Forums Forums Editing the Romance Novel Discussion questions for Week 1

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    • #95859
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      I thought I’d jumpstart a discussion by asking a few questions about reading and editing romance. Add your response as a reply to this thread.

      1. What are some of the things you expect when you read a romance? Why do you/readers read romance?
      2. What sub-genres of romance have you read (e.g., paranormal, romantic suspense)? What are some similarities that you’ve noticed among the various novels in the sub-genres you’ve read?
      3. Which common storylines do you most enjoy and why?
      4. How can writers find new twists for old classics?

    • #95941
      Molly Rookwood
      Participant

      1. When reading romance, I want a good emotional connection between my MCs. I have no interest in an aloof, emotionless hero. If he is not actively overcome by his love for the heroine, I’m not interested. (Same goes for f/f or m/m romances; I want to feel the emotions from the start!)

      I also want strong female characters. I love Karen Marie Moning’s books because all of her heroines are smart, educated, and competent. Many of them have advanced degrees or something similar that makes them powerful in their own respects. I do not want a weak damsel in distress, but rather a lady who can kick ass.

      2. I have read contemporary, historical, paranormal, and science fiction romances. In my reading experience, science fiction has not worked as well as the others, mostly because of the necessity of too much world building. They might be great stories, but a good story with some romance does not make it a romance novel. As I mentioned above, I love Karen Marie Moning’s books, which are definitely romance, but which have a continuing thread of magic and lore throughout the novels.

      3. I don’t think I have a specific preference for motifs. I think that each of them has ways to be interesting and complicated enough to make a good story. As Sarah writes in the Week 1 document, I’m not especially intrigued by soul mates or by a secret baby. I also don’t really like the “powerful man/powerless woman” trope, because, as I said above, I like a heroine who can kick ass without a man’s power to boost her up.

      4. One way to twist dynamics in romance is to give women more power in stories, as I discussed above. You can have the alpha male without a powerless woman, and I think writers like Karen Marie Moning and Tiffany Reisz do a good job with this.

      I also think writers can twist the powerless woman trope by not having all of the heroines be virgins. While I really like her books, Karen Marie Moning’s heroines are all virgins, and her relationships all have an element of “I am the only man you have known; I have claimed you as my own forever.” I don’t like the romanticisation of virginity, and I like novels that allow women to both have a sexual past AND find new, powerful love.

      • #96503
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        These are great answers, Molly! I’ve been thinking about your world-building point about SF romance; I agree that the world-building and therefore the overall story line does often end up taking center stage (versus the development of the love relationship). It may be that these two competing elements are hard to synthesize. The world-building attracts our attention and curiosity (both author and readers). Interesting!

    • #97095
      Misha Robinson
      Participant

      1. What are some of the things you expect when you read a romance? Why do you/readers read romance?

      I expect chemistry/a spark between the main characters right off the bat, but I don’t want instalove. They need gradually build a strong emotional connection as the book progresses. There should be a believable central conflict, not something that could be resolved with a simple conversation. I don’t necessarily have to like the MCs right away, but they do need to have something about them that makes me want to keep reading. I want to see that they can each stand on their own two feet. No doormats, please. I hope for strong supporting characters that add to the story. There absolutely must be either a happily ever after or a happily for now. I expect to become emotionally attached to the MCs and feel strong emotions, whether positive or negative. I want to become invested in the main characters and see them reach their goals. There must be character growth. Some sort of (believable) transformation should take place.

      I read romance and I think others do as well to escape reality. Even though each story is different, there is predictability in knowing what you are going to get when you read a romance. I believe it also gives us hope. Love conquering all is a beautiful notion.

      2. What sub-genres of romance have you read (e.g., paranormal, romantic suspense)? What are some similarities that you’ve noticed among the various novels in the sub-genres you’ve read?

      I read contemporary, paranormal, and romantic suspense. Occasionally I will read historical or fantasy if a blurb catches my interest. Regardless of the sub-genre, they all rely on that emotional connection between the MCs. I tend to see stronger heroines in the latter two categories, and I would like to see it more in the contemporary sub-genre. Many of the same types of internal and external conflicts are shared across the board. All these books feature a push and pull between the MCs that ultimately leads to them choosing to be together regardless of the circumstances.

