Site Meter Vamps and Scamps: Rules

Saturday, January 20, 2007


The Rules of Writing Romance

The hero should be fantastically good looking, rich and sensitive.

The heroine should be younger, less well off financially than the hero.

There must be a Happy Ever After

You must tell the story from the woman's POV.

You must write what you know.

You must...

Okay, enough of that. Do you all know there are rules to writing romance? I did some investigating online and found lists that range from 2-3 rules, to ten or more. I flipped thru writing manuals, checked out some onine workshops, and read alllll sorts of rules. Some rules that applied fifteen or twenty years ago don't nessarily apply now. Some rules that apply to romance, in general, won't work in the erotic romance subgenre (like the hero and heroine can't have sex after meeting...even if they hated each other at first sight). By that rule, menages would be out, wouldn't they? Some people suggest that you write what you know. Other suggest you let your imagination be the guide. I've heard a dozen times over that the heroine can have a traumatic experience in her life, ie: rape or abuse, but it should happen in the past, not during the story itself.

The one rule I saw everywhere I looked was this one, They must live Happily Ever After. As far as I'm concerned, that HEA is the only hard and fast rule in writing romance any more.
I like to break rules, though. I don't know if I do it subconsciously or not. But for some odd reason, my brain just works that way. In Touch of Gypsy Fire, the heroine is raped during the story. Not on the page, it happens off scene, but it does happen and I couldn't take it out of the story and still maintain the plausibility of it. I couldn't remove the circumstances of the book that led to the rape because then it wouldn't have been the same story. It wouldn't have been my story.

The blurb for I'll Be Hunting You seems to break the one hard and fast rule of romance:

What happens when a woman loses the man she was born to love? Tori doesn't know. Declan has been her lover, her friend, her confidant — now he is gone. With grief and heartache driving her insane, Tori has become a liability to those she knows and loves.Until a fellow Hunter arrives on her doorstep with a mysterious message. You must go…Tori doesn't want to go anywhere. But now she can't resist. What is waiting for her is something she never dared to hope for.

Relax... it is a romance. I didn't break the one rule that I consider to be the hard and fast, unbreakable written in stone rule. But kind of worrisome, isn't it?

Then there His Every Desire, the book I opened with the line, I want your wife. No, I'm not using adultery as a plot device and it's not a marriage in name only sort of deal. It's about a criminal that beats his wife, and the hero trying to save her. But I still broke a rule, the hero fell in love with a married woman.

I'm not even going to talk about what I did in Voyeur...

The point of all of this is that rules, certain rules, can be broken. But you want to leave the reader feeling satisfied and pleased at the end, even if a few tears were shed on the way.

Writers out there... what rules have you broken? Readers... what rule or rules, in your mind, are the ones that can't be broken?

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Kris said...

My only hard and fast rule is the HEA. I have other preferences (like i don't like books where the H or h commits adultery), but that is just my preference and one, not everyone is the same, and two, it is the author's story to tell they way that they want to, not mine. If I was going to be that picky, I would write my own book.

Jordan Summers said...

The one rule I broke was turning the bad guy into a hero.

Shiloh Walker said...

Jordan, that's the funnest rule to break. ;p

Kris, adultery is a no no as far as I'm concerned, but that didn't keep a story that technically did involve a married woman and a guy she wasn't married to. ;p I think since the husband was the bad guy and beat the hell out of her, I probably pulled it off okay

Diana said...

Shiloh, I'm nervous and really hope Tori and Declan's story has a happy ending.

Nonny said...

The "rules" people come up with are really silly. I remember a romance author at my former writer's community telling the fantasy writers it was a "rule" they couldn't have more than one villain in the book. And as for romance writing... *sigh* She might have been talking specifically about categories, but the way she made it sound, said "rules" applied to all romances. >_<

As a reader, the only "rule" I have about a romance is that it must end with an emotional commitment between the romantic interest/s. That doesn't necessarily mean a marriage proposal -- which, honestly, in most paranormals isn't realistic -- but it does mean a commitment to a romantic relationship of some kind.

Otherwise, "rules" like no adultery and such really depend on how the author portrays it. I've seen it done very effectively; other times, it's made me throw the book against the wall. (Granted, I've read some books that followed the "rules" and still ended up hitting the wall.)

Shiloh Walker said...

Diane... yes... there is a happy ending. ;p

Nonny, a lot of rules can be broken, depending on the author, that's certain. Adultery is a very, very touchy one though and I've only had one or two authors successully pull it off for me

Amie Stuart said...

I bent the no writing in first person rule all to hell! and it's a rule most people seem to ignore nowadays anyway. I guess the biggest one for me was writing a male survivor of spousal abuse. Honestly, except for the HEA rule, I've thrown all the ones you've listed out the window *ggg*

Shiloh Walker said...

I guess the biggest one for me was writing a male survivor of spousal abuse. Now that one is different... what book is this?

ilona said...

My only rule is that the story should hold my interest until the last page.
I don't care if any 'rules' are broken along the way,as long the writer has held my interest and left me feeling good about the story I just read.

Amie Stuart said...

Shiloh....Once in a Blue Moon. It's an ebook thru LSB (and seems to be one folks either love or hate :D )

danetteb said...

I agree with Ilona,as long as a book holds my interest,all the rules go out the window for me. It's hard for me to read a book with a slow beginning,patience is not a virtue of mine.