Five-Minute Writing Tip
You should be kissed and often and by a man who knows how.
That line from Gone With the Wind came to mind when I walked into our local pharmacy the day after New Year's and ran smack into a huge display of red and pink hearts hanging from streamers, boxes of chocolate candy stacked almost to the ceiling, and glittered greeting cards proclaiming love and devotion. The employees must have worked through the night removing Christmas and replacing it with Valentine's Day.
Knowing I'd have to look at all this romantic paraphernalia for the next six weeks made me dread that lovers' holiday. I needed a change of attitude. For better or worse, and with Valentine's Day still on my mind, I decided I would offer a few basic guidelines for writing romance novels. I don't write romances, nor do I read them, so I had to do some research. But it's always good to learn new things. I discovered that writing romance is not as easy as it sounds-but what writing is?
Here are a few tips to get you started. I've used some classic romance novels and one of my favorite movies as examples.
1. Use the basic formula. Boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl. The reason Anna Karenina, though romantic, is a tragedy rather than a romance novel is because it doesn't follow this formula. Boy meets girl-check: Count Vronksy and Anna meet and fall in love. Boy loses girl-check: Problems abound; they fight; they part. But boy does not get girl because (Spoiler Alert!) Anna, distressed and emotionally unstable, commits suicide by throwing herself under a train.
2. The ending must be happy. That doesn't necessarily mean a garden wedding and all problems solved, but there must be a desired commitment to make the relationship work. In the movie An Affair to Remember, Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant) and Terry McCay (Deborah Kerr) are reunited and proclaim their love for one another while recognizing the problem they face-Terry's recovery from an accident that left her paralyzed and unable to walk.
3. Since the plot options are simple: friends become lovers; soulmates are fated to meet; characters give love a second chance, the story must have strong, memorable characters. Romance readers expect to love the hero -who is always far from perfect-but intriguing, and sympathize with the heroine. Your readers also need to sense that your hero and heroine are attracted to one another, and know they will eventually declare their love despite roadblocks and problems thrown their way. Who doesn't love feisty Scarlett O'Hara and arrogant Rhett Butler, and feel their attraction the moment they meet? Who doesn't sincerely believe a happy tomorrow is in their future? Whether you do or don't, check out this video clip: You Tube
4. There must be a considerable amount of conflict and tension. Don't make it easy for your hero and heroine to get together. Look how long it took Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester to admit their love for one another and marry.
5. Finally, the most important tip doesn't just apply to writing romances, but to writing in any genre. Read books in your desired genre, and take pleasure in that type of writing, otherwise your own feelings will not show through.
After Cissy and I discussed the topic for this month's newsletter, I encouraged her to try a hand at writing a romance story. Hope you enjoy The German to Remember.
Five Minute Writing Tip #50
There are two terms that make most writers, especially novices, cringe: rejection and slush pile. Before you approach an agent or publisher, you need three well-written items in your arsenal so your precious baby will not be subjected to either of these fates. The first two items are the same whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, but the third one differs.
1. Query Letter: This is a one-page sales pitch that is your chance-your only chance-to grab the attention of an agent or editor. Your query should include a short introductory paragraph showing that you've done your homework and giving a reason why you've chosen that person as someone who might be interested in your book. Check out their website, the type of books they publish, and pay close attention to their submission guidelines. The second paragraph should begin with a hook-a compelling statement about your work-and introduces your character, her burning desire, desperate mission, or strong motive for what she needs to accomplish. End with a vivid description of the setting. Give the word count and compare it to a similar well-known, best-selling book. Your last paragraph should include your bio and one sentence about why you are writing this book. If successful, you should receive a request for a synopsis.
2. Synopsis: This is a one- or two-page summary that tells the entire story from the beginning to the end. It's a narrative written in present tense. The difference between your query and your synopsis is that your synopsis tells the complete story and gives a more detailed development of your character. You should not include your bio or any comparisons to other books. The focus is only on your story.
3. Manuscript: If you've made it this far, congratulations! You've accomplish a lot. Your manuscript should be revised, polished, and professionally edited to every detail. It should be the best writing you've ever done. And it should be sitting on your desk ready for the manuscript box and the post office (unless the agent or editor has requested an electronic version).
The first two items apply, but the manuscript differs considerably. Your manuscript does not have to be finished, but you do need a polished proposal.
When I was ready to contact a publisher for my nonfiction book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story, things moved quickly. I e-mailed my query and received a response two hours later requesting my synopsis. The next day, the proposal was requested and two days later I had a contract. It rarely happens that quickly, but writing's like baseball-you never know. Just do your homework and select a publisher that's right for your book.