Romance stories have been around almost since humans first learned to write. Some people love them. Other’s consider them not to be ‘real writing’ at all. As a romance author myself, I’ve heard it all and my usual response is quite simple – “It’s not as easy to write as you’d think.”
For starters there is more to write than just a simple love story. I mean, you can’t just have two random people throwing themselves at each other and confessing their undying love for each other on the first page. That would never do. As a writer, it is our job to create a story, something that involves the reader in the lives of our characters, making you feel the very same emotions coursing through the veins of those we’ve created. One of those emotions is tension, and it is far more important than you might think. Granted, usually in a romance story there is a guaranteed happily ever after, or happily ever after for now ending, but it can’t just be handed to the reader or else they’d stop reading on page two.
So what is tension? It’s quite basically all those events we try to avoid in real life but thrive to read in a book. As for the events themselves, they depend on the time and era a writers books are set. The books I write are historical, so they are set in the time of etiquette bound restrictions. Even after writing for so many years, I still love this era and believe it helps create the suspense my characters need. Real life lovers in the 1800s faced so many challenges just to be together and I’ve tried to put pieces of this reality in each of my books. In Heart of Stone, a young Irish woman is forced into slavery in Australia and finds herself in the arms of a handsome man on the docks when she is trying to flee her captor. An unlikely scenario? More truth than we’d like to admit and the struggle these two lovers faced is more truth than fiction. And what better way to create the build up to an undying romance than to use real events that happened in both my country and, in some of my books, my own family history. The truth of the matter is, most of the characters I write about are forced through scandals most of us would rather avoid, but they were the struggles so many of our ancestors faced, no matter what country they settled in.
Throughout my career, the biggest struggle I’ve found in my writing is the ‘heat level’ of my books. I’ve been told the passion in my stories is unrealistic and that women in the Victorian era didn’t surrender their virginity so willingly and without concern to pregnancy. I’ve also been told that stories of heroines forced into an abusive marriage and falling in love with another, kinder man is morally wrong. But why is it? It happened. Slave girls forced to marry their captors didn’t miraculously fall in love with them and make them into kinder better men. Or in the case of my new release Wrath and Mercy, the heroine was a business transaction despite the fact she still loved a man she’d been forced to leave back in England. Maybe these topics are controversial, but I see them as giving a voice to our ancestors and showing the struggle they went through to be with the ones they loved. Of course what I write is fiction, but there’s a little piece of actual history in each of my books.
And despite what some may want to think, women back in history weren’t always as guarded and prudish as we’d like to believe. They had the same emotions and desires as women do now. I do have to tread carefully though with regards to how ‘romantic’ I make my books. I mean after all, it is ultimately a love story, so whatever ‘heat’ there is must be as part of the natural progression of the relationship between the characters. There can’t be sex just for the sake of it and, despite the few arguments I’ve had with people, this is the ultimate difference between a romance story and writing porn. The characters are falling in love with each other and surrendering to the natural desires that burn inside us as human beings. As authors, we need to show that emotional journey, in all its different heat levels, even if that means writing scenes showing spontaneous breakdowns of expected inhibitions.
Heat levels in romance books is purely up to the discretion of the author, and can range from sweet and discrete love scenes, to those at the opposite end of the heat scale. The only real trap to avoid is using ‘purple prose’ when writing love scenes. Sometimes body parts have to be called exactly what they are, even though some make me blush. It doesn’t need to be crude, but nor should it make the reader giggle while they’re reading, hence breaking the intense mood we authors try to trap them in…the same mood we are in ourselves as we quickly type the words. Speaking from experience, if that ‘mood’ is broken whilst writing, it can be very hard to get back on track. As a mother of five school aged children, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been in the middle of writing a very intense and passionate scene only to hear footsteps behind me followed by a children crying that they’ve lost a sock.
So next time you walk into a book store, or are browsing new releases on Amazon, and you come across romance novels, spare a thought to the authors and the struggle and heartache that goes into our work. Like all authors, we love what we do, but as I said at the beginning of the article, it’s easier than it sounds to write a good love story.