Romance Novels Are Formulaic – And That’s A Good Thing!

"Thank god - look, a cliche!"

People often ask me: Isn’t Romance all just formulaic drivel?

Now, the simple answer to this question is ‘no’.

But the broader answer to the questions is ‘yes, and that’s a good thing’.

Let me unpack that.

There are no original stories. When every book is boiled down to the elements, we only have a certain number of ways to construct satisfying narratives. Even the details can be the same. But it is the way these stories are told that are important. The unique and individual constructions.

This is never more true than in the romance genre. But romance writers embrace this fact, and use it to their advantage.

Not only is romance a genre where every book has the same purpose – for two people to get together in the end (or more than two. I don’t judge) – but it is also heavily reliant on tropes. From ‘fake-dating’ to ‘beauty and the beast’ to ‘enemies to lovers’, romance writers take these tropes and spin them in new and interesting ways. That is their ingenuity. Not a tired pretention to an originality that can’t exist, but an embrace of the familiar, and confidence in their own voice and storytelling to make their version of the story a compelling one.

From a reader’s perspective, this embrace of tropes is a godsend.

Every romance reader has their catnip. I, personally, love beta heroes, beauty and the beast/wounded heroes, epistolary romances, nerd heroes and heroines, historical marriage of convenience, best friend’s wife, and many others. If I see any of those things on a blurb, there is like a 95% chance I’ll buy the book immediately. I like these because I have an inkling what to expect when I pick up a book, so I can more easily read to my mood.

A certain trope will give you a hint as to the dynamics of the characters, as well as how the plot might progress. A beauty and the beast story hints at a hero who doesn’t think himself worthy of the heroine, and a strong woman that will show him he’s wrong. A marriage of convenience story will often throw two people at odds into a difficult situation, and the forced proximity will cause tension and conflict.

Tropes can also help me avoid stories I know I won’t enjoy. I don’t like Alpha heroes, or stepbrother romances. I’m not big on billionaires, or vampires, or rakes, or age differences. Secret babies don’t tend to do it for me, either. Or love triangles. But all these tropes are hugely popular, so the reader’s that do like them are finding them and loving them.

Overall, it ends up being a happier reading experience for all.

Obviously, a reader’s expectations do not always result in a positive outcome. I sometimes avoid books I might really enjoy because they make use of a trope I’m not fond of. And if the writer skews too far away from reader’s expectations of a trope or subgenre, it can cause upset or disappointment. Which is why I think writers have become so clever at putting their own spin on things without disappointing readers.

So, yes, Romance novels can be formulaic. But that is, in part, responsible for their popularity, and the devotion that readers of the genre feel towards it.

Embrace the romance ‘formula’. It’s a good thing!

The Lazy Person’s Guide to Editing

editing

I’m a naturally lazy person. I try to find the most efficient way for everything, whether it be my route to work or cooking my dinner.

This also translates over into my writing and editing. After a bit of trial and error, I have found what I believe to be the quickest way to get from first draft to a solid final draft.

Bonus: Taking on the mammoth task of editing and breaking it down into four easier chunks makes the whole process feel a lot less daunting.

Stage One

Write your first draft. Just write through, don’t reread or edit as you go. Make notes if you have to about things you intend to change, but don’t bog yourself down by trying to make things perfect the first time around, otherwise you’ll freeze up and won’t write a thing. Give yourself permission to be crap if you need to, because you’ll have the confidence you’ll be able to fix it later.

Stage Two

This is the big picture draft. Generally, I find I don’t have to reread the manuscript before leaping into this stage, because I’ll already know what needs changing where (since I made notes as I was writing the first draft).

Here is where I add new scenes, move conversations around, cut things I need to cut, change certain emotional beats. I even rewrite scenes I know weren’t working the first time around.

By the end of this draft, you should have the structure of your manuscript fairly locked in.

Stage Three

This stage is all about flow. At this point, you will have to reread your manuscript (time-consuming, but worth it). This stage is best done in large chunks, rather than bits at a time.

Don’t focus on any word or sentence-level stuff. At this point you need to read through for the overall flow of the story. Pay attention to character development, plot, emotional peaks and troughs. Try to experience the book in a way a reader would.

Is your character development consistent? Does your plot make sense? (No gaping holes you forgot to plug?) Are the emotions through the book too one-note, or do you pull the reader along with the emotional flow? What about your pacing? Does any point in your manuscript sag?

As you are reading, make whatever changes you need to. Sometimes this will just be a sentence or paragraph here and there, and sometimes it will require more rewriting than you thought. Don’t panic. Either way is fine.

But don’t move onto the next stage until you are happy with this one.

Stage Four

This is the level in which you work on all the sentence level stuff. You won’t be distracted by flow or consistency issues. Now you can concentrate on making the writing shine. Go through sentence by sentence and really make sure everything is completely clear to the reader, and that your prose is as good as it can be.

