Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to Write Romance Novel Part Two


Yes, I am continuing on this insanely ambitious blog series on How to Write a Romance Novel. Why not? It’s not like I have things to blog about from my everyday life. I’m a mother of three, two in college, one in high school, who all think they don’t need me any longer (except when they need to BUY something). I’m not traveling right now; my husband and I are doing great (not that I want you involved in my marriage, thank you very much). I am teaching full time, and I could actually fill a year’s worth of blogs with the anecdotes of my students, their parents and the frustrations of a teaching within a school system, but I don’t think any of my students or their parents would appreciate recognizing themselves on these pages and as for venting my frustrations…well, I still have to pay tuition for those two who think they don’t need me. So I’m left with writing and we’re starting at the beginning.

You want to open your book with something--an event, facts, actions, conversation--that will draw the reader in and compel her to read more. This is called the hook. Not being a fisherman myself, I won’t continue the analogy of landing the fish, but you do want to grab the reader. Something has to happen at the beginning of the novel. And you start with the first line. Here are some examples :

Audrey Magill went into the Third Street antique store looking for a chair and found a man instead. (READY AND WILLING by Elizabeth Bevarly, Berkley Sensation, 2008)

Why it works: We have the name of our heroine, and an unexpected twist in the second half of the sentence. It raises questions in the mind of the reader.

The Glitter Baby was back. (GLITTER BABY by Susan Elizabeth Phillip, Avon, 1987,2009)

Why it works: Uses the title. The word “back” raises questions in the readers’ minds.

Justice took inventory of his condition, his weapons, and his chances, as he’d done so many times before in his centuries as a warrior, and came up with:
1. bad
2. worse
3. odds-on favorite to be a dead man in the next five minutes
. (ATLANTIS UNLEASHED by Alyssa Day, Berkely Sensaton, 2009)

Why it works: We have the name of our hero, we have some background, and we know he’s in trouble. The situation raises questions in the mind of the reader.

“Not there,” said Collin. (THE TEMPTATION OF THE NIGHT JASMINE by Lauren Willig, Dutton, 2009)

Why it works: It’s the middle of a conversation. Where will this conversation go? And what’s not there? Or why not there? And other questions.

The aunts had summoned her. (THE WISH LIST, Gabi Stevens, Tor, 2010)

Why it works: Our character is being pulled somewhere. Why? Who are the aunts? Why are they summoning her? Who do they think they are “summoning” her?

You may have already noticed the common element: Questions. The desire to know more. I pulled these books at random from my shelves (with the exception of my own) but they all essentially are making the reader think from the first line. They aren’t giving much information; they simple start the story and ask the reader to come along for the ride.

That’s what your hook has to do: Ask the reader to come along for the ride. To accomplish this you have to start your novel with something happening, not introspective, not backstory. Unless you start writing your first novel after many workshops/classes/advice, most first novels begin with explanation. My first novel began with three pages of the heroine walking up the stairs thinking about her life, how she was an orphan, how nobody loved her, how wicked her aunt was, how sad her life she was. Three pages! And all she did was walk up the stairs! Ugh. And every other author I’ve talked to said they did the same type of thing--started with backstory or explanation.

Start in the middle of a scene. Start where the heroine’s day can’t get worse and then it does. Start in the middle of action. Start in the middle of an argument. Start with something that raises questions in the readers’ minds. If you start with dialog, for God’s sake, don’t start with ”Hello, how are you?” If you start with action it shouldn’t be She walked up the stairs. You’re trying to grab the reader, not put them to sleep.

The hook is more than just the first line, but you get the idea by now. Start with something that drags the reader in. Think of the movies. The opening scene of Indiana Jones has little to do with the rest of the movie except to introduce the hero and his rival. But, oh, that opening action! Look at Star Wars (The real first one, not the pretend early episodes) Look at Gone With the Wind. Look at Notting Hill. Yes, they establish setting and characters, but not in a boring way. That’s what you want to establish at the beginning of your novel.

So continue your writing. The best way to learn is by doing…and then analyzing after you’ve written.

Next week…Elements of a Novel

Books I’m reading now:
Sand, Sun…Seduction! By Stephanie Bond, Leslie Kelly, and Lori Wilde
Burning Alive by Shannon K Butcher
On a Wicked Dawn by Stephanie Laurens

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How to Write Romance Novels Part One

How presumptuous of me. Who am I to undertake such a topic? Yes, I have been published, but other authors have written more books with greater success. Yes, I do have a (actually two) degree in literature, but we're not talking literature. Or are we? You've probably heard some of what I have to say before, and maybe you know more than I. Nevertheless, I feel passionate about the subject (no pun intended), so I wanted to share with you my thoughts on the writing process especially as applied to romance novels.

Genre fiction is a fairly new phenomenon. Before the 1900's, there were simply novels. No one categorized them, but even then novels were considered the lesser child of literature. Modern thinking required that we categorize books into various genres. In one way, it makes reading easier. If someone likes, say, science fiction, then he/she knows where to look for science fiction in a book store. On the other hand, categories makes it too easy to dismiss certain types of fiction and miss out on others. How many times have you heard someone say, "Oh I don't read that kind (insert genre that you look down upon here) of book"? (British punctuation, BTW. Much more sensible I think.) Or if someone reads exclusively in one genre because he/she enjoys it (nothing wrong with enjoying a genre), he/she can miss out on wonderful books simply because he/she doesn't consider looking for a book in a different genre.

So genres can make handy labels or limit a person's reading (BTW, literary fiction is nothing more than a name for a genre). Romance is just one such label. If you've been watching the news on the recession lately, you've most likely heard that the Romance Novel industry is recession proof and is in fact doing great business in this economy. Romance novels make you feel good. You are guaranteed a happy ending and a few hours of escape.

