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 As an unpublished writer I had attended several Romance Writers of Australia functions and always felt comfortable in my skin and in the kind of books I wrote.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.
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For full itinerary on Helen's Celebration tour check out Helen Lacey- Author Page.