is the only servant who knows how to read, and he wants someone to read to him every night. This is what throws them together, the trapped-on-a-deserted-island scenario that forces them to interact frequently. But how to make it more romantic? That is the question I asked myself.
I will have the gruff, scarred hero who is sure he’ll never fall in love, irresistibly drawn to the sweet-and-innocent heroine. Since he loves her but believes she will never love him, I will force him to have to save her, more than once, from a lecherous bad guy. This will make Annabel grateful to the hero, Lord Ranulf, and attach him to her even more. She has no interest at all in romance, but I will make her see, quite clearly over time, just how good and kind this man is. The reader already sees that the two of them couldn’t be more perfectly suited for each other, but I have to bring my heroine to that point gradually, culminating in a dramatic realization at the end. In the meantime, I keep asking myself, “What is the most romantic thing that could happen now?” How will he break down her fears? How can I make it harder for him to stop loving her? How can I have her, gradually, cause him to open his hard heart until it breaks with love for her? Most romantic thing that can happen: He will be forced to sacrifice everything, possibly even his life, for her, all the while believing she couldn’t ever love him. And then, at the very end of the book, I will cause her to be willing to give up her greatest desire, her life’s goal, for him. And as an added twist, at the end SHE will rescue HIM.
These four devices are common in all genres of fiction, but as a romance writer, you can—and should—use these to heighten the romance in your story.
And you must make all those things happen feasibly and believably, building on the characters’ own goals and motivations, traits, fears, and events from their past.
Here’s another example. In The Healer’s Apprentice, the hero and heroine can’t be together because he, Lord Hamlin, is betrothed to someone else. What makes this obstacle doubly insurmountable is that the thing Lord Hamlin values most is duty and honor. He will never do anything to violate his sense of honor, which tells him he must marry his betrothed, Lady Salomea. I have the character’s own characteristics interacting naturally with the situation. There is built-in conflict, there are also other conflicts that come into play, but at various points in the story, I asked myself, “What is the most satisfying thing that could happen now?” And I think that led me to a lot of very romantic scenes in the story.
I already knew how I wanted to end the story. I had already asked myself “What would be the most satisfying ending to this story?” and I had that scene burned into my brain. So at every point of the story I asked myself, “What is the most satisfying thing that could happen now?” but I also had to be aware of how it would affect the rest of the story, especially the ending, and I had to be careful of two things:
1) I couldn’t sabotage my ending or any key plot points I already had in mind to get the characters to this “perfect” happily ever after, and
2) I couldn’t violate my characters’ personalities or make them do things they would never do, based on their character traits. In other words, it has to be plausible.
Two things I came up with after asking myself “What would be the most satisfying thing that could happen?” were 1) The hero would be willing to let the heroine marry his brother if he thought his brother would love her and protect her, as love and protection were two things she needed. And 2) The hero would decide to give up his right to rule and allow himself to appear dishonorable—the worst thing that he could imagine happening to him—in order to marry his true love, Rose.
Of course, his plan didn’t succeed, but it was important—and romantic—for him to show that he was willing to give up everything for her.
Sacrifice. A device you should use for extra power—and extra romance.
And this works best when the characters’ own traits, values, and their pasts come into play, which adds power and believability. Don’t be afraid to draw on your characters, every part of them, to heighten the tension, the conflict, and the romance.
Something that I touched on earlier: Make your hero and heroine perfect for each other. No other person will do, for either one of them.
In Pride and Prejudice, one of the things that makes it so romantic is how Jane Austen shows how perfect Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are for each other. He is the perfect match for Lizzie’s wit and sense of humor. Contrast him with her other suitors: Where Mr. Collins is awkward and ridiculous, Darcy is dignified and polished. Where Wickham is unscrupulous and dissipate, Darcy is utterly scrupulous and honorable. And even Mr. Bingley, whom we love, is indiscriminate in his friendliness and warmth, while Darcy is wise and reserved. Bingley is perfect for Lizzie’s sister, while Darcy’s only match is Lizzie.
But that isn’t the only thing that makes the story romantic. The best part is how Lizzie, both justly and unjustly, accuses Darcy of some really ugly things—just when he has opened his heart to her and asked her to marry him! His pride is deeply wounded. How will their romance ever have a chance now? But in the end, they are both humbled, they both grow up, as it were (the character arc), and Darcy does something heroic, made more heroic because it violates his proud nature. The heroic act goes against all his sensitivities, and he does it just for Lizzie. Romantic! If Jane Austen had asked herself, “What would be the most romantic thing Darcy could do for Lizzie?” she couldn’t have come up with anything better. I like to think that’s exactly what she asked herself!
What about you? What is the most romantic thing you can think of right now for your characters to do in the novel you’re currently working on?
Please leave a comment to win a copy of your choice of my novels, The Healer’s Apprentice, The Merchant’s Daughter, or The Fairest Beauty, which comes out in December, and which you can pre-order now! I will pick three winners.
Blurb for The Fairest Beauty:
|Pre-order now available|
Sophie has long wished to get away from her stepmother’s jealous anger, and begins planning her escape. Then a young man named Gabe arrives from Hagenheim Castle, claiming she is betrothed to his older brother. This could be her chance at freedom and happiness—but can she trust him?
Gabe defied his parents Rose and Wilhelm by going to find Sophie, and now he believes they had a right to worry: he is having feelings for the orphan girl, his brother’s betrothed. Though romance is impossible—she is his brother’s future wife, and Gabe himself is betrothed to someone else—he vows he will keep her safe, no matter what.
Melanie Dickerson is a two-time Christy Award finalist, and her second YA novel, The Merchant’s Daughter, recently won the ACFW Carol Award. She is a graduate of The University Alabama and has taught special education at nearly every grade level, elementary to high school, and taught conversational English to college professors in Ukraine. She now lives near Huntsville, Alabama, with her husband and two daughters. Please visit her on her website, www.MelanieDickerson.com and friend her on facebook, https://www.facebook.com/melanie.dickerson.author and “Like” her facebook author page, https://www.facebook.com/MelanieDickersonBooks. Follow her on Twitter as melanieauthor and she promises to follow you back!
Thanks for sharing your romantic ideas with us, Melanie. There's nothing better than a great fairytale, and no one writes them better than you. By the way, all your covers are gorgeous!