Recipe for Romance

Recipe for Romance
By Carol Harblin

Romance is not without its own upheavals and challenges.  Even when we have to live through our own heartbreaks, dating life, and marriage we are left to our own devices.  Life doesn’t have a manual and neither does romance, so romance writers need to find their own individualized recipe.  Writing about romance has its own rules and obstacles, too, but it needs to be unique and fresh, from the writers’ perspective and experience.  Everything we do is a holistic recipe; a unique formula designed for our lifestyle and heart.  Imitation is not a memorable concoction.

What is a romance writer’s recipe?  Carrie Bradshaw, the fictitious character from the well-known series and movies Sex and the City, writes columns about sex and relationships.  Where did she always get her content?  She lived it and what she didn’t experience first-hand she researched from her three best friends, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte.  She was a like a love scientist and her lab was out in the city with her friends.  She delved hands-on within her every day routine and environment.

Some of the best advice about romance and relationships is what we experience and observe throughout life.  Is it applicable even when writing romance though?  In some cases it is, but there are many other derivations that every romance writer should consider in their recipe.

Nicholas Sparks has been a New York Times best-seller of romance books for over twenty years.  He knows a style that will captivate his audience.  He begins with a small town with ordinary people, then just when the reader is halfway through with what they think is a typical romance novel, he twists fate in such a way that leaves readers with their jaws dropped and completely in awe.   There’s the hook.  He is like an Emeril Lagasse who kicks up his dishes with a little spicy zest and zip.  A dish with pizazz is sought after because it breaks away from the usual bland fare.  People remember that sort of twist.  But even after twenty years, his romance recipe is becoming predictable.  He has a gift of producing magical and electric love to the page, but even he needs to freshen his recipe.  Can Nicholas Sparks reignite his spark? Always.

When a consumer walks into a bookstore for a juicy romance book they already know what they want to read and it’s not going to be a similar book that was previously read.  Template story lines are only captivating during the honeymoon of the romance journey, but then once the reader observes the pattern then it becomes rote.  Romance books require a fresh perspective with memorable characters.  The romance writer needs to go back to the drawing board and observe people in daily life, by taking notes and understanding the current plight of how people think and interact in today’s climate.  Maybe the reason something needs to be revitalized because it was an old recipe from thirty years ago.  The dating scene has definitely changed since 1955.

Character development is a significant component because without strong characters then the reader’s attention is lost.  The main characters in Sex and the City weren’t the most solid characters, but they each had something memorable and quirky about them that people admire. One of the things that was lacking in the characters was some other hobby or interest to occupy their time with besides their career, sex, and relationships.  In life we all have something else going on, for instance we play cards, ride bicycles, going to the gym, play golf (or some other sport), or even go hiking.  Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda didn’t really have anything else holding them together besides sex and relationships.  It is understood that the name of the show is called Sex and the City, but there should be more to a person besides sex.

Creating a character that is memorable and well-rounded, yet with lovable quirks that make the character unique.  The romance writer needs to find ways to make the readers pick the book back up after bookmarking it.  What is compelling about the book that the readers will continue to think about even when the book is closed?

What age is the character?  Find a person in our daily routine that catches our eye.  Jot down their characteristics that we immediately notice.  It’s those real-life people that draws our attention that is the best-seller.

Carrying a notepad is convenient and it doesn’t have to be charged.  Just open it up and begin jotting down anything that needs to be remembered about what is seen or observed about the environment or the person/people we are writing about.  It is a bit like an “I spy” game.

             “I spy with my eye an overweight man in the corner of the café wearing an oversized sweatshirt and jeans reading Kafka as he sips his mystery latte while he checks his watch every five minutes. Soon after he checks his watch his foot nervously taps the floor for a minute, then he sips his drink once more.”  “I spy with my eye a group of teenaged girls teasing a lone girl in the gym locker room because she doesn’t have blonde hair like them and she isn’t as developed either.”  Both of those scenarios have a certain appeal and charm.  We want to read more about why the man is checking his watch and what he is drinking.  We want to know more about that lone teenage girl.  What’s her story?  Why is she being teased?  What does she look like? What are her ambitions?  How long has she known those other girls?

Predictability is what readers are not looking for; as it is there are too many saccharin television shows and movies that are all based on the same girl meets boy situation.  Girl meets boy, girl is unhappily attached, she works at a hapless job until one fateful day due to some unforeseen circumstance where she travels back home again and she meets her former beau.  There are several variations of this template, but it’s all the same story.  It’s like seeing variations of Cinderella or the Pygmalion story regurgitated over again.  Predictability is the best way for anyone to tune out.  Where’s that garlic or cumin to bring a little zing to that bland dish?

Characters can’t just exist; there must be a conflict or hardships that they overcome.  If there isn’t conflict then why is it pertinent and why continue to write the story?

Every writer has their own thoughts and experiences about romance; observe people indigenous to the story’s focus and find that special recipe that keeps it fresh and current according to today’s issues and environment.  Every chef has their special sauce and special spice; whether it is tarragon or saffron, they know how to intrigue their critics.  Romance writers have their special spice that need to bring to their stories, too.