Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Theory on Thursday with Helen Lacey

I'm so pleased to have debut Special Edition author, Helen Lacey joining me today! Not only is Helen the CP of one of my gorgeous CPs, I was also lucky enough to meet her at the RWAus conf last year. She is so lovely and fun and approachable and well... if her book is anything like she is, we are all gonna adore it!

Today though, Helen is talking about something that makes romance writers twitchy - the FORMULA!! Over to you Helen...

Category + Romance = Formula?

Last year I attended a writer’s dinner, which was held the evening before a regional day long writing conference. This was my first official ‘do’ as a published author. Well, a contracted author at least. As an unpublished writer I had attended several Romance Writers of Australia functions and always felt comfortable in my skin and in the kind of books I wrote. This was a little different. Although I knew several writers who were there and some were RWA members, the majority of attendees were mainstream writers – some young adult, some straight fantasy, some literary, a few poets and some working on their memoirs.

I introduced myself as a romance writer and Harlequin author and received a few cursory smiles and everything seemed to be going well until mid introduction to someone I was asked, “So – how exactly to you write one of those books? To a formula, right?” Of course I smiled, and determined to answer politely I said, “Not exactly. I work to publishers guidelines of course. There are specific parameters within the line I write for.” She looked at me and said. “So, yeah, like I said, to a formula?”
To which I smiled again and replied. “In my experience, romance novels are no more written to formula than say, a crime novel.” To which the lady in question looked at me again, clearly  perplexed. “Oh, you know,” I went on to say, “you have a good guy, a bad guy, and a crime to be solved. In a romance you have a hero, a heroine and they fall in love.” I was just about to continue with my – “And like in fantasy novels where there is always a quest….” But she lost interest and left me to my internal ramblings.

But it got me thinking. Of course I’d heard the word ‘formula’ being bandied around for years. A hero, a heroine, a love scene, two arguments and a happy ever after – that’s the secret, right? If it was that easy I figured everyone would do it – and not just the committed thousands who submit a manuscript to Harlequin every year. Of course, in this secret formula there’s no mention of the conflicts keeping them apart, the maintaining the tension, the characters development, the emotional journey for the reader. There’s a great article here at My Romance Story. com which talks about the fabled formula for writing a romance novel.

The first ‘How To’ book I read on romance writing was by Valerie Parv I can’t remember reading any chapters on a secret formula that would help me write a better book. Not even in Romance Writing For Dummies by Harlequin Editor Lesley Wainger did I see a chapter instructing me on how This + That = Book That Will Get Published. Oh, there are chapters on Goal/Motivation/Conflict, on creating compelling characters, on maintaining pace in a novel, on creating the perfect love scene, writing and outline etc. But a secret formula? Not anywhere.

And that’s okay. Because it means we can take our hero and heroine on a journey that isn’t constrained by any scientific way of expressing information symbolically – we can simply let them fall in love.
Thanks Rachael for having me on Theory on Thursday. I have a copy of Made For Marriage to give away to one commenter. 

Equestrian Callie Jones was used to difficult parents at her riding school. But Noah Preston took the cake.
How dare he question her teaching abilities, after his headstrong daughter paid no heed to rules—her teacher's or her father's?

Single dad Noah was ready to apologize for overreacting. But he wasn't sorry for the way the stunning American riding instructor made him feel. And he soon learned that there was more to Callie than her smarts, sass and fire: a shattered heart that threatened to splinter even further. Could he make her see that he—and his family—were for keeps?

Buy Links:

Amazon        Amazon UK      Book Depository

 Helen Lacey on the web:

Website     Facebook     Twitter     Blog           Helen's Page at RomanceWiki

For full itinerary on Helen's Celebration tour check out Helen Lacey- Author Page.


Anonymous said...

If ONLY there was a formula... i remember them. They were easy, lacked interest or emotion and could be nailed with a bit of rote learning.
I agree tehre are basic promises you're expected to deliver to the reader but how you get there... that is what has me picking up romances over and over again.
Great post!!

Serena Tatti Story Editor said...

Hi Helen,
Loved this blog. And good on you for speaking up in defence of romance!!

In my former career I was a medical researcher. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemistry and Microbiology. One of my favourite lines is, "If this magic, elusive formula for writing romance existed, I would have found it years ago."

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about the secret formula for writing a romance novel. Here is the last paragraph:
"The magic formula for writing romance can be summarized: Take one sympathetic heroine and one yummy hero. Add in some past conflicts with reasons they should never ever fall in love. Give them reasons to be in each other’s face all the time. Let them grow as people and maybe make a sacrifice that really hurts. Stir it together and give them a Happy Ever After."

Great blog! Thanks for having Helen as your special guest, Rachael.

Rachael Johns said...

Ahh... we have two scientists! Trust you guys to comment on a formula blog.

But Serena - I LOVE that formula! You need to put it on a sicker or a magnet or a t-shirt or something! I'll buy one!

Helen Lacey said...

Hi Bec - thanks for being here. And I agree - every time I pick up a romance novel I get something different. :)

Helen Lacey said...

