At one point in time, 10 years ago to be more precise, I decided to write a romance. According to my critique group a romance is a genre that readers can’t get enough of and therefore an easy to market novel. Most people publish their own because it is an addictive kind of read, that people want to experience over and over again. Romantic leads traipse through the book following a formula. The beloved other person has a magical aura that is unmistakable. Guy sees a girl and just can’t keep his eyes off her (or vice versa). If that doesn’t happen the pair can run into each other, physically bumping into the soon to become significant other person while walking down the street.
Of course, there is not one attention grabbing technique that will work for every single person. I didn’t want to copy what others wrote. I created a leading male who was attracted to the woman’s voice before he saw her. This is not the correct order in the steps to romance and can sometimes cause a blunder. I recall the seductive sound of the woman announcing the Blue Light Specials at the K-mart. A guy who frequently checked out at the pet department where I worked, commented on her beautiful voice. So, one time I pointed out the disheveled fifty-year-old owner of the sultry voice. He never mentioned her again.
In my romance novel, the young woman was as lovely as her voice. The timid guy who didn’t have the guts to approach her fell in her lap when the plane encountered turbulence as he headed back to his seat from the restroom. But, my story didn’t turn out to be a traditional romance. The romantic hero wasn’t exactly a “prize.” He had a degree, but no job, was shorter than average and suffered from a heart murmur. But, love is a thing that should be able to overcome such deficits. Right?
Grabbing attention at the beginning will not keep the reader engaged all the way through a book. Keeping a reader’s attention requires more work. I needed scenes to increase tension that let off slightly, and then started to build up again. I needed to throw in problems to keep the two apart. The singer was definitely into her career in opera more than she was into the guy. So, the young man becomes friends with two other women, one is a bit weird and artsy, and the other one is gorgeous and refined–definitely the prize he seeks–and also a source of trouble.
There was no need to have the romantic couple have problems and spats. The guy had to do a bit of soul searching to uncover who the right young woman was for him. The first one he met could easily be the wrong one. A romance is not a romance if it breaks any of the narrow rules: idyllic characters, love at first sight in the first chapter, neither couple looks at anyone else despite spats over trivial problems, and finally the required happily ever after ending.
Typical romance novels can also make you feel like your own romantic life is pale and boring in comparison. My characters are not strong or beautiful, but a mixture of strengths and weaknesses that results in an average person. They are sometimes charming, or clueless, or arrogant, but they develop throughout the story. The Bronte sisters and Jane Austin became famous writing romances in which the characters grew up over time. It wasn’t always clear who would be the couple that found true love. Good romances break the rules.