      3. Which common storylines do you most enjoy and why?

      I enjoy enemies to lovers because I love good banter. Second chance romances are all a favorite of my mine. It goes back to the idea of love conquering all and if people are meant to be together they will find their way back to each other.

      4. How can writers find new twists for old classics?

      I think writers can start by thinking about what they like to read or would like to read about. Chances are there are others out there who would also be interested. What do they like about a certain genre or trope (or not like) and how can they change things around? For example, I’ve read many “dating your best friend’s little sister” books, but how about one about dating your best friend’s little brother? Same idea, but less expected. Or hoow about changing the setting? I just read a book that was an enemies to lovers office romance, but it took place in hotels and on a tour bus. I enjoyed that spin.

      • #97667
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Misha, great answers! I, too, have been disappointed at the characterization of female characters in (some? much?) contemporary romance. Like you, I have found this less problematic in other subgenres. I do sometimes feel like authors get carried away in the other direction in reaction (where female characters are highly violent and aggressive or are just men with breasts). There is a huge range of what strength looks like.

        Oh, love the idea of best friend’s little brother!

    • #97556
      Melissa Borbolla
      Participant

      1. What are some of the things you expect when you read a romance? Why do you/readers read romance?

      When I read romance, which is most of the time, I expect an emotional connection. That is the single most important part to me. I want to feel the love developing between the two (or sometimes more) MCs. I expect strong characters that I have an interest in. If the characters are completely unlikeable or boring, I usually do not continue on with the book. A happily ever after or happily for now ending is also important to me as a reader. Cliffhangers are my nemesis, and I generally will not read another book in the series if I am left hanging.

      2. What sub-genres of romance have you read (e.g., paranormal, romantic suspense)? What are some similarities that you’ve noticed among the various novels in the sub-genres you’ve read?

      I read pretty much all sub-genres of romance. I love historical romance, paranormal, romantic suspense, m/m and f/f, contemporary, and more. You name it, I read it.

      3. Which common storylines do you most enjoy and why?

      Brother’s best friend is a favorite storyline of mine. Second chance romance is another. When these storylines are done well, I love them. Because, let’s face it, a lot of times they are not. I think I like that type of story because part of the relationship has already been formed. There’s a history there. When the author provides just enough of the history for readers to understand the relationship and connect us to the story, not so much that half of the book is past events, it gives us more of a chance to fall in love with the characters and route for them to make it through whatever conflict they have going on.

      4. How can writers find new twists for old classics?

      I think one way writers can find new twists for old classics is to develop strong characters that are unique and modern. For example, I recently read a beauty and the beast retelling, but the author didn’t use the modernity of men and women today in the story. She used the helpless girl, overbearing and aggressive guy, and the same conflict of the man being “beastly” because he was scarred. I think a good way to put a new spin on old classics is to know our era. Know how people have evolved. Know how gender roles have changed. Know how sexuality (or at least representation of sexuality) has changed. Know how female and male characteristics have changed. Use these things to make characters that are strong, unique, and interesting. After all, (personally) I usually remember the characters in a story above the details of the plot.

      • #97668
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Mel, I hate cliffhangers, too! I know many authors love them and think it will get readers to buy the next book, but I think that the story has to at least reach a resting point to register as satisfactory to readers.

        Good point about modernizing old storylines. We’ve already read that version of Beauty and the Beast a billion times! But readers enjoy fresh takes on old stories, so what if the female MC wasn’t helpless, or if she was the Beast, etc.

