Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Larry Brooks, bestselling author and the man behind one of my favorite blogs, StoryFix.com. I stumbled across Larry’s website by accident and I promptly found his series on Story Structure (started here). After reading every part, I printed them out and grabbed a notebook and set out to watch some favorite movies to test all I’d learned and to identify the four parts of a story. It works, truly works. So now I read Storyfix every day, and I’m thrilled that Larry has agreed to guest blog for us today!
And as a bonus offer to my readers, I’m going to give away a copy of one of Larry’s ebook, Story Structure Demystified.
So welcome, Larry!
Seven Key Values to Maintain As You Write Your Romance
a guest blog by Larry Brooks of Storyfix.com
Romance writers are sometimes viewed by authors in other genres as a different breed of literary cat. That’s because such judgmental writers, a) don’t read romances, b) buy into an archaic perception that romances are somehow less than other genres of fiction, and c) writers of romances – J.D. Robb and a few others excepted – rarely jump genre into mainstream fiction.
This perception comes from a simple and completely honorable truth: romances are built upon certain expectations pertaining to structure, character and theme. That perception is not wrong – indeed, it is spot-on accurate – but, when taken out of context, it is misleading, and unfairly so.
Because virtually every genre also bears the tradition and expectation of specific structures, characters and themes. Romances are no more or less formulaic than other types of stories. If you’ve ever read a mystery or a thriller, you already know this to be true.
That, forget these romance-critical writers, is what makes genre fiction qualify as genre.
I view romances quite differently.
No, I don’t write them. I write psychological relationship thrillers, which are all about the ways and means people use to mess with each other’s lives and emotions within a romantic and sexual context.
Close second cousin genres, I’d say.
Here’s how, in my view, romances are no different from mysteries, thrillers and sci-fi, and especially literary fiction, whatever that means these days:
I believe the romance genre is superior in many ways to other genres, for the simple reason that the elixir of effective romance is theme, rather than plot or even character. And because theme is the toughest core competency to master, successful romance writers are demonstrating a higher skill, by necessity, than other writers.
If you got into romances because you thought they are somehow easier to write and sell, think again. Romance is the brain surgery of fiction.
With romance novels it’s all about relationships. It’s all about love. And that, folks, is the most powerful motivating force in the history of humankind.
It’s also a trap for newer writers, because it implies an undervaluing of plot and conflict. The best romances are also highly plot-driven, with the relationships and any ensuing romances springing from it, rather than the delivery of episodic character vignettes.
Which, by the way, don’t get published. If you want to sell a romance, you better have a killer plot at its heart.
Bottom line: romances are subject to, and benefit from the very same rules and principles of effective fiction that apply to other genres. Indeed, to all genres.
Too many romance writers don’t get that. Maybe this will help.
Here are seven of those principles, stated here in a generic fashion. These are universal truths; there are no exceptions to them. Break them at your own peril. Master them, and you may find yourself in the throes of a successful career.
There are six realms of the fiction-writing proposition you need to master.
I’ve just described the value of theme in romances. But theme is only one of six tools – four elements and two skills – you need to bring to the writing party. The others are: concept… character… story structure… scene execution… and writing voice.
Omit any one and your story won’t work as well as it could, or should (which, in the publishing equation, means must). Nail all six and you’re in the romance business.
“Story” isn’t character, “story” is conflict.
Many writers fail to wrap their head around this concept. Character without conflict is, in fact, merely a vignette. Good for a short story, perhaps, but not nearly enough weight to carry an entire novel.
You need to give your character a goal, and there must be an opposing force that must be met and conquered before that goal is attained. From that rigid principle you are free to do just about anything, story-wise.
But be clear: a story about two folks falling in love does not a novel make. A story about two people who are prevented from falling in love as they would choose, as a result of forces that require conquering before love can triumph… that’s a romance novel.
The most important moment in your story is the inciting incident, or sometimes called The First Plot Point.
This principle is a sub-set of story structure, one of the six core competencies of successful storytelling. There are sequential and geometric proportions dictated within this principle – in other words, certain things need to happen in certain places – which, if violated, compromise dramatic tension, character development and the ultimate intensity of the reading experience.
If you don’t know about story structure, or precisely what an inciting incident is and where it goes, stop writing and find out.
Thematic power is derived from a collision between inner conflict and exterior conflict. You need both in your story.
Nobody sets out to write a two-dimensional character. The definition of a fully-fleshed out heroine is one who battles interior demons and issues, with the reader experiencing how that character’s decisions and actions spring from them, and in context to them.
The conquering of interior demons is character arc, which is an essential criteria of developing an effective protagonist.
Theme – the very essence of romance – is the art of showing how that inner demon comes to bear, and is ultimately conquered, in the course of meeting and conquering the obstacles (the exterior conflict) to their ultimate need and goal.
Romance is effect, not cause.
Being too on-the-nose with romance can kill a story. Romance for romance’s sake is less effective than romance that ensues from all of the above: conflict, resolution, inner demons squaring off with exterior obstacles, and the heat that comes from people interacting with other people in context to the world you’ve created for them.
What happens in your story is the cause. How that leads to romance is the effect.
And the means of all this is the plot.
Don’t let your narrative get in the way of your story.
A common misperception among newer writers is that the quality of your writing, versus your storytelling, is the thing that will get you published and make you successful.
Absolutely not true. Absolutely a backwards perception.
Sorry to break the news, but great writing is everywhere, even astoundingly great writing. It is a commodity residing in the inbox of editors of every publisher in existence.
Solid writing is the ante-in to the chance of publication. But it is your story that ends up being the single most critical variable that will close the deal.
Story planning will get you there quicker, and more effectively, than making it up as you go along.
At the end of the day there is no one single best way to write a story. But what is always true is that, no matter how you go about it, certain principles must be observed and demonstrated within the final product if the story is to succeed.
The quickest way to achieve that is to focus on and master these core principles in the course of your writing journey. Don’t use the story to discover them, learn them outside of, and prior to, trying to apply them to a story in development.
Just like a pilot or surgeon wouldn’t think of learning their craft as they go, with paying customers at risk, a writer who succeeds must bring the craft to the story, rather than use the story as a vehicle of discovery.
What is discovered in a successful story is the power those principles, when properly implementd, lend to the end product.
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