Hello folks! (::waves madly to old friends and new::)
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on Magical Words. A lot has been going on in my writing life, as culminated in yesterday’s launch of the Diamond Brides Series. Now bear with me. I know that, here at MW, we primarily focus on speculative fiction. And I know that Diamond Brides is a series of nine short, hot contemporary romance novels. There is not a single fantasy element in the series, and the books definitely aren’t science fiction. But over the course of the next four weeks, I look forward to explaining how my romance novels dovetail with my speculative fiction work, how the craft lessons I learned in the SF&F genres carried over to romance, and how writing is writing, no matter what labels we apply. (Yeah, that’s an ambitious goal, for four posts. We’ll see how close we get, by the end of the month!)
Let’s start with a few (over-)generalizations about the romance genre. Of the major genre categories (romance, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and western), romance is arguably the most dependent on tropes, as demonstrated by a simple overarching plot. Every romance has people (usually two, often-but-not-always one male and one female) who meet, fall in love, face some great barrier to staying in love, conquer that barrier, and end up in love. (In the romance trade, we call that ending an HEA — Happily Ever After — and if there isn’t an HEA (or, at the very least, a Happy For Now), then the book simply isn’t a romance. Romance genre books do not end with the death of one or more of the lovers. Romeo and Juliet is not a romance, in the genre sense of the word.)
Because of this reliance on a common overarching plot, other elements of writing become much more important in romance than they are in other genres. Romances must have great characters. They often have amazing settings, including settings in actual historical time periods, or in fantasy or SF worlds. And, of course, they have great emotion, including (in some romances) descriptions of physical sex.
Today, we’ll focus on characters. Specifically, I’ll use examples from Perfect Pitch, the first volume of my Diamond Brides Series, which launched yesterday (Opening Day of the Major League baseball season!) My romance novel will live or die by the likability of the characters. (“Likability” is not the same thing as being perfect. My characters have flaws, and they make mistakes. But the reader has t root for them, every step of the way.)
My hero is a pitcher for the Raleigh Rockets. My heroine is a beauty queen.
Great. Half my readers (maybe more) know nothing about baseball. They may even hate the sport. They may (like me) bear deep scars from being chosen last for every sports team in every phys ed class they ever took. Another boatload of my readers could care less about beauty pageants; some people think they’re silly, some think they’re exploitative, some think they’re just plain stupid. How do I build likability in the midst of those biases?
First, I make my characters human. D.J. Thomas isn’t just a random pitcher. He’s the son of a Hall of Fame pitcher, and he’s desperately struggling to live up to his father’s expectations. He’s a single father of a young son, hoping to help his son succeed beyond his own wildest dreams. He’s a man who is experiencing the best year of his professional life, but who understands that failure (in the form of physical trauma) is just around the corner.
Now, my readers don’t have to know or care about baseball. Instead, they have to sympathize with a son’s effort to win his father’s love. They have to care about a father’s love for his child. They have to comprehend the desire to excel, even on the outer edge of one’s ability. Those issues are far closer to universal than “baseball player pitches the season of his life.”
Similarly, Samantha Winger isn’t a stereotypical beauty queen. She’s a skilled musician who longs to bring the joy of music to children. She’s a woman who moved multiple times while she was growing up, keeping her from ever putting down roots. She’s a professional woman bound to honor certain rules in the workplace, even when those rules are unreasonably restrictive.
See what I’m doing there? My readers don’t have to like tiaras and ballgowns. Instead, they have to understand having and sharing a passion. They have to “get” the feelings of always being new in the crowd, never being settled. They have to know what it’s like to live with unfairness.
The likability is in the details. It’s in the individual traits that make D.J. and Samantha into people instead of cardboard cutouts. It flavors everything about how they meet, how they interact, how they resolve their conflicts.
But that’s sounding dangerously like “plot”. And that’s what we’ll talk about next week For now, you can tell me which characters you think are especially well done — in romance, or any other genre! Why do you think they work so well? What makes them different from every other character in that genre?
You can buy Perfect Pitch here.
Mindy Klasky learned to read when her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere in the world through stories. She never forgot that advice. Mindy’s travels took her through multiple careers – from litigator to librarian to full-time writer. Mindy’s travels have also taken her through various literary genres for readers of all ages – from traditional fantasy to paranormal chick-lit to category romance, from middle-grade to young adult to adult. In her spare time, Mindy knits, quilts, and tries to tame her endless to-be-read shelf. Her husband and cats do their best to fill the left-over minutes.
Many thanks for stopping by!