    • #99431
      KAT Thomas
      Participant

      1. What are some of the things you expect when you read a romance? Why do you/readers read romance?
      Mostly, I expect to see two people dealing with the big issues of human relationships and difficult life events and have it play out in a life-affirming, positive way. In contrast with “literary” fiction (which I also love) and “women’s” lit, in which challenges and tragedies tend to dominate, often without much relief.
      What I expect in a romance, other than an HEA, is a genuine conflict between the main characters in which both are challenged by their own perspectives and motivations and both have to work hard to overcome the barriers that are keeping them apart. I want it to hurt! And I want to think, “How is the author going to pull this off??”
      I look for a strong connection between the two main characters, that feeling that they really see each other in a way that nobody else does. Julie Anne Long does an amazing job of creating a sense of “like recognizes like” between her people.
      I’m a huge fan of great dialogue and I want lots of it. That’s where I want to see the two main characters challenge each other and start to reflect on their own issues. So, I look for a lot of character development, which for me means the heroine (in m/f romance) needs to have agency and not just be a passive savior for the hero.
      I also expect the relationship to unfold in a rich setting with interesting supporting characters. I expect to see that these people are grounded in living their lives and there’s that white noise of a believable setting and background activity, if that makes sense?

      2. What sub-genres of romance have you read (e.g., paranormal, romantic suspense)? What are some similarities that you’ve noticed among the various novels in the sub-genres you’ve read?
      I read mostly historical romance but have also read a fair share of contemporaries and quite a few paranormals. The similarities I’ve noticed are the alpha hero, the hero is wealthy, one if not both MCs have a devastating past hurt, either from childhood or from a previous romantic relationship, difficulty with trust and being vulnerable, in historicals, lots of female virgins! And surprisingly, some virgins in contemporaries too. Over the last ten or so years, more heroines are more flawed, both internally and externally. In historicals, they’re often described as “plain.” No more Mary Sues!

      3. Which common storylines do you most enjoy and why?
      I’m not sure I can answer the “why” to these! But I love enemies to lovers, second chance, marriage of convenience, alpha hero (but he can’t punch down), brother’s best friend, slow burn (as long as there’s heat the whole time), governess or other class difference.

      4. How can writers find new twists for old classics?
      I read once is that historical fiction is written in two time periods: the time period the author belongs to and the time period of the story. So reflecting contemporary concerns, ideas, and perspectives into any genre is a way to keep classics fresh?

      • #99901
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Kat, I think creating a genuine conflict that keeps the two MCs apart (and which they have to mutually overcome to live HEA) is extremely important and very hard to do. I would say ninety percent of the problems I see in romance stem from a poor understanding of how conflict between the two MCs works or should work.

        Interesting thoughts on historicals! I don’t read many of these as I am full up on dukes and don’t understand why more royals weren’t beheaded, but that’s just me. I would like to see more exploration of the love lives of ordinary people in historical times.

      • #100026
        KAT Thomas
        Participant

        Same regarding the aristocracy and royals! And for me and contemporaries, the same with billionaires and millionaires. I’ve been struggling with that a lot: How can I read historicals when the genre’s baked-in views of class and wealth are the opposite of my political beliefs? Some HR authors have recently been writing “working class” heroes in an attempt to move away from “ballroom historicals,” but the hero is usually a gaming hell owner or a crime lord type (in other words, bosses), so still part of the 1% really.

        At the same time, I love the style of HRs and some of my favorite authors write HR, so I keep reading them, even as it’s becoming increasingly problematic for me.

      • #100561
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Kat, I wonder about this, too. I am less worried about reading than about editing, that is, about helping to bring into the world more endorsement (implied, at least) of inequity, so this creates a bit of a conundrum for me in terms of what jobs I’ll take on.

    • #99509
      Amy Iannucci
      Participant

      1. What are some of the things you expect when you read a romance? Why do you/readers read romance?

      I generally prefer reading sub-genres of romance (such as fantasy or romantic suspense) but I still expect the relationship between the main character and love interest to be the focal point and main storyline, with the genre and plot there as the setting and vehicle that carry the story forward.

      I’ll stop reading a romance (or any story), if I don’t find the main characters to be someone I like or can relate to, at least in some way. They should have flaws (that pertain to the storyline) and not be perfect people, but I definitely need some reason to root for them and care about their success in both the relationship and any other conflicts they come across.

      I also expect the conflict that is threatening the romantic relationship to be believable and something that is truly daunting. I want to see the characters have to go through much difficulty and great lengths before they manage to end up together! 🙂

      2. What sub-genres of romance have you read (e.g., paranormal, romantic suspense)? What are some similarities that you’ve noticed among the various novels in the sub-genres you’ve read?