Hi Serena - I love your formula! Thanks for stopping by today. :)

Joanne Dannon said...

Great post :)

This "formula" thing really bugs me. I hate the constant jibbing about writing romance - that it's porn for women and that I write using a formula.

I wish there was a formula - I would have been published by now ;) and the re-writes I'm working on wouldn't be doing my head in.

*taking a deep breath*

For the true readers and lovers of romantic fiction, they understand there is no formula. There are just too many good (differing) books out there.

BTW - Serena, love your quote!

Helen Lacey said...

Rachael, I had a chuckle at the two scientists thing. Thanks for having me here today.

Helen Lacey said...

Hi Joanne - thanks for stopping by. And you're right - because the only thing certain about the formula in romance novels - is that their isn't one.
Good luck with the re-writes! :)

Gemma Moore said...

Great post Helen.
If only life had a formula as well! As much as we would like to think that if we follow a simple set of instructions or guidelines that everything will turn out perfect or how we expect.

You never know when something unexpected will happen. A planned night out with the hubby and all of a sudden a screaming teething baby and hey presto night changed. A scrumptious biscuit recipe and a little bit too much flour - dry biscuits.

If anyone discovers the formula - please feel free to share.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, laugh at the scientist. Not the first time Rach and Helen! =)

Helen Lacey said...

Hi Gemma - love your comment. Thanks so much for stopping by Rahc!'s blog today.

Louise Cusack said...

Great blog, Helen, and spot on with your comparisons to other genres. As a fantasy author and RWA member I'm often at non-romance writing functions defending the romance genre against uninformed opinion (people who've never even read a Harlequin novel). Every genre has reader expectations, and Harlequin authors are in the privileged position of having a publisher who gives them explicit guidelines to help them meet those expectations so they can sell bucket-loads of books! I think the "formula" issue is jealousy to be honest, and romance writers should just "laugh all the way to the bank" about it :-)

Maria from 'gaelikaa's diary' said...

Romance novels have a certain predictability as they are about relationships and have a hero, a heroine and usually, a HEA. However, there is such a wide variation in the type of story, that is why we have what is now known as 'category romance'. Genres within a genre. Now that I'm aware of that, I do find it a little sad that people are so condescending about a genre about which is selling heaps of books and still they are considered trivial and formula written. Perhaps if the name was changed to 'relationship novels' the genre would get more respect?

Helen Lacey said...

Hi Louise - thanks for stopping by today. Some great points raised in your comment :)

Helen Lacey said...

Hi Maria - I like the idea of calling them 'relationship' novels. Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving a comment.

Lacey Devlin said...

Well I liked your answer, Helen :)

I've found that anyone who thinks there is a formula is quite rigid in that view. It's often not worth the trouble to try to get them to understand it's more complicated than that.

I like the stories about the critics who take up the challenge to write a category romance and discover the truth for themselves - that you can't just "whip one up".

Helen Lacey said...

Hi Lacey - thanks for stopping by. Great comment. Very true.

Desere said...

Very interesting post really good points raised ! Thanks for the chance to win the book sounds very nice !


Serena Tatti Story Editor said...

Thanks for all the nice comments on my *magic formula*. Rachael, would love to print it somewhere but it's a bit long. Might have to be a T-shirt! LOL.

Hi Bec - I know I read somewhere that there's a publisher looking for submissions about geeks. I guess they wants something like The Big Bang Theory. I reckon you and me could do it!

Sorry to hog your blog, Helen :)

Helen Lacey said...

Hi Desere - thanks for stopping by today :)

Helen Lacey said...

LOL Serena - there's room for everybody!!

Shelley B said...

I think people who don't write and probably couldn't if their life depended on it, think it's easy. I'm a retired teacher, and I've always heard.... Those who can do, and those who cant...teach. I'm sure they've never spent one moment in a classroom with 25 kids.
srbagby 50 at gmail dot com

chey said...

I've always thought that the same people who talk so much about a "formula" for writing romance are people who've never read a romance novel.

Helen Lacey said...

Shelley B - some great words of wisdom, thank you.

Helen Lacey said...

Hi Chey - you're probably right :) Thanks for stopping by today.

Susie Medwell said...

Great post Helen, and some wonderful comments. I wonder if sometimes when people say formula they are really looking at the basic structure, which can be familiar (as people have commented), but the voice, the ability to convey and stir emotions, the TP quality and the original twists is what makes a good romance and unfortunately there is no magic formula. We can all paint by numbers, but to be an artist? Thanks for such a thought provoking post.

Helen Lacey said...

Hi Susie - thanks for stopping by. Love your comment about how we can all paint by numbers but that doesn't make us a artist. So true :)

Renee G said...

Love the article. Oh, if it was just a simple formula --- everyone would/could be published.

Rachael Johns said...

Thanks everyone for your comments and thanks Helen for the really interesting post.

Congrats to GEMMA MOORE winner of Helen's book - you can contact Helen through her website at to claim your prize :)

Gemma Moore said...

Wow - thank you so much. Great work Rachael and Helen :)

Rachael Johns said...

You're welcome Gemma - I know you'll enjoy it!