Longing for a Relationship

The title of this post might make you think it’s going to be about romance novels. While I have edited or copyedited dozens of them, I am more interested in pointing out one of their key facets to other kinds of novelists. That is the romance author’s focus on a unique type of idealized relationship.

Sure, we all laugh at bodice rippers and the like, but you should consider another point. Romance novels remain the best-selling genre category. That means the average romance reader reads one after another. Romance writers know this—and they try to make the core of each novel different. The more original they are, the better they sell. 

You may not be writing a romance, but you should be aware of the power of unusual relationships. The obvious reasons are: the power of love in general and the tension generated by our desire to see a couple come together. What I see in a number of novels that feature a romance as a side issue is: the author’s disinterest. They may be uncomfortable writing about feelings, or more likely sex, and the relationship is the most plodding imaginable. It’s like picking outfits from a closet: sexy type, hidden-riches type, clinging type . . . yaw-w-wn.

Even if it’s a sideshow, you owe the reader some dazzle. To start, you need to dream about a relationship that would interest you personally. What attributes turn you on? What attributes, maybe of a parent’s, excite or repel you? Isn’t that where all that Freudian stuff comes from? Once you make a short list of these qualities, you then need to embroider them. A character might have a streak of purple hair, but she also has an entire attitude that goes along with it. What can you draw from people you know that helps define that attitude? Be outrageous. Remember, you’re trying to entertain the reader.

That’s what romance authors struggle with all the time. How can I make the stud more than just buff? So look at your partners. What do you got? Why in the world would I possibly be interested in the relationship in your book?

Exercise: You may want to read a romance novel to see how the lead characters are defined. Rebelliousness is a large part of what makes someone sexy. How do your partners defy the norm of their world? If one is more staid, what lives inside him that would make him want to participate in the craziness of the other?

“The desire to get married is a basic and primal instinct in women. It’s followed by another basic and primal instinct: the desire to be single again.” —Nora Ephron

Copyright @ 2023, John Paine

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