      I enjoy reading YA romance (usually combined with fantasy or sci-fi), romantic suspense, and the occasional historical romance. I’ve also read some great contemporary romances – but I’m pretty picky about which ones I read. Generally I prefer romantic comedies or more lighthearted fare if I’m reading contemporary.

      3. Which common storylines do you most enjoy and why?

      A romance bookstore called “The Ripped Bodice” posted a “Quarantine Tables: Trope Edition” image on Twitter the other day with lots of trope choices, at:

      I went through and picked out a few of my favorites:
      Secret Identity
      Bodyguard
      Enemies to Lovers
      Famous Person Falls for Normal
      Time Travel
      Matchmaking Gone Wrong
      Pretend Partner

      I love stories that throw someone into a situation where they are in way over their head, as well as ones where the characters have some pressing need to hide who they truly are, only to find out they must come to terms with their true selves in order to have their Happily Ever After.

      4. How can writers find new twists for old classics?

      I think old classics updated in a contemporary way can be fun, or change the setting or genre to give it a twist.

      I recently read and really enjoyed, “A Curse So Dark and Lonely” by Brigid Kemmerer, which is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a heroine from our contemporary world who ends up traveling to the magical fantasy world, so that adds the “fish out of water” theme to the story in an interesting way.

      I saw that Melissa also read a retelling of Beauty and the Beast – definitely one that many authors like to recreate in their own way 🙂

      • #99902
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Amy, I live down the street from the Ripped Bodice! It’s a great bookstore. Imagine living within walking distance of an entire bookstore devoted to romance. It’s heaven! And will be again someday when they can reopen, I hope I hope.

        Yes, I think making it hard on the MCs is key; I don’t want to see two people fall in love, I want to see two people fall in love despite it being the worst thing to do under the circumstances!

      • #99903
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        BTW, yay! You can post. I’m glad you figured out what the problem was.

        For the others: don’t use the “link” feature if you’re trying to post a link like Amy was, or your post will disappear forever. Instead, just paste the link into your comments.

      • #101015
        Amy Iannucci
        Participant

        Hi Jennifer, wow – I didn’t know you were so close to The Ripped Bodice bookstore! It does sound like an amazing place to shop. I really hope they can hang in there and keep their online sales going strong throughout all this!

      • #101422
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Me, too, Amy! I’ve been ordering through mail order and hope enough people are!

    • #99546
      Brittany McIntosh
      Participant

      1. What are some of the things you expect when you read a romance? Why do you/readers read romance?

      The main thing I hope for in a romance is a strong emotional connection between the characters (that builds slowly throughout the story) and a believable and worthy conflict. I also want to be able to identify why the MCs develop a romantic relationship. Why did they fall in love? What draws them to one another?

      I, personally, prefer to read sub-genres (fantasy and paranormal) with a strong romantic subplot. Though I know that world-building and complex plots can overshadow a romance, I find it makes the development of the MCs relationship more realistic and interesting. There’s usually lots of opportunity to craft strong and believable conflict that keeps the two characters apart.

      2. What sub-genres of romance have you read (e.g., paranormal, romantic suspense)? What are some similarities that you’ve noticed among the various novels in the sub-genres you’ve read?

      As I stated above, my preference is fantasy and paranormal, but I’ve also read a lot of historical and YA in my younger years. I’ve also dipped my toes into sci-fi and romantic suspense. Interestingly, I did notice similar tropes in historical romances and YA romances…and they are part of the reason I stopped reading them much. I’ve read one too many historical romances where the female MC is a naive virgin who is seduced by the powerful, wealthy, or royal male MC who is, of course, more sexually experienced than her (which, I do admit, does makes sense in the context of history). And the amount of YAs I’ve read where the female MC is beautiful, but doesn’t know it, and every male character in the book falls in love with her… are just too many to count. There is nothing wrong with these tropes, but let’s just say, I’ve had my fill.

