Do you know what keeps you hooked when you’re reading your favorite romance novel? Most writers don’t.
Why editors say ‘no’
I read a lot of manuscripts every month – manuscripts by writers just like you and me, who are seeking a publishing deal. I don’t get to hit the ‘accept’ button as often as I’d like. Most of the time, these writers have got a great voice, great style, and a great set up. But, there’s zero internal conflict. That’s right, you can have an amazingly written manuscript and still get rejected because your character has no rich inner dilemmas to overcome.
I hear you though, you’re thinking, I gave my character obstacles. Pitfalls and plotlines that throw them off the trail and force them to take charge. Only problem is that obstacles tend to be about external conflict.
Or your characters spend a lot of time fighting with each other…which is the wrong kind of conflict!
We all crave connection
What a reader wants when they read your romance novel, is to imagine themselves as that character. To really get under that character’s skin, their thoughts, emotions, motivations, and see how they face the challenge the love interest brings into their life. It’s what we love about watching hardened Alpha heroes softening, or closed off heroines breaking down their own barriers.
It’s about what’s happening to your character on the inside – their fight within themselves to get what they need, but not necessarily what they thought they wanted.
How does a commitment-phobe realize that maybe they can find happiness as a couple? How does a clingy nervous wreck learn how to stand on their own two feet? That’s what your reader wants to know. If your character can overcome their own history/trauma/issues, maybe the reader can too.
It’s about psychology.
What’s your motivation?
It’s a quick question, but do you know your ‘why’ as to why you write romance? Is it because you love the genre? Do you want to one day be a JR Ward or Beverly Jenkins? Maybe some English teacher said something crappy about your writing and you want to prove her wrong? Or do you have no real idea, but more of a sense that this is something you’d like to explore, or haven’t really given much thought to?
Now, let me ask you this, if you dig deeper into your ‘why’, are there reasons you’d never admit to another living soul? Like, how you’d like to be super famous because maybe then all those kids who laughed at you at school would now know that you were ‘someone’ while they’re still ‘no-one’? Dig deeper until you find that niggly twinge of discomfort in you that’s an uncomfortable truth. That’s your real motivation. What are the feelings that come up? Is it shame? Or anger? Or fear?
We tend to want to move away from discomfort towards something that we think will bring comfort. Often this motivation is unconscious with occasional glimmers rising to the surface. Sometimes, it’s more conscious, depending on the level of self-awareness an individual has.
What has this got to do with your character? Everything.
They should have some sort of surface motivation, or goal, if you prefer. For example, Lucy wants to be an accountant. Her motivation for this goal is that she wants to be in an ordered profession with definable markers of success with a steady, dependable income stream. All good.
Let’s start digging…
Why does she want ordered and quantifiable? Because her upbringing was unsteady, wild, and chaotic.
She doesn’t want to feel out of control.
And a little deeper…
Every day for little Lucy was about survival. How did she feel? Scared. She never wants to feel scared again. Sure, she might not know this on a conscious level, but this terror is dictating her every single move.
She will make decisions based on how ‘safe’ they feel (to her). This belief shades all of her interactions, and keeps her from fully engaging in her life.
So, we introduce her to Chris, who is unpredictable, spontaneous, fun. How does Lucy feel about him? You guessed it – terrified. But also attracted. Why? Because it’s something she recognizes from her past.
You can’t get away from it
I wrote a novella about a couple who were both brought up in violent households. A complaint I received from a reader was that they couldn’t understand why the male had grown up to be violent too. My answer was, how could he not? That’s what he knows. Those are the responses that he has learnt. His past will always dictate his present until he goes and seeks professional help to uncover and heal the damage.
Your character’s past is always present in how they behave.
Simple, but not easy
All of us are walking repositories of the knowledge, skills, and experiences we’ve gained. When you sit down to write a character, these are the things you need to know, way more than hair and eye color or their quirky penchant for collecting beer bottle tops and turning them into floor art.
We behave the way we do because we want to move away from discomfort, and often, we shut ourselves off or employ some other mechanism, such as sarcasm, to self-protect.
Meeting someone who could potentially be a life-long love partner will confront us with our worst fears, which is why there is resistance.
Love is scary. Love is a leap into the unknown.
It’s also exhilarating, exciting, energy-charging, life-affirming, and one of the most deeply connective experiences available to all of us. We want our characters to have love (this is why we read romance, after all), and we want to be sure that this love will stick, that ten years from now, they’ll still be loving and growing together.
So, to return to Lucy, the simple thing would be for her to loosen up and learn from Chris that she can also be less rigid and open to experience, and still be secure. Is this going to be easy for her? What do you think?
Change is HARD.
Hey, most of us fail on the ‘get fit’ resolution in the first week of January, so resolving emotional issues is no walk in the park.
Another quick question – what’s your favorite romance novel? How alike are you and the characters? Are there similarities?
We all have some sort of ‘work’ to do, and our own stories resonate with the characters we’re reading about. That’s what keeps us reading – the emotional connection between the characters and our own issues. Watching them struggle, make the changes and then succeed is what gives us that HEA feeling.
If they can do it, we can too.
And if they can do it between the pages of the romance novel you’re writing, you’re more likely to be that step closer to the publishing deal of your dreams.
Love this? Check out Suzanne’s class right here on SavvyAuthors!
Only one person knows Max Montgomery’s deepest, darkest synesthesia secrets—Billy Jorge. But he ran out on her after six months, when she was still a teen, leaving her to deal with the fallout. A year before, Max arrived back in Liberty to bury her mother, pack up and sell the family house and head out to pursue the rest of her life. So, why’s she still there? Because Billy’s back in Liberty in his role of local preacher, Father William Jorge.
Buy Touched here.
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