Sunday, October 4, 2009

Romance - Why Write It

If you think Romance is a lesser form of fiction, go off immediately and read Pride and Prejudice.

There are many kinds of genre fiction, but nobody accuses Ian Rankin or Ruth Rendell of being lesser writers - simply because they write Crime. Genre fiction has certain expectations and constraints. But what else you do with it is up to you - and your talent.

While writing classic Romances, Jane Austen managed to comment on society, give a feel for time and place, and for people's absurdities, strengths and flaws.

Some Romance is published just for the escapism. And that's fine, too. We all need to escape from time to time. Whatever you choose to do with it, Romance can be fun to write - but don't make the mistake of thinking it's easy. It can be as hard to execute well as any other kind of writing.

Many people believe there's an easy-to-follow formula - a cookie cutter to shape the story with their eyes closed. But this would make Romance fiction incredibly boring - to read and write. Every book would be the same.

As I said, it can be fun to write. But in order to write well, you have to like romance. You must enjoy daydreaming sappy stories. You must go aaah when you hear of love that works out.

Besides being enjoyable, romance can be good practice for writing any form of fiction. You're constrained by the expectations of genre, which frees you up in a strange way to be really creative within those limitations.

It gives you the freedom to concentrate on the important things - every story worth turning a page should have believable characters, conflict that carries us through it, a satisfying ending, a world we can believe in, and language that entertains us.

These are the things that make any book good, no matter what you are writing. Romance forces you to concentrate on these aspects, since these are the aspects that will make your story stand out above the crowd.

Readers want to know that certain things are likely to happen in a Romance, and that other things won't. But we also like to be surprised. We like to be held on tenterhooks - not quite sure which way you'll swing our emotions. And this is what makes any story great.

Jo-Anne Richards is the author of four novels. Her latest is My Brother's Book, published by Picador.

She is co-founder of, a website dedicated to romance reading and writing. The site publishes novels and short stories, and runs interactive online writing courses in romance writing. It includes a basic lesbian romance writing course - thought to be unique.

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