      3. Which common storylines do you most enjoy and why?

      Oooh, Amy, thanks for sharing that Twitter image, that’s so fun! As the others have said, I too love an enemies to lovers storyline. Also, time travel, secret identity, and reformed rake or “playboy.” I think I like these scenarios because they all have the ability to create really strong conflict between the characters that I find believable and interesting. I also just love the banter/chemistry that comes with an enemies to lovers storyline; it’s just so sexy and fun. Guilty pleasure reading at its finest.

      4. How can writers find new twists for old classics?

      I like what Melissa said. I think playing with gender roles/expectations is a refreshing way to approach the classic romance tropes. Or “flipping the script” and reversing some of the more common and overdone tropes.

      • #99904
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Brittany, the questions “what draws them to each other” and “why did they fall in love” are so crucial, aren’t they? Often we’re just told that the two are attracted and then they go through some things together and maybe banter back and forth and then they fall in love at the end. But I want to see the why! What is it about him that she loves? What is it about her that he can’t live without?

    • #99646
      Sabrina Young
      Participant

      1. What are some of the things you expect when you read a romance? Why do you/readers read romance?

      When I read romance, my overall expectation is that it’s going to be fun–that’s why I’m reading it. Not fun as in “funny (like a rom-com), but fun in that it follows the journey of smart, interesting people in a way that intrigues me and makes me curious enough to keep reading. I also want to see a strong character arc for both MCs; these people should be changed by the end of the book.

      I read romance because it is sex-positive, feminist literature featuring strong female protagonists and that is written primarily by women for a widely female audience.

      2. What sub-genres of romance have you read (e.g., paranormal, romantic suspense)? What are some similarities that you’ve noticed among the various novels in the sub-genres you’ve read?

      I read historicals, contemporary, paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy, and some YA and new adult. I don’t usually read romantic suspense or inspirational. Similarities I’ve noticed among these sub-genres include: alpha males, virgin heroes/heroines, rich hero/lower-class heroine, exiled or secret princess/queen/savior of her people, assassin/victim, and all of the common romance tropes, which transcend any sub-genre.

      3. Which common storylines do you most enjoy and why?

      I love enemies-to-lovers because the conflict is often substantial to overcome and there’s going to be a good character arc. As Misha also pointed out, the banter is usually sharp and witty with strong dialogue.

      4. How can writers find new twists for old classics?

      Take modern problems and set them somewhere else, like in the past, the future, or on another planet or another world. Gender-flip the usual power/class struggle of the rich duke/billionaire/rake and the twenty-something spinster/virgin (or any common stereotypes). Write a neuro-divergent character in the Regency and make him the hero. Take a classic villain and turn her/him into the hero. (All of these have been done.)

      • #99905
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Sabrina, yes, I think enemies to friends can be satisfying because the author has to have a conflict that keeps the two MCs apart until the end. What we want to see is the MCs overcoming that conflict. In stories without that trope, the author has to work harder to find a realistic conflict to keep the MCs apart.

        Back when I was an AE, I once acquired an historical romance where the hero had Asperger’s tendencies and I adored the way the author compassionately wove the issues this created for him into the overall storyline; he didn’t have to change to be worthy of love. It was wonderful!

      • #100027
        KAT Thomas
        Participant

        The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley has a hero with Asperger’s, and it’s a lovely story.

    • #100007
      Miranda Darrow
      Participant

      I’m late. Sorry.
      1. What are some of the things you expect when you read a romance? Why do you/readers read romance?
      I expect to see two (or more) people find a mutually satisfying relationship. I read romance because life is hard enough, and I love happy endings. I also write romance because if I’m going to have characters in my brain for long enough to write a novel, I want them to end up happy.

      2. What sub-genres of romance have you read (e.g., paranormal, romantic suspense)? What are some similarities that you’ve noticed among the various novels in the sub-genres you’ve read?
      I’ve read probably all sub-genres of romance except Amish / faith-based. Not that I’m opposed to those, but they haven’t really appealed to me yet, and I don’t have any editing clients who write that.

      3. Which common storylines do you most enjoy and why?
      I love forced proximity, females in a position of authority/competency porn, road trips, and I’m a sucker for adult virgins for some reason.

