The Origins of a Romance

I Won’t Say I’m In Love
Bert Kelmar & Harry Ruby
YouTube     Lyrics

I once heard that more than half of all books are purchased by women and that romance sales account for over half of all genre sales. Though it may be an exaggeration of figures, it drives an interesting point home. As a writer, I cannot ignore the interests of the fairer sex.

Being male, I did something surprising. I asked for directions.

I bought coffee and lunch for female friends, steering the conversations to what women liked in books.  I was expecting things like romance, love, and tall, dark and sexy men. I wasn’t disappointed, but I was also surprised. I learned that it wasn’t the romance they wanted, but rather the relationship. They wanted to see the emotions and turbulence, the struggle of two people becoming one unit.

After some thought, I determined that developing new romance is like developing a character.  The first step is to intrigue not only the protagonist, but also the reader. Physical attraction is built into our biology and is an easy and obvious hook. I have also found an element of mystery or glamour to be intriguing, though tricky. Also effective, depending on the target reader’s age, is being memorably cute and non-threatening. At this point, it isn’t necessary to be deep or sophisticated. Give us a reason to care, and hook us deeply enough to get to step two.

Real love’s foundation is built upon mutual respect and understanding. Each character needs to find something in the other that they value. There must also be a balance between similarities and differences, the one to provide comfort and draw, the other to provide conflict and push. It is especially interesting to me when the first is hidden and the second is obvious. The key, however, is to find value and respect in both parties, despite differences.

The final step is realization, the discovery of love. I enjoyed Disney’s Hercules as a kid. I’ll admit that I had a crush on Meg. She had bet on love, and paid a huge price. She was jaded but not broken. In the scene where she sings “I Won’t Say I’m in Love,” the storytellers show her conflict of realization. She spends the entire scene in obvious denial, while the Muses, literally a Greek chorus, try to force her to admit her feelings. All the while, her actions and body language show us the truth. Though their interest is shallow at first, Meg and Hercules’ love is what allows both characters to be realized in the climax.  This moment, the realization, is more poignant for me than the final victory.

Building a romance is like building a character, without the origin, there is no context or grounding. I have found that the “formula” for a budding romance is simple: infatuation, exploration, and realization.  From there, the romance can be developed and matured in all sorts of interesting ways.


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