I can hear the first snorts of derision. "That's because they're fluff." "That's because they're formulaic." That's because no one who thinks reads them." Really? RWA ® statistics will tell you that romance outsells every other genre, and that its average readers are college educated. And its authors come from a wide variety of fields and educational backgrounds, including lawyers, professors, doctors, teachers, EMT's, social workers, actors, and yes, even housewives (Hey, my mother was a housewife. I defy you to call a woman of her background anything but remarkable.) As for formulaic...well, I'd say all fiction is formulaic and I'm going to be exploring that formula in the upcoming weeks. Yes, romance is a story of a man and a woman (although not always, and the boundaries are expanding, especially in erotic romance) with an emotionally satisfying ending, but aren't mysteries formulaic as well? As well as fantasies, horror novels, speculative fiction, and literary fiction? I hear you protesting. Those books have variety. Um, have you read romance recently? You can find everything in romance novels including mystery fantasy, sci fi, and literary elements. And most of the time you can find romance or at least a love story in the other types of fiction. Love and relationships make the world go around.

Enough about defending the genre. Here's the first thing I want you to ask yourself. Do you love romance novels? If you don't, find something else to write. If you're in this to make a quick buck or to get published, you're in the wrong game. If you don't love what you're writing, it will show and your book will suffer for it. And trust me, no publisher will publish you in romance if you're just phoning it in. Just because romance is the biggest genre, doesn't mean it's easy. Writing is tough--wonderful, but tough--why would you spend hours, days, weeks, months working on something you neither enjoy or respect?

OK, so you love romance. Terrific. Your next question is, "What kind of romance do you want to write?" There are genres within the genre in romance, and sub genres within the sub genres. What books do you enjoy? What kind do you usually read? Do you have the temperament and the time for historical research? Are you comfortable writing sex scenes? If so, how sexy? Are you wanting to write lighter books or angst-filled books? Humorous or serious? Category or single title? Paranormal or contemporary? Vampires, werewolves or ghosts, oh my? Space ships, fairies, aristocracy? Sweet or sexy? Inspirational? Suspense? So many questions to answer.

You might already have a story that's been whirling around in your head. If you do, then you're already ahead of the game. There is no idea warehouse to find your story in, but ideas can come from anywhere. I once wrote a book based on a brief news item I saw on TV about a man who adopted an injured owl. The owl had only one wing, and the man would perch the owl on his shoulder and go roller blading around Lake Michigan in Chicago. The owl would lean into the wind and pretend he was flying. The man lost sixty pounds. But that story was the spark that ignited a novel called The Sea Eagle.

So gather your thoughts, and go ahead and start writing. I'll speak about other elements next week, starting with THE HOOK.

Books I'm reading now:
Ready and Willing by Elizabeth Bevarly
His 7-Day Fiancee by Gail Barnett
Glitter Baby by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Before the Scandal by Suzanne Enoch

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


When I was a kid, I cried a lot. My parents called me too sensitive and often didn't know how to handle me. What they didn't realize was that I also laughed a lot, sang a lot, danced a lot, played a lot, just felt a lot. The stuff I went through in high was high drama for them and my teachers (remember I went to boarding school). Because they didn't know how to deal with such an emotional daughter, they told me to keep feelings hidden. And I did learn to. I stopped crying, but I also stopped laughing, singing, and dancing. I don't blame them--to this day my mother says she has no imagination and leads a very controlled life. That's not bad. It's how she wants to live.

But I am passionate. I'm not speaking sexually; I mean I have deep feelings, and I think I'm finally old enough (it's about time) to give in to those feelings. I'm allowed to feel passion about things. So I laugh again, and cry. I argue with vehemence and am often accused of being angry, when I'm not angry at all, just passionate about my subject. I enjoy things with greater relish again. I dance, sometimes even in public places especially with my daughter. And I'm proud that I cried in three separate places at the movie UP. My favorite thing is laughing and I'm always searching for new things to laugh at and with. I'm finding ( after decades--yes, decades--of thinking I should hide my emotions) that the cathartic aspect of letting my emotions show is actually giving me a more fulfilled life.

And that emotion is going into my books. I make myself cry regularly when I write. I also make myself laugh a lot. And when my characters face injustice, I seethe for them. I can only hope that emotion comes through as my readers read my books.

So have a good cry. Or a good laugh. Funny that both those phrases exist: "good cry" and "good laugh." I don't find irony there at all.

Books I'm reading now:
All About Love by Stephanie Laurens
Ready and Willing by Elizabeth Bevarly

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Local Conference

In November my local RWA chapter is hosting a one-day conference with a fantastic line-up.

2009 LERA Write From The Heart Conference

Come join LERA, Dianna Love, and Mary Buckham (with special guest Sherrilyn Kenyon) as they present their innovative, day long workshop:

From Thought To Plot

This interactive workshop will be held on Saturday, November 14th, from 8:30 to 5:00 at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center,2401 12th St. NW Albuquerque, NM, just five minutes from Old Town Albuquerque.

Book signing after the conference at Borders at ABQ Uptown (2240 Q St. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110). Authors will include Sherrilyn Kenyon, Dianna Love, and Mary Buckham!

Are you kidding? Sherilyn Kenyon? NYTimes best (BEST!!!) selling author Sherilyn Kenyon, who is also one of the nicest ladies out there. And her cohorts, who present some of the most highly rated workshops out there? This is an opportunity you don't want to miss. Go to for more info.

And if you're family (You know to whom I am speaking), I'll even let you sleep on my floor.


Books I'm reading now:
All About Love by Stephanie Laurens
(Boy, reading has slowed down since I'm trying to finish up my WIP before school starts NEXT WEDNESDAY!)