      4. How can writers find new twists for old classics?
      They can invert the tropes, find an inventive new setting, or spin the story from a side character’s POV.

      • #100560
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Miranda, yes, forced proximity can be a lot of fun, especially if the author has done a good job with the conflict!

    • #101496
      Shelley Egan
      Participant

      1. What are some of the things you expect when you read a romance? Why do you/readers read romance?

      I expect a plausible plot, realistic conflict and tension, interesting characters that are developed just enough, dialogue that sounds authentic, and decisions that make sense. I expect the story to move along at a good pace throughout (no “muddy middles”) and to have the usual peaks and valleys: e.g., from “things are going well” to “oops, now they’re not” to the happily ever after. Readers read romance because they can be sure they’ll feel happy and satisfied at the end of the story. For me, especially now, romance novels represent escapism and entertainment.

      2. What sub-genres of romance have you read (e.g., paranormal, romantic suspense)? What are some similarities that you’ve noticed among the various novels in the sub-genres you’ve read?

      I have read contemporary romance, historical romance, and romantic suspense. Similarities I have noticed are the reader expectations that we looked at in week one: the framework, the emotional payoff, the focus on the love relationship, seeing the relationship develop from both viewpoints, and so on.

      3. Which common storylines do you most enjoy and why?

      Friends to lovers: I like the idea that characters know and like each other before beginning a romantic relationship, despite the risk that their friendship could be ruined because the romance doesn’t work out.

      Secret royal/billionaire: Who doesn’t want to win the lottery? I don’t read fantasy, science fiction, or paranormal romance, so this is as close as it gets to the supernatural, to living in a different world.

      Forbidden love (separated by distance, age): It’s fun to read stories about love that prevails. (Forbidden love that has to overcome cultural differences doesn’t appeal to me as much. I lived abroad for a couple of years and saw some of the difficulties encountered by people in cross-cultural relationships.)

      “Everyday women” finding love and community in the country/on a ranch: I like western romance stories because I grew up in a city surrounded by farms and ranches and competed on horseback. These stories take me back.

      4. How can writers find new twists for old classics?

      What immediately came to mind was subverting tropes, which begins with being thoroughly acquainted with the original trope. For example, instead of a woman falling in love with a man her own age who turns out to be a prince or a billionaire (secret billionaire or royal), a young man falls for an older woman who is a princess or a billionaire (secret billionaire or royal; older woman, young man). Using technology (e.g., characters who live thousands of miles apart meet on Reddit [forbidden love; separated by distance]) or characters’ specific interests (e.g., competing orchid growers meet at a show [enemies to lovers]) could also liven up old classics.

      Here is a brand-new trope: quarantine love stories! The COVID-19 romance trope reflects current events: roommates who must self-isolate during a pandemic fall in love (roommates with crushes). https://www.vox.com/2020/3/25/21191148/quarantine-love-stories-reddit-husbands-coronavirus-ao3-fiction. (Sorry, I had trouble adding a link.)

      (I’m also having a bit of trouble with terminology, with the difference between categories and subgenres and between tropes and storylines. Thanks!)

    • #102872
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      Shelley, quarantine love stories! Who knew. A play on the “forced proximity” trope with friends-to-lovers thrown in.

      Your terminology troubles are completely understandable; as with most things editorial, no one really agrees on anything. So, for our purposes I would say a storyline is just the plot–whatever happens in the story that winds up with the two MCs in their HEA. A trope is just a type of storyline that has been used a lot, and that readers tend to enjoy encountering.

      A category is just a big general marker for the type of content one can expect: “young adult” will have a young adult protagonist; LGBTQ+ will have a protagonist who is LGBTQ or +.

      We could call “romance” itself a category but since almost everyone calls it a genre, we’ll call it a genre, too. Therefore, specific types of romances are called subgenres. They fit in the overall category of the genre romance but have specific characteristics not in common with all romances. So an historical romance is a subgenre of romance.

      Category > genre > subgenre.

      A YA novel can be a romance but doesn’t have to be; a romance can have historical elements but doesn’t have to. Hope that helps a little?

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