Once this is done, you should be ready to send to your editor for final checks.

 

Now, obviously, this is my way of doing things, not necessarily the best way. (As I said, I’m naturally lazy). I’m sure there are people out there who put a lot more effort into editing their manuscript.

But I feel that as long as you go through these four steps, making sure you are happy with each stage before moving onto the next one, then you will come out the other side with a truly solid manuscript.

 

This post is brought to you by the fact that I am in stage 3 of editing Guarding Sierra this week.

The Dreaded Writer’s Block

So. You have Writer’s Block. You finally have some free time to write and no words are coming. Just a blinking cursor on a blank page. What do you do?

First of all, don’t panic! It’s not the end of the world. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all come out the other side. There are ways to clear it.

For me, I find that issue known as Writer’s Block tends to fall into one of two categories.

  1. I’m lazy.

The lure of the internet will always be greater than the lure of my story. In this scenario, what I am telling myself is ‘Writer’s Block’ is actually just my inability to get off social media, knuckle down, and do the work.

There are a few things I can do in this situation.

  1. Change location. Tend to write in bed, which is fine most of the time. But it does encourage laziness when I’m not in the mood. If I go sit at the dining room table, I’m more likely to focus, because it snaps me out of my lazy habit.
  2. Close the browser, turn on Freedom. Banning myself from the internet from an hour funnily enough makes me a lot more productive. This is harder to do than one might expect.
  3. Leave the house, write elsewhere. This is really a combination of the two above points, particularly if you choose to write in a place with no internet. I sometimes write in coffee shops that either don’t have internet or I don’t know the password. The downside is, of course, that you have to put on pants.

2. I don’t know what’s coming next in my story

If you’ve done all of the above and you end up playing an old game of solitaire on your computer instead of writing, then you know the problem goes a little deeper. But it’s fine! This, too, you can overcome.

As I discussed here, I’m a pantser. This means that I don’t always know what’s coming next. Or, I do know, but I’m not sure how to write it.

For example, I might know that something dramatic happens in the next scene, but I have to lead into it. So, I start asking myself: Where does this scene start? What’s the emotional tone? What kind of changes do the characters need to go through? How do I choreograph this? What does this location look like?

Sometimes I’m not always even aware that I can’t answer the questions. I only think I know what I’m doing. Or, sometimes, I know the answers, but they are the wrong answer. And so I need to fix it.

So, what do you do when you realise you need to figure out what comes next?

  1. Go back to your outline. Usually by combing through it I can see what I’m missing, where I went wrong, what needs to happen in this scene, and so on. Just writing out my ideas generally solidifies my plan.
  2. Go for a walk. Get some fresh air, a bit of light exercise, endorphins, etc. It’s amazing how much a walk can clear your head. It gives your brain time to breathe and ponder, recharge ready for the next attempt at writing.
  3. Talk to a friend. Sometimes, it turns out this isn’t a problem you can solve on your own. Or, you can, but you need a sounding board. Get a writerly friend who has some time, and explain the problem to them. Half the time, you will have solved the issue before you even finish your explanation. The other half, your friend can offer their own opinion. You might not take it, but it will at least help you clarify your own thoughts on the matter.

 

I’ve heard other writer’s describe other reasons for Writer’s Block, too. Some can’t write if they have a task they don’t want to do (like have a hard conversation with their mother-in-law, or needing to decide which books to take to the charity sale). Once they stop putting off the task, it frees their headspace and gets the creative juices flowing again.

 

The most important thing about Writer’s Block is to remember: Don’t Panic. Panicking just makes it worse.

 

I hope these tips have been useful for you!

Soldering On and Station Alpha are live!

It’s the big day! Both books are now available to read on your chosen e-reading devices!

Soldiering On(1)

Soldiering On is the prequel to the Soldiering On series. Sergeant Major Duncan Pierce is determined to show the world that he and his friends are still capable after being injured in the line of duty. The best way to do that is to start his own security company – but he needs someone with the business know-how to make it work. Mandy Lennox is the exact opposite of what he wants – and exactly what he needs…

Station Alpha Aislinn Kearns

Soldiering On Book 1. When Christine Ramirez is nearly kidnapped by armed assailants, the only thing that saves her is the mysterious man on the other end of the phone. He directs her to safety, but her would-be kidnappers are not going to give up so easily.

Paul has been watching Christine for an assignment – perhaps a little too closely – but now he’s willing to risk everything he holds dear in order to keep her safe.

 

I really hope you enjoy them!

If you do read them, please consider leaving an honest review at Amazon or Goodreads (or anywhere, really). Reviews really help authors and readers in a number of ways if you can spare the time.

And keep an eye out for Guarding Sierra, book 2 in the Soldiering On series, which will be available for preorder very soon!